Daniela Vega “Art is Political”

The transgender actress shot to fame in 2017 for her performance in one of the most acclaimed movies of Chilean cinema: Una mujer fantástica (A Fantastic Woman), which garnered the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Three years later, it is clear that Vega’s fame goes far beyond that debut and is now entirely on her own terms.

By Winnie T. Sittón – Photos:  EFE

Daniela Vega was born in Santiago de Chile in 1989. Before rising to international film stardom, she worked as a stylist in a beauty salon and studied opera; she had very little acting experience. She met director and scriptwriter Sebastián Lelio in 2014 when he tapped her as a consultant. Since he was working on a new film that dealt with transgender issues, he suggested they collaborate on the script. During the process, they got along so well that Lelio realized she was the perfect person to breathe life into the lead role in the film, titled Una mujer fantástica (A Fantastic Woman).

This was an enormous challenge for the budding actress. “I had only done one movie before this one, and I was not known in the world of international films. When Sebastián Lelio cast me in the role, he gave me the opportunity to work with him, but he also set a challenge for me. The biggest challenge was taking on the entire movie and making sure it came out well. Of course, some scenes were more difficult than others, but the bulk of the work lay in crafting a performance that, in the end, would please the viewers.”

Now no one doubts that Vega was the right person to play Marina Vidal, a young transsexual woman who must deal with the sudden death of her partner, Orlando, who was twenty years her senior. Despite her painful loss, Orlando’s family refuses to allow her to mourn in peace, and targets her with censure, prejudice, and violence. Daniela’s superb acting captivated both critics and audiences, turning her into one of the most emblematic faces of Latin American cinema.

The film became a worldwide film phenomenon the moment it premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2017; it took home more than thirty awards, including some of the most prestigious prizes in cinema, such as a Goya for Best Iberoamerican Film and an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, making film history for Chile.

Daniela Vega’s success clearly rests on more than the film that set her on the road to fame. In 2019, she appeared in Historias de San Francisco (Tales of the City), a Netflix series that sketches a portrait of San Francisco’s gay community. She was also one of the faces of The Performers, a campaign developed by Vogue, GQ, and Gucci to explore identity and gender politics.

She further cemented her success with the publication of the autobiographical book Rebeldía, resistencia, amor (Rebellion, Resistance, Love) at the end of that same year. The work collects her most intimate memories and experiences: childhood, bullying, her gender transition, and on to her listing as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2018.

News of her most recent project already has audiences eagerly anticipating what comes next. A Netflix documentary series titled “Peace Peace Now Now,” will be released in January 2021. The film tells the stories of women from various countries who have managed to survive gender violence in contexts of armed conflict. Working for the first time as an executive producer, Vega was a key figure in the series. She also serves as one of the series’ hosts, joining actresses Yalitza Aparicio (México), Ester Expósito (Spain), and singer Shirley Manson (Scotland).

The year will also see the premiere of a film that marks her entry into European cinema: Futura, a movie by Italian filmmaker Lamberto Sanfelice, whose first work, Cloro (Chlorine) (2015), was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the Crystal Bear at the Berlinale. In this new work, filmed in Milan in 2019, she stars alongside actors Niels Schneider (France) and Matilde Gioli (Italy).

Even though she appreciates her immense success, the actress emphasizes that she did not begin acting to become famous. “When I decided to be an actress, I didn’t do it to win awards or to feature on magazine covers. I became a performer to survive. My start in movies was part of an effort to understand myself; at the time, I was lost in a fog of uncertainty, which is why I am now proudly trans, and that is why I try to weave politics and art together. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me; I didn’t know how to grow or how to tackle my life at the time. Film represented a kind of antidote to the dark place I was in.”