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HBO Latino has acquired film festival darling the moving LGBTQ immigrant story “Lupe,” co-directed by André Phillips & Charles Vuolo, to premiere on Friday, February 26 (8:00 p.m. ET/PT) on HBO Latino and available to stream on HBO Max.

Lupe” is an extraordinary trifecta of an emotional drama that explores the topics of family, immigration and embracing one’s true identity. In the feature film debut of directing team André Phillips & Charles Vuolo, we are introduced to the complex world of Rafael (Rafael Albarrán in a star making turn), a Cuban immigrant and boxer, struggling with their transgender identity while searching for their missing sister, Isabel (the luminescent Lucerys Medina) in New York City’s underground sex industry.

Lupe” was written and directed with consultation from Celia Harrison, a transgender artist, and additionally shepherded through by transgender executive producer Kerry Michelle O’Brien (“Chopin to Infinity”).

“Lupe” shines an intimate light on the complex story of an immigrant struggling with their transgender identity while searching for their missing sister, Isabel in New York City’s underground sex industry.  The city’s underworld turns bloody as Rafael continues their quest to liberate their sister from a life of exploitation.

Rafael’s search is routine and bloody until the growing need to understand their gender identity beings to compete with their mission? A film of many contrasts (Cuba vs. NY City, a chiseled boxer vs. a femme fatale), this moving film moves seamlessly between English & Spanish and features a rich cinematic landscape lensed by cinematographer T. Acton Fitzgerald (“Gutterbug”). Celia Harrison portrays the role of Lana, the protagonist’s friend and advisor. All of Celia’s  scenes were unscripted, as the directors emphatically sought to retain Celia’s voice and perspective.

This rich tapestry of a transgender immigrant was written by Celia Harrison, André Phillips & Charles Vuolo, featuring a score by Christopher French(“Unlovable,” “Young & Hungry”) edited by Shiran Amir (“Z Nation,” “Student Body”) produced by Anthony Ambrosino (“The Wrong Todd,” “Painless”), Andrew McCarthy (“Radio Days,” “Alice Fades Away”), Leigh Lanocha (“The Clear,” “Gutterbug”), and executive produced by Kerry Michelle O’Brien.

“We are incredibly proud to have ‘Lupe’ debut on HBO, this bilingual story of loss, identity and discovery has found it’s perfect platform. To have a film that features transgender individuals portrayed not as victims but actual champions of their own destiny is such an important message to be seen and heard, front and center without having to be hidden in allegories,” Kerry Michelle O’Brien, executive producer.

The ultimate hope with “Lupe” was to create a work of expression that avoids overt category and classification. To show the character of Rafael, a struggling immigrant and transgender woman, can be seen as realistic, flawed but strong. Many films have portrayed transgender characters as drug addicts, prostitutes and mentally unstable. The filmmakers and cast believe the most interesting characters are imperfect, honest and tangible. “Lupe” is a film that seeks to showcase some of the real-world issues and struggles facing the transgender community in a grounded and positive manner. To lend the film a quasi-documentary feeling, the filmmakers embraced a bare-bones style of filming utilizing hand-held cinematography while filming in both NYC and in the Dominican Republic.

Michelle Welch of Shoreline Entertainment negotiated on behalf of the filmmaking team directly with Leslie Cohen, Senior Vice President, Content Acquisitions on behalf of HBO.