We Need to Have a Talk About Diego Luna Playing a Trans Woman in a New Film
This needs to stop, period.
In today’s “haven’t we already had this conversation?” news, a new clip of the film Berlin, I Love You has been released in which Diego Luna, who is a cisgender man, is playing a trans woman.
Unfortunately, this is a conversation we have had before, and it seems like it will continue into 2019. One more time: It’s wrong to cast a cis actor to play a trans character, as it enforces harmful ideas about the trans community, especially when cis men are cast to play trans women, and trans actors could use the work.
In the clip, Luna’s character gives a lesson in sexuality and gender to a young man:
From Jared Leto’s turn in Dallas Buyer’s Club to Scarlett Johannson’s brief casting as a trans man, over the past few years, the community has been pushing back against the casting of cis actors in trans roles. Many trans writers have written about the problems inherent with such news, so let’s go over a few quotes to remind everyone why this is a deeply problematic practice that needs to stop immediately.
The TRANSform Hollywood guidebook, which covers the best way for cis creators to approach telling trans stories on film, says, “The world is evolving, and today it is a mistake, especially if you are cross-sex casting (a cis man to play a trans woman, or a cis woman to play a trans man.) It simply isn’t cost effective to take this risk; recent projects which cast cis actors to play trans roles have felt the tide of public opinion turn against them and have taken a hit at the box office.”
The guidebook goes on to explain exactly why it’s wrong, saying that it is too complicated an issue to turn into a soundbite, but also saying,
“When trans people disclose their gender identity, the reaction is often quite negative; they may be told they are liars, deceptive, or mentally ill. Trans women are met with ‘You’re really a man,’ and trans men are usually just met with confusion due to the invisibility of trans men in our culture. But the message is clear: Your lived identity is a joke, a fake, a costume, a delusion—your chromosomes are more important than your own knowledge of yourself.
“Given that reality, when cis actors play trans characters it perpetuates this belief that trans people aren’t real. When a gay man plays a straight character, it doesn’t cause audiences to assume that all straight men are secretly gay men. But when a cis man playing a trans woman takes off the wig and the dress, it sends the message that underneath it all trans women are wearing costumes and still ‘really men.'”
The guidebook talks about the lack of representation for trans men, and the fact that trans women are murdered at a far higher rate, as reasons for casting trans actors in trans roles. Representation matters, and by having trans actors play non-problematic roles, Hollywood can help change the way that the country and world view the trans community. This goes beyond a simple need for reflecting stories onscreen to a much more urgent one.
In a powerful Twitter thread, Jen Richards shares that violence against trans women is linked to the fact that most media depictions of trans women are performances by cis men.
It will result in violence against trans women. And that is not hyperbole, I mean it literally. Cis men playing trans women leads to death.
— Jen Richards (@SmartAssJen) August 28, 2016
In a piece on the film Girl and why it is dangerous, critic Tre’vell Anderson writes about the need for representation that isn’t harmful or falling into tropes, saying, “There is a high level of responsibility that exists when industry creators choose to tell trans stories. Considering we are still at a point where trans storytelling, just like trans survival, is a political act, we can’t afford for people to not shoulder the burden of representation. Whatever merits the film garners on craft or cinematography have a cost. Lives are at stake.”
At this point in time, there is little to say that hasn’t already been said. Hollywood needs to listen to trans voices and the community asking for better representation, not only to avoid backlash, but because it is the morally right thing to do. Luna should have known better than to accept this role, and it is disappointing to see that he did.
It is the responsibility of actors not to accept when these roles are offered to them, but it is also the responsibility of creators to offer these roles to trans actors and to include trans voices behind the scenes. This shouldn’t be something we still have to say.
(via Out, image: Disney/Lucasfilm)
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