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The History of Cis Actors Playing Trans Roles Isn’t Pretty. Here’s Why That Needs to Stop.

Last week, we shared a video from Screen Crush’s #ProudtoBe series, in which trans actors (led by writer/actress Jen Richards) made the case for why casting trans actors is not only the “right” thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. This week, they’ve released another video in that series. This one is written and by Screen Crush’s Erin Oliver Whitney, who relates the history of cis actors playing trans roles.

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What’s great about this video is that it’s thorough about the different permutations of the problem. There are separate segments for the history of cis men playing trans women, the history of cis women playing trans men, and lastly, a history of cis women playing trans women, which is only slightly more preferable, but not by much.

It does a great job of explaining the biggest problems with casting cis to play trans:

  • it denies trans actors opportunities and advancement
  • it reinforces harmful stereotypes
  • it directly contributes to real-world violence against the trans community

The bit about how actress Alexandra Billings was originally cast to play the lead in the 2005 indie film Transamerica was especially enlightening. Very shortly after she was cast, the part was rescinded because she wasn’t a big enough name to secure funding. Enter Felicity Huffman, who ended up winning a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for her performance in that role. No, Billings might not have been a “big enough name,” but she could have become one by making that film.

Ultimately, this is the problem. It’s a vicious cycle. Trans actors don’t get cast, so they don’t gain experience or build a name, so they don’t get cast, so they don’t gain experience and build a name. At some point Hollywood needs to take a chance on these people to build the stars of the future.

(via Screen Crush on YouTube, image: screencap)

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Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.

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