Although it might seem like cisgender actors are always receiving critical acclaim when they portray a transgender character (see Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry, Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club and Felicity Huffman in Transamerica, just to name a few), it never crossed Brazilian writer-director Flavio Alves’ mind to follow suit in his drama The Garden Left Behind.

The film tells the story of Tina Carrera (Carlie Guevara), an undocumented trans Latina living in New York City with her grandmother Eliana (Miriam Cruz) and working to save enough money to complete her full transition. When a trans woman from her neighborhood falls victim to a hate crime, Tina joins an advocacy group with her friends to fight for the equality and rights of trans people everywhere.

As a member of the LGBTQ community himself, Alves recognized the opportunity he had to cast the movie in the most authentic way possible. “I wanted to make sure the voice of the trans community was heard,” Alves told Remezcla during an interview at the SXSW Film Festival. “As a queer Latino filmmaker, I feel like I’m obligated to tell a story that represents myself and others who have historically been ignored on the big screen.”

For Alves, this included casting trans actors in all the trans roles and also working with the Trans Filmmakers Project to identify a pool of trans people in the industry to work behind the camera. Alves said he saw approximately 200 trans actors for various roles in the movie. But when Guevara walked in and read from the script, his search for his lead character was over.

“It was all in her eyes and her body language,” Alves said. “When she read her first line, I knew I found Tina. She was everything I imagined the character to be.”

Guevara, a trans actor with Salvadoran roots, makes her film debut in The Garden Left Behind. As a trans actor actually playing a trans character, Guevara said she felt a responsibility to represent the trans community with dignity and authenticity. She realizes that in Hollywood, trans actors are not given the chance to play these parts often.

‘The Garden Left Behind’ still courtesy of SXSW

“I do think that it’s important for things to start changing, so that more trans actors can play trans roles,” Guevara told Remezcla. “People look at me and see a trans woman, so I wanted people to see that in the character and wanted to do justice to Tina and bring her to life.”

Along with portraying a trans character, Guevara wanted the Latina side of Tina to also be identifiable. She was excited when she read the script to see that Alves and co-writer John Rotondo wrote an honest relationship between Tina and her grandmother – one of love, respect and genuine concern for each other’s wellbeing.

“There is a conversation going on in the Latino community right now about how we can fit trans voices into our everyday lives and not exclude or ignore them,” Guevara said. “There is a lot of love with Tina and her grandmother, but I also imagine there is fear – fear of what the world will do to her.”

Guevara hopes audiences not only see The Garden Left Behind as a trans story, but a universal one. She wants people to empathize with the characters and see themselves in Tina.

“Trans identity is a part of someone, but there is so much more to trans people,” Guevara said. “That needs to be acknowledged.”

As her career continues, she urges Hollywood to start casting more trans actors in bigger projects, including in non-trans roles.

“I would love to play an alien in a sci-fi movie,” Guevara said. “I want a kick-ass role in a movie like Atomic Blonde or in a Marvel superhero movie! That would be amazing.”