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Aptly named Lila Star takes Chicago scene by storm
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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The multitalented Lila Star is the mother to the House of Escada and currently lives in Chicago where she performs regularly. Star is known as the first, Latina trans rapper and nothing can take away that crown. In 2011, she released a hip-hop single, "I'm a Killa," and has released several songs since.

For many years she has continued to perform in drag at The Baton Show Long as well as the Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club. Star competed in the ballroom scene more than 10 years ago and won Miss Latina Continental 2015.

Her film debut came with the short movie Lakeshore Drive, leading her to the new project TranHeist.

Chicago filmmaker Maureen Maundu is a student at Tribeca Flashpoint College and is the director and producer on the film. It's the story of a trans strip club manager named Morgan, played by Star, who is anxious to have her gender-reassignment surgery. Her friend Iffy asks her to help steal money from her drug-dealing boyfriend and they come up with a plan to do so.

Maundu took a break from filming to talk about creating TranHeist, saying even though she is straight she wanted to learn more about the LGBT community: "When I saw the tape of Lila auditioning I knew I had found her! When I met her she was so relaxed and I asked deep questions. I didn't want my script to offend people. Morgan is a character from the culture and not anyone I knew, so Lila made me feel great about the project."

Star also spent some time talking about her life during the making of TranHeist.

Windy City Times: Is your last name an homage to Brenda K. Starr?

Lila Star: No. As a child I always fascinated by stars so I took that on. I was born on the North Side of Chicago. I grew up singing in church and mariachi with my grandfather, but English is my first language. I am Puerto Rican and Black.

WCT: How is your family?

LS: Super-supportive. My dad passed in 2007, but he was my biggest fan. I am one of the lucky ones, because not everyone has that support system.

I was put in a bubble until I was 19, because my parents were very strict with me. I finally went to my first drag show at a gay club. I didn't know a transgender person. After that, it sparked a light bulb and I could relate.

You know Monica Beverly Hillz from RuPaul's Drag Race? She was the first one to take me to a gay club.

WCT: She used to work at the teen clubs.

LS: She did. She wasn't doing drag then, she was living in Indiana. I reached out and got her booked for her first job by pretending to be her manager. Then we started to perform.

That is when I learned about the transgender community and reached out to Howard Brown. I started to transition and my parents realized it was not a phase. I learned that I could still perform as a transgender person. I didn't want to just do shows even though I do it to this day. I wanted to act and make music. I love drag so I always go back to it.

WCT: What do you think about the RuPaul controversy with trans performers on his show?

LS: It upsets me. I had auditioned for the show and couldn't make it because of the boob thing. If you go on YouTube you can find my audition tape. I was told to talk deeper and act differently.

When I went to DragCon someone told me to not waste my time by auditioning again since I have boobs. I was so sad because I love drag and I think if I was on the show I could keep up!

WCT: You also do make-up?

LS: Yes. I was self taught, then I majored in cosmetology. My dad passed away when I was in college so I left that to perform full time. I got my bartending license and a few years ago started studying at Second City.

WCT: You rap also?

LS: I rap! I am the first Latina trans rapper. I just wrapped up my first music video with a reggaeton song with Lester Rey called "Ni Santa." He is so soulful. When you hear the song it has an acoustic, reggae-type feel to it. It is beautiful.

WCT: Talk about your film Lakeshore Drive.

LS: That was my first film—right out of school, which I was lucky enough to land. When I first got the audition for the part, that project was shelved by the director because they hadn't found a Latin trans actress for two years to play that role. It was a beautiful thing with timing for everybody.

Two months after getting that part I landed my second role in a film. It hasn't been released yet. I have to film the last scene of it because it is being shot in 35mm and is more expensive. I play leader of a group of activists and it is never even discussed in the film that I am trans, which I love.

WCT: Isn't that more validating that you can play any role?

LS: I think so. I don't want to be defined playing the escort or the prostitute. That is the problem with a lot of trans roles.

I think things are getting better. Laverne Cox has opened a lot of doors for trans actresses. She has shown they can be more than escort. She even started that way. I saw in her bio she played an escort early on.

I am not oblivious to it all. I know there will be bumps in the road. I know I have to prove myself and don't mind doing that, whether as a person, a businesswoman or a trans actress. I am down for it. I'm a gangster. I can do it!

WCT: What led you to this part in TranHeist?

LS: I have an agent who handles my auditions and castings. He is the one that sent me this role. I wanted to play her because she is badass.

I can't even count how many auditions I went on for major things like Empire. I performed recently for the head of the costume department. I am trying to work my way in there. They gave the role to someone else, but I am not going to stop trying.

WCT: What is your role in TranHeist?

LS: I play Morgan. She is at her wits end with her surgery to become a woman and not having the money to pay for it. She has a cis gender friend named Iffy who is being abused by her boyfriend Mikki. They finally come to a point where they both have had it. They decide to rob her boyfriend for two million dollars of a transaction that they heard him discuss. It goes from there…

WCT: How was it working with Shea Coulee for the song "Cocky?"

LS: I loved that. That has gotten me a lot of opportunities after that. We have over three million views on YouTube and it is in rotation on MTV in the UK. People are reaching out to me everywhere about it. I have a gig in New Mexico in September because I was interviewed for a magazine there about it. Opportunities are rolling in, but I am working for them. I will tell you that!

WCT: Does it help to be a minority in the business?

LS: I don't know if it hurts or helps me. This is all I know to be. I don't think too much about it. It might not be the easiest as if I were white woman, but that is okay. I like being me.

WCT: What are you working on next?

LS: Music. King Reza left to do American Idol, but is now helping me to release an EP. It is not the easiest for a trans rapper so it helps to have someone like him. He's talented and part of the community. I can be myself.

That was the problem before, dealing with straight rappers. They are not jumping out of their seats to work with a trans person. You have to prove yourself.

WCT: Do you think people don't like labels?

LS: I don't like labels. Call me whatever you want—boy, girl, top, bottom, whatever. I am all of those things, actually.

TranHeist is currently in post-production and plans are for it to be released in September. Follow the film on social media @TranHeist and Star @LilaStarEscada.

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