Last fall, controversy erupted over the casting of Matt Bomer as a trans woman sex worker in the film Anything. Now, the first look at the movie is worrisome. Hollywood, this is not how you tell trans stories.
Our Jessica Lachenal explained the issues that came into play when the Mark Ruffalo-produced film announced that Bomer, known for White Collar and Magic Mike, was cast as trans woman Freda Von Rhenberg. Jessica’s article should be printed out and mailed to every Hollywood executive and casting director, who still don’t seem to understand why their continued casting of cisgender actors in trans roles is so problematic.
After Mark Ruffalo told the trans community (via a series of Tweets), “I hear you,” and said that he suggested Bomer for the part because of the “profound experience” they shared making HBO’s The Normal Heart, Jessica wrote:
For starters, the thought that a cis male can play a trans woman better than a trans woman can is nothing short of insulting. If what you want is the best person for the role, why wouldn’t you cast an actor or actress who has lived through some of the experiences that character has likely seen? There’s a nuance, a real subtle understanding of the role that often ends up missing when cis men are placed in these kinds of roles. So, again, if you want someone who’s really going to bring the role to life, why would you go and do the opposite?
Hand-in-hand with this argument is the thought that there aren’t enough trans actors, that there isn’t a large enough pool of “known” talent to draw from. This argument is similar to the one you see with regards to diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, and the lesson learned there carries over here as well: as long as you keep using that glass ceiling of an argument, you’re going to keep having the same problem. As long as this misconception persists and spreads like it always does, then the further we get from solving the problem, i.e., trans women will keep getting shut out of roles because they aren’t “known” or “good enough.”
Hollywood, Hollywood, do you read? Apparently the creative force behind Anything still isn’t paying attention or learning any lessons in sensitivity whatsoever, because the “Exclusive First-Look Clip” they’ve released for the movie features Bomer oozing unsubtle sexual innuendo that’s so clunky and exploitative it feels like a parody of itself. This scene made me mutter “Holy shit, what” at the computer screen. Several times. Here is an actual exchange in the actual film clip that was actually released on purpose:
Freda: Oh, it’s the deep south.
Early (played by John Carroll Lynch): About as deep as you can get, I guess.
Freda: Good. Because I like things deep, you know what I mean?
These characters have just met and this is their first conversation. Sorry, I just muttered “Holy shit, what” at my computer again.
That Hollywood feels the impetus to tell trans stories is a positive thing with excellent implications for the future. That Hollywood continues to not allow trans actors to embody the lives of trans characters is a startlingly dated and out-of-touch stance that hurts the trans community, who are repeatedly made to view inauthentic versions of their experience.
In speaking to Jessica about this article, she added: “I think much of the criticism now is around how there’s the subtle messaging that casting a man to play a trans woman speaks to a belief that Hollywood still doesn’t see trans women as women; they see them as men, underneath it all.”
A few weeks after the Anything casting controversy, actor Jeffrey Tambor said in his Transparent Emmy acceptance speech: “Please give transgender talent a chance. Give them auditions. Give them their story. Do that. And also, one more thing, I would not be unhappy were I the last cisgender male playing a female transgender on television.” Tambor was addressing an auditorium full of Hollywood’s biggest and brightest creatives, and I profoundly hope they have taken his words to heart. “We have work to do,” Tambor told them.
Jessica’s words are even more clear: “You can do better, Hollywood. You can and you must.”
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