Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Laerte-Se Movie Poster Image
Docu about transgender artist has nudity, cursing.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 100 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Sexual identity is far more fluid than was once assumed. Some people's emotional happiness depends on being able to live life as the gender that feels right rather than the one that was assigned to them at birth. Many of us are "different," some on the inside where it can be hidden and others on the outside. Tolerance for all differences makes for a peaceful society.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Laerte is a successful Brazilian cartoonist who wanted to live her life as a woman. Her children, who still call her "Dad," and parents accept the decision.


Laerte discusses the fact that she has been lucky because she lives in a time of great tolerance for difference. She says she isn't brave because she didn't fear her family's rejection or society's. A violent scene from the movie A Man Called Horse depicts a man enduring what appears to be an excruciating form of mutilation and torture (he is pierced and hung by his piercing) in order to become a member of a Native American tribe. Laerte explains that submitting to this rite and bearing the scar it leaves behind is a demonstration of the character's commitment.


Laerte says that she wasn't sexually motivated to make the change to a woman. She discusses surgical aspects of transition and that she has no interest in having her penis removed but wouldn't mind if her scrotal sac were removed. She contemplates receiving surgical breast implants. She poses nude, in some pictures covered with white paint and others splattered with black paint. When she talks about the possibility of having breast implants, she explains' "Sex is not so vital to me. I am not getting boobs to exercise a sexual life." She speaks of it more as a symbolic gesture. When asked how she comes up with her cartoons, she says, "I look for ideas that give me a mental erection." A woman dances in the street with pasties on her breasts. Full-frontal male nudity is seen, in one case of a model with male genitals and breasts.


"F--k," "hell," "boobs," "scrotum," "penis," "testicles," "fags," "queers," and "sissies."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Laerte-se is a 2017 Netflix Original documentary about Laerte Coutinho, a Brazilian cartoonist who transitioned from male to female at the age of 60. While body parts are candidly discussed, there is little in the way of explicit sexual content as Laerte admits that sexuality isn't of prime concern to her. Full-frontal male nudity is seen, in one case of a model with male genitals and breasts. There's candid discussion of transgender issues and concerns as well as of surgically-implanted breasts and surgically-removed scrotal sacs. A scene from an old movie shows a man being pierced and hung by his piercing as part of a Native American ritual. Language includes "f--k," "hell," "boobs," "scrotum," "penis," "testicles," "fags," "queers," and "sissies." Mature teens with an understanding of sexuality and individuality will probably be the best audience.

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What's the story?

LAERTE-SE tells the story of Laerte Coutinho, now 65 and a famed Brazilian cartoonist who came out as a cross dresser and later transitioned from man to woman at around age 60. For a time, she lived in both genders, and many of her cartoons reflect the dichotomy between two halves of one gender-fluid person, one named Hugo and the other named Muriel. She downplays the drama of her transition, stating that she was never mocked or shunned, that she made her change in an era of relative tolerance, that she didn't have to fear rejection from her understanding family and that she didn't have to worry about getting fired from her job because she makes a good living as a successful self-employed artist. Nude pictures of Laerte are shown, and she appears nude walking through her studio with a nude model. The male genitals of both are seen, as well as the model's breast implants. Laerte is not weighed down by financial concerns or worried about how people see her. She seems exceptionally comfortable in her skin. She observes that in her youth she was fearful of her homosexual feelings and she now believes that she thought that, given her attraction to men, it would just be easier to be a woman. She is comfortable with living as a woman without having her genitals surgically removed: "It is possible to be a woman with my genitals." Laerte wants people to be happy regardless of gender and wishes that people could exist just as they are. She regrets the "limits" of labels. "LGBT…. It responds to a historical need to defend these identities, but these identities can also work as dividers."

Is it any good?

This documentary provides an unusually frank, if sometimes wandering, slice-of-life look at the transition from man to woman of a celebrity artist in Brazil. The interviewer and co-director, Eliane Brum, asks intimate and intelligent questions and Laerte proves a game subject, willing to ramble on philosophically about life and love and transgender surgery options.

However, perhaps the translation from Brazilian into the English subtitles is sometimes inaccurate, or maybe there are other reasons that Laerte-se sometimes feels confusing. People pop up who are not introduced. Laerte describes a close relationship with her mother, who accepted Laerte's change gracefully. Home movies of Laerte's childhood are shown, the mother included. Later, Laerte is seen socializing with family and an older woman is seen but never identified as the mother. A general familiarity with Brazilian politics might also be helpful for American viewers. Many little foggy bits like that detract from the movie's overall potential impact. Some of her cartoons are shown, with English translations, but not all seem especially insightful or witty, leaving a viewer to feel that, given Laerte's reported fame, much is lost in the translation. But viewers will come away with a sense of Laerte's intelligence and humanity, especially when she says, "There are no men and no women. We have tendencies and conventions and possibilities."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how it might feel to have doubts about one's gender. Do you think it would take courage to come out and live as the opposite gender? Do you think the movie explains the situation well?

  • Why do you think people might criticize or ostracize people who believe they were born to the wrong gender? Apart from one's body, what else do you think makes someone a man or a woman?

  • Who is the intended audience for this documentary? Do you think others besides the intended audience might enjoy it?

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