Cisgender actors continue to portray transgender characters
It’s time the transgender community is represented in Hollywood.
Two years ago, in May 2014, Time magazine turned heads with a groundbreaking cover that featured actress Laverne Cox with the headline “The Transgender Tipping Point” to highlight the new era of inclusion in Hollywood.
The cover came 10 months after Cox’s breakout role as Sophia Burset on Netflix’s hit series “Orange Is The New Black.” This was just the start.
The power of entertainment media can be amazing.
Just one outstanding performance by a charismatic and talented actress accelerated change across an entire culture.
Since then, trans people have begun to appear on all different types of reality shows, like TLC’s “I am Jazz,” E!’s “I Am Cait” and Oxygen’s trans model show “Strut.”
Also, trans characters are finally being represented in scripted TV shows such as Amazon’s “Transparent,” Netflix’s “Sense8” and Freeform’s “The Fosters.”
And, even though these are success stories that put trans people front-and-center, Hollywood seems to still have a hard time letting go of the idea that putting a male actor in a dress, wig and makeup is an accurate portrayal of a transgender woman.
For years, Americans have sat down to watch movies and TV series starring male actors pretending to be trans women.
By casting actors like Eddie Redmayne (“The Danish Girl”) and Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”) as transgender women, viewers have received two strong — and wrong — messages: 1. that being transgender is an act, a performance, just a matter of playing dress-up and 2. that, in the end, a transgender woman is really just a man.
Matt Bomer is the latest actor in the hot seat after news broke that he will play a transgender woman in his upcoming film, “Anything.”
After the film’s cast announcements, Emmy-nominated trans filmmaker and actress Jen Richards responded with a series of tweets expressing her concerns and disappointments with Hollywood’s casting of transgender roles.
Without a doubt, Bomer, who is one of Hollywood’s most well-known and successful out gay actors, and Mark Ruffalo, the executive producer of the film and longtime supporter of the LGBT community, took on the project with the upmost sincerity.
Ruffalo admitted in a tweet that he recommended Bomer for the part because of the “profound experience” he had with the actor while filming their movie, “The Normal Heart.”
I understand that “Anything” had some outside influences, but in the end, by deciding to put another cisgender male in the role of a transgender woman, it’s just another reminder that, in the eyes of so many people, transgender women are seen as just men.
That message is not only toxic; it is also dangerous. Movies and TV series are very powerful and can influence viewers around the world.
This is what prompts lawmakers in states like North Carolina to believe that transgender woman must use the men’s restroom because, in the end, we are forcing these people to be something they are not.
It’s what motivated James Dixon to murder Islan Nettles, a 21-year-old black trans woman, as she walked down the street, minding her own business.
At Dixon’s trial, he said he attacked her because, after flirting with her, his friends teased him saying, “That’s a man.”
Not wanting to look like a fool, Dixon felt that his manhood was being threatened, so he killed her.
So, to all the writers, directors, producers and showrunners out there, if you don’t see how casting men to play transgender women has dangerous, real-world implications or if you’re just concerned with the star power involved so you can get top dollar for your movie or show, don’t write transgender characters into your projects.
The concerning thing is there has always been a solution to this: start taking a look into actors and actresses who are actually transgender.
When hired, transgender men and women don’t need to spend weeks — or even months — preparing and getting into character to play a trans person. They can walk in on day one, ready to deliver an authentic performance.
There’s also the added benefit of having someone on set that can tell you when something is turning into a stereotype that ultimately will not translate well to the public.
Jeffrey Tambor’s portrayal of Maura in the show “Transparent” is a different case. The show is following the story of an older trans woman who is just beginning her transition.
Director, Jill Soloway, made the amazing decision to bring transgender people into production — both on-camera and off. This conscious collaboration is why the show is so successful with audiences, critics and transgender people.
I know I have talked a lot about roles for trans women, but it’s also time to write stories about transgender men.
Trans men are nearly invisible in Hollywood, creating the image that they just don’t exist. That’s not the case.
But, let’s not stop at just transgender individuals playing trans roles. Let’s get ahead of the curve and start hiring these actors to play non-trans roles. We’re heading in that direction anyway, so the first films and TV shows to get there will receive the credit of realizing that trans people can play any role.
It’s time for Hollywood to give the transgender acting community a shot.
Let them audition. Let them show you their craft. Listen to their stories and become inspired.
The reality of lived trans experience is so much more interesting — and so much more powerful — than the imitation Hollywood has marketed for years.