New documentary to tell shocking true story of Miriam Rivera: the world’s first trans reality star

Two images of Miriam Rivera

A hard-hitting documentary about Miriam Rivera, recognised as the world’s first transgender reality TV star, is set to air on Channel 4 later this month.

The film, Miriam: Death of a Reality Star, is set to chronicle the Mexican model’s groundbreaking life and extraordinary legacy.

Rivera became the subject of media scrutiny and transphobic harassment after her appearance on British reality series There’s Something About Miriam, as well as being a guest on Big Brother Australia 2004.

There’s Something About Miriam is a six-episode Sky One series, which premiered on 22 February 2004. The infamous programme saw six male contestants take part in a dating competition: what they weren’t told was that Miriam, the object of their affections, was transgender.

What is Miriam: Death of a Reality Star?

Miriam: Death of a Reality Star consists of three hour-long episodes that document Rivera’s life. 

The documentary synopsis reads: “Using Miriam’s own voice and words throughout, the series will restore Miriam as the star of her own story: a trans trailblazer who remains an icon for many in the transgender community.

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“Drawing on rich archive and with exclusive access to Miriam’s family and close friends from the trans community, each episode will take the audience into the colourful worlds she inhabited – from New York drag ballroom to the streets of Mexico; trans porn to international escorting.”

The film is set to spotlight the persistent and heinous transphobia of the noughties as Rivera became the subject of tabloid attacks. As the documentary reflects on the treatment of trans people two decades ago, we’re left to wonder what improvement, if any, there is in today’s society. 

Additionally, one crux of the film is the show that launched Rivera into the spotlight: There’s Something About Miriam

The documentary will revisit her time during and after filming the deeply controversial show There’s Something About Miriam which aired in 2004.

What is There’s Something About Miriam?

As mentioned above, There’s Something About Miriam was a 2004 reality TV show where six men competed for a £10,000 reward. To win, they had to make the best impression on Rivera. At the time, she was just 21 years old.

Miriam Rivera in the opening credits of There's Something About Miriam.
Miriam Rivera starred in There’s Something About Miriam. (Sky One)

After competing in physical challenges and trying to woo Rivera during sun-drenched dates, Rivera finally chose her favourite suitor. 

Then, Rivera revealed she was a transgender woman who had not yet undergone gender-affirming surgery, in what as billed as a “shocking twist” to the show.

Reacting to the show and specifically the ‘reveal’ moment, YouTuber Luxeria said: “How degrading.”

“I can’t believe she said ‘I’m not a woman’ because that is exactly what you are,” Luxeria added.

After There’s Something About Miriam aired, Rivera became something of a household name, but most reactions to the show were negative.

The very premise of the show was criticised due to the fact that the entire six-episode arc seemed to be set up specifically to conjure horror at the fact the “dream woman” at the centre of events was trans.

Furthermore, following the filming of the show, numerous contestants attempted to delay the show airing with a lawsuit alleging conspiracy to commit sexual assault, breach of contract, and personal injury in the form of psychological and emotional damage.

The allegations were settled and the show went ahead and premiered. 

What is Harsh Reality: The Story of Miriam Rivera?

Channel 4 is not the first outlet to broach Rivera’s story.

Harsh Reality: The Story of Miriam Rivera is an investigative podcast series that explores how Rivera’s very existence as a trans woman was exploited.

Over 9 episodes, the podcast – written by Agnes Borinsky and hosted by Trace Lysette – reflects on Rivera’s TV stardom.

The podcast also dives into Rivera’s icon status on the New York ball scene. Ultimately, the production celebrates Rivera’s life and views her as an extraordinary LGBTQ+ pioneer instead of a victim of cruelty. 

How did Miriam Rivera die?

Rivera tragically died at the age of 38 on 5 February 2019.

“My Adorable wife rest in peace darling until God lets us be together again,” her husband Daniel Cuervo wrote on social media.

Rivera was found deceased in her mother’s apartment. Her death was ruled as a suicide.

However, Cuervo has since insisted that she was murdered. Reportedly, several of Rivera’s friends also believed that Rivera’s death was not a suicide but a murder. 

Cuervo said: “On the morning of February 5, Miriam called me [in New York] from Mexico, telling me she was feeling sick and vomiting blood, so I told her to get to the hospital.

“She called me again before leaving the hospital at 12pm and that was the last time we spoke.”

He claims that when attempting to arrange the funeral, an anonymous man called and warned him: “Don’t come back to Mexico or we’ll kill you too.”

The suspicious circumstances surrounding her death are set to be examined in Miriam: Death of a Reality Star.

Miriam: Death of a Reality Star will air on Channel 4 on 29 April.