The long and not so 'straight' road
A 15-year labor of love finally makes it to the screen with ‘Oh Baby’
By Patricia Cunliffe 09/25/2008
In 1993 Steven Rothblatt wrote a very atypical screenplay: “Oh Baby,” the story of a Jewish schoolteacher, David, played by Alex Craig Mann, who is obsessed with becoming a father — so much so that he alienates his girlfriend and ends up falling in love with Alexis, an undocumented Mexican transgender sex worker.
Today Rothblatt’s words have finally been turned into a film, which recently screened at the Gay and Lesbian Center in Hollywood as part of a benefit to help raise funds to defeat Proposition 9, a measure on the Nov. 4 ballot that would ban marriage between gay and lesbian couples.
“It’s a very human film, with a real transgender cast, which is something you don’t see very often,” says Virsil Mitchell, who, along with Stephen Jimenez of the Gay and Lesbian Administrative Alliance, put on the Sept. 8 screening.
Rothblatt, who is not gay, and his significant other Katharen Anderson, the film’s producer, said they hope to host a screening of the film in Pasadena, but no dates are certain as of yet.
“That someone should be able to marry whoever they want just seems like fundamental human rights to me,” Rothblatt says. “Hopefully, my film can help bring some sensitivity to the issue.”
Anderson, a beautiful British woman of African descent, says she didn’t plan on being the film’s producer. “But as we were getting ready to shoot, I took on the tasks that producers do,” she explains. “So, at the end of the day, I was the producer, along with Steve.”
In the early 1990s a group of undocumented transgender people lived in the same apartment building as Rothblatt, who later discovered they were sex workers. He was able to converse in Spanish, so he was allowed into their world, creating the impetus for the story.
He knew that even with a huge budget, casting the lead roles would be difficult. As he and Anderson had no budget, it took two years to find actors to play David and Alexis.
As David, Mann not only had to come across as a straight guy, but believably simulate a romance with a real transgender — and not a woman playing the part.
Mann, who was recommended to Rothblatt by director Henri Jaglom, originally declined the part. But several months later he agreed to do it. “One of the driving forces for me was that this guy had so much passion for what he was doing,” says Mann. “I am honored to be a part of helping Steve’s labor of love come true.”
The role of Alexis was even more specific. Rothblatt not only wanted a real transgender, but one who organically conveyed femininity and vulnerability that would appeal to the audience on a human level, not as a spectacle.
“Steve gave me the opportunity to portray a transgender role with respect, humanity and dignity,” says Ariana, who plays Alexis. “It’s been a long time coming and I hope the film makes an impact.”
Due to Rothblatt and Anderson’s bare-bones budget, the film’s crew on any given day was fluid, with the exception of three key people who committed for the duration: cinematographer Francisco Martinez, fresh out of the American Film Institute; art director Sam Jones, who was the art director for “Hello Dolly” and came out of retirement because he liked the script; and choreographer Jeremy Lucas.
“I woke up the day after the screening, feeling for the first time in 15 years that I had this huge burden lifted off me.” says Rothblatt, “Since I wrote this, I knew that it had to be my first feature.”
Regardless of what you think of the subject matter — whether it’s the song and dance sequences, or the multi-genres, or the conflicts wrought by race, culture, sexuality and lifestyle, or the arresting full frontal image of Alexis in all of her glory — “Oh Baby” is a film that will ensure Rothblatt’s place as a respected maverick director.