Tangerine: Is Donut Time a Real Place?

In charting Sin-Dee and Alexandra’s pre-Christmas Eve antics following the former’s recent release from prison, ‘Tangerine,’ takes the viewers on a unique journey through Los Angeles’ Hollywood neighborhood. The story picks up after Sin-Dee, a transgender sex worker, discovers that her boyfriend, Chester, has been cheating on her with another woman. Consequently, the woman ends up embarking on a crazed quest through the Californian streets to find her boyfriend’s latest paramour and have a grand confrontation. Naturally, Alexandra, Sin-Dee’s best friend and fellow prostitute, gets roped into the loop despite her self-proclaimed aversion to drama.

The film charts an equal parts comedic and dramatic account of Sin-Dee’s wild adventures, allowing the viewers to peek into the woman’s worldview, craftily translated on the screen with authenticity. Therefore, since the film strives to showcase a realistic depiction of the characters’ worlds, one can’t help but wonder if Donut Time— the tale’s landmark eatery— has a basis in real life.

Donut Time: A Real Establishment in Los Angeles From The Mid-2010s

Sean Baker, who directed ‘Tangerine’ and co-wrote the script alongside Chris Bergoch, strived to maintain as much realism in his film as possible. Therefore, since he wanted to portray an account of trans sex workers in Hollywood through the project, the director felt it pertinent to include the real-life eatery, Donut Time, in the narrative. During the mid-2010s, when the film was made, Donut Time used to stand at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Highland Avenue. The establishment was open 24/7 and was frequented by the local sex-working professionals— especially people from the transgender community.

According to Baker, the establishment’s owner, Seang Mak, and her family allowed locals to spend time in the eatery. “From a very practical point of view, you have an establishment that has all these windows, so if you were working the street—  now this is just my theory here—you’re inside, [and] you can have a seat in there and be comfortable while watching all corners,” the filmmaker told LA Weekly in a discussion about the place.

Whether for the same reason or not, the spot remained a hub for the local trans sex workers. Consequently, Baker was adamant about Donut Time’s inclusion in the film, even going as far as to establish he wouldn’t have made the film if his team hadn’t successfully secured the place for filming. In the end, the film’s budget secured the location but couldn’t afford to shut down the place. As such, Shih-Ching Tsou, who portrays the Donut Time worker on screen, even served some real-life customers during the film’s shoot.

Thus, Donut Time remains another facet of ‘Tangerine’s’ connection to reality. However, shortly after the film came out, the establishment ended up shutting down. The same was likely a result of the area’s gentrification, headed by AvalonBay. Baker, whose film managed to immortalize Donut Time before its end, spoke about the same and said, “I didn’t think it [Donut Time] would ever go away. It’s really sad. I think the film caught an end to an era.”

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