“Woman on Fire” Celebrates Transgender Firefighter
TITLE: Woman on Fire
DIRECTOR: Julie Sokolow
GENRE: Documentary Feature
RATING: Not Rated
LENGTH: 1h 25m
Woman on Fire follows the trials and triumphs of transgender New York City firefighter Brooke Guinan in an emotional documentary feature film. Directed by Julie Sokolow and produced by Danny Yourd, Woman on Fire takes viewers on a journey through Guinan’s private and professional life living and working in Queens and what it means to be a transgender female in today’s society. Guinan stars in this film as herself, while her FDNY coworkers, immediate family members and boyfriend serve as other key characters in this film. In just under an hour and a half, Woman on Fire, which took over a year and a half to film, explores both the obvious and most hidden difficulties women face in the male-dominated FDNY and the even more serious struggles within the LGBTQ community.
Guinan served as one of the only 46 women firefighters employed by the Official Fire Department City of New York up until 2010. While the odds were undoubtedly stacked against her and all women firefighters like her, Guinan refused to be discouraged. Her family has worked as part of the FDNY for numerous decades, with both her father and grandfather serving as firefighters before her. Guinan takes special pride in this unique job, and it shows immediately in the film it is something she is very passionate about.
Woman on Fire follows Guinan’s life journey as she fights back against negative stereotypes and criticism about her gender and sexuality to prove that she is just as capable of doing her job as well as, if not better than, any of her male counterparts.
Woman on Fire begins with introducing Brooke Guinan to the audience by traveling through her childhood to her present-day adult life. We are introduced to her parents and autistic sister, all of whom she shares a one-of-a-kind relationship with that is both loving but oftentimes very trying on both ends. We are also introduced to Guinan’s boyfriend Jim, a typical straight male, with whom she is happily dedicated to. Guinan’s personal life and relationships are explored in detail, as they all appear throughout the film in one-on-one interview style that is intimate and personal.
We learn a lot about Guinan’s early childhood, rejecting sports in grade school and gravitating toward music and art. The film follows her journey from identifying as a straight male to gay male to straight woman and how Guinan transitioned from one stage to another. Guinan talks about her time in the FDNY as an adult both before and after her transition to becoming a woman. Guinan began working as a firefighter while still a male before starting the transition process and discusses what the change was really like for her and her family.
While watching Woman on Fire, you can’t help but get an overwhelming sense of curiosity and self-reflection. This documentary is eye opening and really makes you think about Guinan’s struggles and how unfortunately common it is to be rejected if you don’t fit into the normalcy of a certain situation, group or even career path. It is especially relatable watching this film as a woman, because being looked down upon based off of gender isn’t an uncommon phenomenon despite all the strides toward equality that have been made over the years.
There is something special to be said about a person who puts it all out there for the world to see. Guinan loved working as a firefighter but knew that she had a duty to her LGBTQ community to be a voice to those who could not speak for themselves. Woman on Fire does a great job of detailing the transition Guinan made from full-time firefighter to full-time activist and spokesperson. One of the best parts of this documentary is how easy it flows from one time in Guinan’s life to the next, each milestone adding a new layer of complexity to her overall life journey.
By exploring Guinan’s life both in and out of the FDNY workforce, Woman on Fire aims to create a better overall understanding of what it means to be transgender and promote acceptance of all people within the LGBTQ community. The personal approach this film has creates a connection between viewers and characters on-screen. Presenting this film as a true documentary instead of a feature film recreated by professional actors adds a strong level of intimacy and warmth to the story that all viewers can appreciate and enjoy.
Brooke Guinan is a brave and strong individual who shares her emotional journey of being transgender in the FDNY, and Woman on Fire celebrates both her shortcomings and successes in a heartfelt and inspiring documentary. Woman on Fire shines light on the many common issues faced by the LGBTQ community and how one woman’s fearlessness to be her true self has shattered boundaries no one ever thought could be broken. This documentary is bright and insightful, and I recommend Woman on Fire to anyone who enjoys both an intelligent and painfully honest film. Regardless of prior background knowledge or opinions on the subject, Woman on Fire is likable and relatable because no matter who you are or where you come from, everyone knows what it is like in some capacity to feel on the outside looking in.