Director Thomas Mignone is an interesting example of a director who has staked out his own territory in unusual areas. He’s directed promotional videos for dark-themed bands like Sepultura and Slipknot, but doesn’t seem to do the ‘skulls and chains’ that might be expected, instead bringing a vibrant, colourful, theatrical look that’s fresh to the genre. His 2010 film On The Doll looked at the taboo subject of child abuse, and his new feature, The Latin From Manhattan looks at the experiences of sex-workers back in early 80’s NYC.
So trigger warnings are firmly attached here as we examine a marginalised community, but not in an exploitative way; this is the story of an adult film-star, and The Latin in Manhattan covers some aspects familiar from more mainstream narratives like Boogie Nights or American Hustle, but in a far darker way. The Latin from Manhattan focuses on the rise of adult film icon Vanessa Del Rio (the vivacious Vivian Lamolli) and the backdrop is that of Times Square in the 80’s, with organised crime tightening its grip on the porn industry. Del Rio is a lively character with considerable agency, but the world around her is potentially dangerous; there’s a neat twist through which an investigating cop (Jesse Metcalfe) is revealed to be in a gay relationship with an AIDS patient, and that kind of detail helps transcend the expected tropes of the cops and crims subject matter.
Although the period detail is nicely handled, with Vanessa often addressing the camera and the audience rather theatically through the door of her sex-booth, there’s also some truly disturbing material handled here, and Mignone and his cast don’t shy away from it; Taryn Manning from Orange Is The New Black in particular makes a huge impression in a key role as Danny, Vanessa’s friend who gets assaulted by a client in an agonising scene.
Such shocking moments, well handled by Mignone, are presented as part of the deal for vulnerable people in the industry at a time of limited oversight; seeing how Vanessa comforts Sandy with remarkable tenderness entirely justifies including such detail in this film. Sex-workers at any time have been consistently demonised and marginalised by the media; The Latin From Manhattan aims to speak up for them and blow away the cobwebs of stigma and prejudice. Well performed and fresh of conceit, it’s an original, bracingly fearless film on a subject matter generally treated as taboo.
The Latin From Manhattan screened at Dances with Films in Los Angeles June 2022.