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Cannes: Leyna Bloom Makes History as First Transgender Lead Actress of Color at Festival

Leyna Bloom Becomes First Transgender Actress
Alexander Laurent

Leyna Bloom is about to shatter an important glass ceiling.

On Saturday, she will become the first transgender woman of color to star in a movie that premieres at the Cannes Film Festival. In “Port Authority,” directed by Danielle Lessovitz, Bloom plays a trans woman from New York’s kiki ballroom scene who falls in love with a lost drifter (Fionn Whitehead).

“This is the moment that I’ve dreamed about,” says Bloom, a first-time actress and model who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “This moment is a door that has been opened for a lot of people to sit at the table. How do you see something like this? It’s never happened. I just want to take it all in and know that there’s still work to be done.”

In its 72-year-history, the Cannes Film Festival has been a prestigious — but stodgy — club that has elevated mostly male story tellers. In 2018, in a public ceremony on the steps of the Palais, organizers signed a 50/50×2020 pledge, designed to create more gender parity at the festival.

But when it comes to discussions about representation, the trans community has even less visibility onscreen or behind the camera. A recent study by GLAAD found that there were no major transgender characters in U.S. studio movies in 2017. TV is only doing marginally better.

“Port Authority,” which is screening in Un Certain Regard, is set in a world that’s similar to FX’s groundbreaking drama series “Pose.” And Bloom, who is half-black and Filipino, sees many facets of her own life in her character.

“I got into the ballroom scene when I was 15 years old,” Bloom says. “I was just a young feminine boy moving around in Chicago. I was raised in the ballroom community; it was my first runway.” Two years later, Bloom moved to New York and started modeling.

“I wasn’t out of the closet at the time,” she says. “It was a point in the fashion industry where no one was accepting a trans woman of color at their agencies.” But she made her own way. In 2017, she graced the cover of Vogue India, as the first transgender woman to do so.

When Bloom auditioned for “Port Authority,” she beat out more than 1,000 other actresses for her role. “I had to be my first manager,” she says. “I had to be my first PR. I had to be my stylist. I had to do that all on my own. And I’m still not signed to an acting agency or to a modeling agency. I just have people that believe in me and want me to succeed.”

She hopes to continue acting after her Cannes debut. “I know my path,” Bloom says. “I can only walk my path. I just want to say who I am.”