Lucky is the story of a single Puerto Rican mother who is obsessed with Lil Wayne and covered in tattoos. Lucky Torres is a lesbian who grew up between foster care and homelessness, and her constant struggle to survive makes her heroism a vulnerable one. Throughout the film, Torres deals with a lot. Laura Checkoway, the film’s director, spent six years filming and working with Lucky—which was just enough time to give us a real view into the systemic issues, bigotry, and lack of support that made a warrior out of Torres. The documentary has screened at independent festivals and is now being made available to a wider audience, as it will be released on Amazon and iTunes today.
It’s true: sometimes onscreen, Lucky seems straight up violent, careless, and generally worn down. These are the words that someone form the outside might use to describe her. People covered in face tats aren’t often given the time of day, and we frequently dismiss the poor, the homeless, the othered, as being deserving of what they’ve got…in the logic of neoliberal capital, your external circumstances of the moment are direct reflections of the content of your character. “Why can’t you get a job? It must be because you’re a loser,” is not at all an uncommon attitude.
Lucky displays her frustration on her skin. But her rage is more complex than the surface might reveal: her tattoos are a reaction to being called ugly at a young age, probably in foster care or when she was trying to survive on the streets. Wanting to hide, she got inked. Her tattoos are a manifestation of the neglect she’s faced and the resilience she’s developed. “I keep trying to find the pain,” she said of her tattoos, “I just can’t find it.”
These tattoos are the same ones that routinely get her politely dismissed from interviews and callbacks. When she applies for a commercial modeling position, the talent management responds in a way that to me seems gently sugarcoating the hurdles her ‘unique look,’ pose for her. “As soon as we get a call for a woman whose face is tattooed all over, we’ll call you,” the guy says.
We take people from the margins, give them no support, no role models, and leave them to their own devices. Sometimes those devices are getting a face full of tattoos, sometimes it’s becoming a stripper, as Lucky did. I find it interesting that the general shade projected onto these options carries the dual stigma of being a social outcast in addition to the stigma of failing to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps." Lucky is a good example of how we systematically push people out, and in the same breath, systematically prevent those same people from getting them ahead.
Regardless, Lucky’s perseverance is admirable and her story is one that is silenced far too often. “I’m a Lucky star,” she says to herself many times. She seems to feel called to carry on, to continue living no matter what happens.
I really appreciated this earnest story of struggle. When we hear from minorities, poor people or oppressed people, the media privileges the stories that are easy to hear. Yeah, we don’t wanna hear about the queer single mammas who are smoking weed, talking about lil Wayne, trying desperately to be famous, and telling lies to shelter supervisors about their stories. We talk about people who’ve "made it," people of color and poor people who are "good," "well-behaved," who "play by the rules." We have a narrative of a Puritan ethic that is used to slam the already-oppressed—if a rich kid was smoking weed on a rooftop, maybe we’d see that as a momentary escape or a well-earned moment of reprieve. But when a queer woman of color covered in face tats rolls a j, I think a lot of us might see that in a different light. But the messy sagas of the many people who from day one are left to society’s fringes are real stories. I think it’s time for us to hear these stories, and I think there’s a way to recognize without back-handed victim blaming.
Let’s not condescend these realities by calling them ‘gritty,’ or push them out by assuming a cavalier position of, “well if only she had gotten an education,” or “if only she had lived in a world where she had a social worker to talk to instead of a tattoo gun,” or whatever. Well, she didn’t. Let’s talk about why. I’m thankful to this documentary for being compassionately watchful, and for being willing to walk hand in hand as opposed to point fingers.
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