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I am the Tigress

The life and career of Tischa ‘The Tigress’ Thomas during the last year of her chosen occupation as an African American female bodybuilder is the subject of doc challenging normative femininity - from WatchAUT: the Austrian Film Festival

Philipp Fussenegger and Dino Osmanoviç’s documentary offers insight into a world foreign to most of us. Straight from the off, we are introduced to the woman in question, as she enters our lives (and the film) with a little dance and an empowering speech about body image – she herself obviously being very content with her muscular shape. It’s quite the sight to behold watching this woman being dipped head to toe in bronzer, while also seeing the effects that her training and the copious amounts of steroids and hormones have done to her body – a drastic change has occurred with Tischa, but if she’s happy, that’s all that matters, right?

This fly-on-the-wall type of documentary follows Tischa in not only her bodybuilding but also in her other job. She dips her toe (pun intended) into dominatrix work; she does photo shoots that get sold to her adoring fans, and even a little bit of webcam for people around the world – there is a fetish for this type of woman, and fair play to her for taking full advantage of it and using it for financial gain because, a 48-year-old woman can’t be making much money from competitions, something she alludes to in the film.

There’s an issue though, and it’s a big one: there’s something seriously off with this documentary. The way it is filmed, the content, the people in it – it does not feel entirely genuine, like perhaps some of the scenes or moments were staged, with Tischa playing up to the camera and exaggerating her emotions slightly. In one or two scenes in particular – where the camera closes in on Tischa – she appears to be acting, or at least it looks that way. Ultimately what we see is the persona that she’s needed to put on to hide all that pain that’s clearly bottled up. This is a woman with some clear issues, and yet, she becomes an object for us to gaze at instead. The real issues are in hiding, behind some clever camera tricks and fancy lighting.The music attempts to convey a strange sense of dramatism, sometimes lapsing into melodrama territory.

This interesting story lacks some contextualisation. There is hardly any character background or an idea towards motivation, except for a few fragments of Tischa’s life: such as the fact that she’s a mother and a grandmother, and how she used to get bullied for being overweight. And then there’s her partner in crime, the random old man seen following her around (which is an extremely odd dynamic by the way). Is he the manager? Lover? What about her coach? It’s never actually confirmed – but if you were wondering. We finally find out his name in the film’s dying moments…

In a nutshell: this is a documentary with a fascinating central character and many missed opportunities.

I am the Tigress shows at the 2nd WatchAUT: Austrian Film Festival, which takes place between March 23rd and 26th. Just click here for more information.

By John McDonald - 17-03-2023

Failing from the seaside town of Southport but now living in Liverpool, John McDonald has had a passion for cinema since he was a small child. The westerns of John Wayne were his gateway into the cine...

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