Born in Oklahoma City, Billy Tipton was a talented pianist and jazz musician who both played with the greats and became a renowned bandleader. He was also a dedicated family man, living with his wife and three adopted sons. However, when he died suddenly in his 70s, his family and friends were in for one heck of a shot. Billy was actually born Dorothy Lucille Tipton and kept his biological sex from everyone, including several wives.
It was incredibly difficult for a woman to break into jazz music in the 1930s. Billy began dressing and passing as a man and started to build up a reputation. The revelation after his death sparked a whirlwind of media attention. No Ordinary Man, the new documentary from Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt, tells the story in an inventive and clever way. Using the personal experiences and opinions of transmasculine actors to provide context.
No Ordinary Man is a fascinating and lively portrait of someone who inadvertently became an important figure for many trans people. Featuring interviews with Billy’s sons, historians and archival footage, it works so well due to the way the filmmakers approach the subject. It’s an ingenious way to address the lack of actual historical data, gives life to Tipton’s story and offers a unique current-day perspective. No Ordinary Man is top-notch documentary filmmaking.
No Ordinary Man screens at BFI Flare.