Though art isn’t often a game-changer on the short term, in the case of Chile’s transgender star Daniela Vega – who played the lead in last year’s Academy Award winner, A Fantastic Woman – it very well might have been what inspired thousands of students to take to the streets of Santiago in protest of Sexual harassment.
“The clock is running, time is passing, people are awaiting this change,” said Vega back in March, just prior to Miguel Juan Sebastián Piñera Echenique returning to office after a brief interim by the short-lived national upset female President, Michelle Bachelet.
With as much panache as the character she portrayed, and with more vehemence than can be captured in any film, Vega exhorted, “I have a name on my identity card that is not my name.”
Though Vega was initially hired solely in the capacity of an expert consultant on A Fantastic Woman, it’s evident why she landed the lead role. She is the main character and more.
Echoing a theme familiar from the film itself, she elucidated her point by explaining,
“In the country where I was born I do not have the possibility of having my own name on my official documents.”
Momentum from numerous camps had been building and yesterday the tipping. Point had come. Over the course of last year, 43 women had been died as a result of domestic violence, murdered by their own partners – a number that was obscenely higher than a year earlier when the death toll had been 9.
Having already been motivated to activism by what students saw as a profit-driven higher education system which is clearly forbidden by Chilean law, students were only too willing to come together to show their outrage at what they saw as blatant sexual harassment and unpunished sexual assaults that occurred on several campuses.
As calls for investigation went largely unheeded by the government, students and faculty took to the streets in an atmosphere of protest, awareness and a celebration of enlightenment when it came to age old prejudices. Though Piñera had paid lip service to combating sexism, his actions and ability to initiate change were few and far between.
“Institutionalized sexism” and an end to the pervasive “culture of Machismo” were to blame for the country’s predicament according to several spokespersons and student bodies. The same society that prevented those who were transgender from being recognized for the sex they innately felt they were and often had fully become, also tolerated domestic violence and reneged on their responsibility to safeguard the dignity and security of all people regardless of religion, race, gender or sexual preference.
The lives and safety of human beings are at stake. And Daniela Vega remains at its forefront – a fearless invocation of all that was wrong with Chile, a valiant fighter for genuine change, a courageous voice whose art had given an issue a platform from which to change the country and eventually the world.
Though it’s been said that life imitates art almost as often as the opposite truism with which we’re familiar, in this case, life and those passionately living it, imitated Vega. Taking their cue from the transgender diva, Chilean youth are confronting the oppressive and perpetual patriarchy inherent in their culture. They are speaking out, they are taking to the streets and they will be heard because we can already hear them.