In 2005, Daniel Peddle released The Aggressivesa groundbreaking documentary filmed during the late '90s and early '00s in New York City that profiled several masculine-presenting/transmasculine people of color.
Fast-forward to 2023. Peddle has now released Beyond the Aggressives: 25 Years Later. In this 80-minute film, four of the subjectsTrevon Haynes, Kisha Batista, Octavio Sanders and Chin Tsuitackle subjects such as gender, language, relationships, personal loss and immigration, and (literally) go to some surprising places.
In a recent talk with Windy City Times, Peddle talked about this latest documentary.
Note: This conversation was edited for clarity and length.
Windy City Times: Congratulations on the movie. Did you think you'd become as emotionally invested in it as you did?
Daniel Peddle: [Laughs] I think maybe there were times when I hoped I wouldn't get as emotionally invested as I did. But I'm a triple PiscesI'm a very sensitive guy, I'm an artistso it was pretty early into the process when I realized I wasn't really following the rules that I had been taught when I studied ethnography, anthropology and documentary filmmaking. There were definitely things I started to do, like hanging out and dancing with your "subjects."
In all honesty, I just fell in love with our participants and the community. So I realized early on that I hadn't kept all the boundaries in place. [Laughs] But I started thinking about it in terms of making art. (I've been a painter my whole life.) Some rules are not applicable. I was able to let go of some of my preconceived notions about subject-filmmaker relationships.
WCT: I think the story regarding Chin must've really hit you, because you even arranged for legal help.
DP: Yeah. Chin's story was definitely a big surprise for me. I wasn't expecting to reconnect with him that way at all. It took quite a whileabout six monthsof scouring his past relationships. He's the one person out of the original six who I really couldn't keep up with. But I never thought I would find him where I did [ICE detention].
But it really became an example of how film can be a form of activism and advocacy. If it hadn't been for the first film, we wouldn't have been able to secure him pro bono legal representation. And if it weren't for the process of making the second film, I wouldn't have tried to find out where he was. Outside of completing this film, there was this whole entire endeavor that I got wrapped up in.
WCT: I felt that all of [the subjects'] lives were really compelling, but Chin's threw me for a loop. At first, I thought there was no hope.
DP: [Pauses] I felt that way, too. It's hard for me to watch all that, and Chin has expressed the same. So much of his trauma is documented in the film, even though it ended with a "happy ending." It took years of work to get there.
WCT: Could you talk a little bit about how the evolution of language, especially LGBTQ+ terminology, affected the film's subjects?
DP: The languagewow. It's part of the reason I wanted to do a sequel.
Here's a quick story about that: It was a little over seven years ago that I rewatched the first film, which I probably hadn't seen in about a decadeand I hated the way it ended. It seemed to end on a hopeless note and there was this mystery about where they were going to go. You worry, as an audience member.
Knowing that they had overcome [their obstacles] and changed their lives in amazingly positive ways, I wanted to go back and show this evolution that audience members may not have predicted. And with that feeling of urgency was the knowledge that the language had changed so mucheven with the term "aggressive."
I had to remind people that this was not a term that I came up with; they used this term, willingly, back in the day. Since then, a lot of questions have come up about that term, even though some people still call themselves that. But in 1997, people were definitely not using the word "trans." That was something several of our participants in the sequel had shifted to using.
And there are other terms that we use, like nonbinary and genderqueer. So, it's incredible because language can be so empowering but can also be very limiting. We kind of unravel this in the second film and it was exciting to bring this to the second film.
WCT: Going back for a second, did Chin's story surprise you the most?
DP: Not really. I was also really surprised to know Octavio's story. It was exciting to see the development there. And even with Trevon, it was somewhat unexpected to see the way he described his evolution. Back in the day, he probably would've been the one we would say was nonbinary. So to see him question if that's the term he wants to use was really interesting. All of the stories were surprising but Chin's was definitely the most shocking.
WCT: Are we going to see a sequel to this?
DP: [Laughs] Oh, boyI don't know. Twenty-five years from now, I don't want to guess where I'll be in life. Maybe we won't wait quite so longmaybe 10 years. But I'm in my 50s now, so 25 years from now is looking a little suspect. [Laughs]
WCT: And I wanted Trevon's [queer] aunt to be my aunt. She was amazing.
DP: Aunt Gretashe was so amazing and, unfortunately, we just lost her a little more than a month ago. It was a great loss for the community. But Aunt Greta's story was also one of the beautiful surprises in the film.
We wanted to bring the new generation into this film, and they do explain the impact of the first film on their identities and lives. And I also had this goal of bringing in people who were older than our subjects, so when I laid eyes on Aunt Greta for the first time, I thought God sent her to be in this movie. Then we see this beautiful generational gap bridged in this second filmand that was so rewarding. [Greta's] generation is so underrepresented and it's super-important that that we reach out to them and thank them for all the work they've done in clearing a path for us.
WCT: I was looking at the films you've directedand they are very different. For example, there's Garden of the Peaceful Dragon [about an elderly Black veteran who occupies an abandoned plot of land in Hawaii]. What draws you to a particular subject?
DP: I grew up in the South and I grew up with an evangelical family. With those roots, you can get older and move to the big city, but I've always had the feeling that God is present in my life and she has a purpose for me. I try to make sure that I listen to my intuitive voice.
All my filmsas different as they may seemstart with that first moment when it felt like God tapped me on the shoulder and said, "This is the one." With Garden of the Peaceful Dragon, I was on vacation and staying in a sort of sketchy neighborhood in Kauai, the most blue-collar of the Hawaiian islands. One morning I was filming the sunrise with my iPhone and this gentleman (who I saw sleeping in this truck beside where I was staying) came up to me and said, "You should make a film about me." The moment he said that, I heard the bells of truth going off. I literally turned my camera on him and started filming him, and that started a five-year journey that ended with that film. Otherwise, his story would probably have been forgotten.
One thing about my films is that they're all about marginalized peopleregardless of their backgrounds or identities. That's something I'm drawn to, for a lot of reasonsand I think the biggest reason is to use my own cisgender, white male privilege in a positive way.
WCT: What's a universal truth that you feel people can take from Beyond the Aggressives?
DP: I really think the participants are presented in a way that you get to experience the totality of their humanity. We know that this community is grossly underrepresented. Not only is more representation needed, but we need the kind of representation that provides points of connectivity for all types of peoplenot just people in the community or who are "in the life," to use the old term.
We need people like my fatherevangelical Christians with conservative viewsto see movies about this community to help change their perspectives. We all are experiencing this human life together and are all just trying to get through it. There are so many more places where we can connect. That's what emerges from the film, even more than anything about gender; it's about the totality of the people in the movie.
A lot of people, after seeing both films, feel like they know them and want to call them by their first names. That's really powerful for me. At the end of the day, let's just use their names; they have their names for a reason.
Beyond the Aggressives: 25 Years Later had its world premiere at NewFest this past October and will debut on Showtime and Paramount+ in 2024. Also, people can follow the film and its subjects on Instagram @theaggressives.