Student Activities welcomed Mya Taylor, the star of last year’s low-budget Sundance Film Festival hit “Tangerine,” to campus yesterday to present the film and discuss her life and struggles as a transgender woman.

The film opens at Donut Time, where Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) spends one of her two remaining dollars on a doughnut to split with Alexandra (Taylor). After Alexandra lets it slip that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend Chester, who doubles as a pimp, cheated on Sin-Dee with one of his prostitutes during her 28-day stint in jail, the two transgender women scour the streets of West Hollywood looking to take revenge of Chester and the “fish” (a slang term for a cisgender woman) he slept with.

The two go on to break up a motel room brothel, bargain with a police officer to force a client to pay up and promote a show Alexandra is performing in, all on Christmas Eve.

Taylor, a trans woman of color who moved to Los Angeles after her grandparents kicked her out of their house at 18 for being transgender, was herself not unfamiliar with LA’s unofficial red light district. The film, and Taylor’s acting success, likely would not have come to be if Sean Baker, the writer and director of “Tangerine,” had not come across Taylor.

“I was at Santa Monica in Macaron talking with some friends—at that time they were friends—and Sean says that he saw me 30 feet across the room and he just said I have that star quality,” said Taylor. “He came and he talked with me and said ‘I don’t know anything about this area but it looks interesting, there’s a lot of stuff that goes on, I’d like to turn it into a movie.’”

Before she met Baker, though, Taylor was anything but close to a big break. She had applied for 186 jobs in one month and interviewed for 26 positions. Without the cash to change her name and gender on her ID, Taylor could not escape discrimination.

“There was a job on Craigslist, it was a telemarketing job. The man [hiring] liked me and he said he wanted to have the company call me to test my voice over the phone because it was telemarketing,” said Taylor. “He took my information down, which is what revealed my ID at that time, which did not say Mya Taylor—it said my other name and it showed that I was transgender.”

The man said he would get back to Taylor the following day, but no call came. After three days on edge, Taylor decided to call out her potential employer. She called the company back but was told that, unfortunately, it was having a hiring freeze. So she applied under a fake name.
“I sent them a message saying oh, this is Jessica Miller, I’m so interested in this job and everything and here are my skills,” said Taylor.

“The lady said well, come in tomorrow at 10:20 a.m. for an interview. I was there at 10:20 and I walked in as Mya Taylor. [I told the receptionist] that they told me they weren’t hiring anymore...She was like, well, that’s a lie.”

Tangerine was shot on an iPhone 5s, and the hyper-realness of the footage makes the characters’ ever-present struggle just to get by eerily authentic. But the daylong extravaganza of absurdities still feels comedic because of the light Taylor and Rodriguez bring to their situations.

“I wanted it to have comedy [because]  the story is so depressing. Whenever I was down, low in my life, I would bring it back up with comedy,” said Taylor. “When you’re down that low, you’re prostituting, you’re selling your body to try to make money, to try to live to get by, it’s not fun, but you gotta make fun of it.”

Despite “Tangerine” being her first real role—she is credited as an unnamed zombie in one episode of “Hollywood Wasteland”—Taylor played the role with a confidence that both animated Alexandra’s comfort in her West Hollywood neighborhood and also helped Taylor through her own transition.

“I had started taking hormones two months before [shooting the movie]. In real life, I was always in shades, big shades, like Hollywood shades because I was insecure about what I looked like,” said Taylor.

“I would wear shades because shades cover up a lot of your face, but it also keeps you in your own zone, it keeps everyone away. That’s how I felt in shades. Doing the movie I came out of the shades and I said look, this is something I have to do, this is something I’m doing for my career, you never know how this movie could turn out. I don’t know, somewhere I build up all the confidence.”

Now, Taylor is in a much better place. She is starring in two upcoming short films, is working on a television show and has fallen in love and moved with her fiancé to North Dakota.
But she’ll be the first to say her fame hasn’t changed her.

“Sometimes I want to go to Taco Bell and [my friends] want to eat out at these really expensive restaurants where the food is nasty as shit and I’m like, ‘Bitch, I’m not used to eating that...that meat is pink on the inside, I don’t eat that, bitch.’ They sit there and they eat that really expensive food and I go right to Taco Bell and still have my coins in my purse.”