You may have heard Man Made, a feature-length documentary from director T Cooper, described as “that trans bodybuilding movie.” In fact, while I waited to enter a screening at the Bentonville Film Festival, an eager filmgoer approached and asked, “Is this the movie about the trans bodybuilders?”
Indeed, this film does follow the stories of 4 trans men as they prep to compete at TransFitCon, a bodybuilding competition open to any trans individual who identifies as male. But the heart of this film is about so much more.
Watch the trailer HERE.
Man Made primarily focuses on four men. Mason is a professional bodybuilder who has encountered discrimination in competitions because he’s trans. Dominic is a rapper who has just gone through top surgery and wants to use TransFitCon as a moment of pride for those with similar scars. Kennie is just starting his transition and uses bodybuilding as a way to transform his body into the one he wants. And Rese looks to the competition for acceptance, as his parents have disowned him.
On the surface, each of these stories is about defining masculinity on your own terms and being proud of who you are, even if others don’t understand. But below the surface, there’s a lot to absorb.
The heart of the film is Dominic, a naturally charismatic performer with a whip smart sense of humor. In the first act, he undergoes top surgery and then has an opportunity to view his before and after pictures. His reaction is one of genuine shock, appreciation, and joy. It’s quite profound to watch someone slowly become the person they’ve always felt they were.
In another heartwarming moment, Mason opens up about a suicide attempt and shares how far he has come emotionally. He revisits a clip in which he attended one of Ellen DeGeneres’ stand up shows, shortly after she came out. He expresses admiration for her courage and breaks down. In that moment, he’s more than an Ellen fan—he’s a person struggling to accept who he is and losing grip in real-time.
Though there are several scenes with emotional gravity, things take a slightly lighter turn at the competition. Cooper moves beyond the main four subjects to include more stories of identity. Several of the contestants talk about “packing”, to ensure they can fill their posing briefs. And one bearded contestant talks about how he embraces his masculine and feminine sides equally.
And even when we lose sight of Mason, Dominic, Rese, and Kennie, the new stories and subjects are just as compelling.
So often, we talk about the trans community from a place of struggle. We focus on the murders of trans people, the legislation that prevents their acceptance, their attempts to educate the masses about their gender and identity. But rarely do we get to walk in a trans person’s shoes and see the world through their eyes. This film presents three-dimensional individuals who love, laugh, cry, and compete. They have girlfriends, fiancés, and wives. They have financial struggles as well as career success. They have great friends and families. This is the whole picture.
Also, Man Made offers a wonderful cross-section of economic status, race, transition stage, identity, and relationship status in just four individuals.
This is a film designed to tug at your heartstrings. Even the choice to soundtrack, several moments using Florence + The Machine’s “Shake It Off” adds extra depth. But this film is more than a tearjerker. It’s stirring and triumphant; it’s hopeful. Whether you identify as trans, LGBTQ, or as an ally, this is a movie worth seeing.
To find out more about screenings near you, visit www.manmadedoc.com.