The Problem With Rebel Wilson’s “Transgendered Face” Comments at the BAFTAs

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Last night, Rebel Wilson preceded her presentation of the BAFTA award for best supporting actor with an exceptionally divisive joke about transgender people. After joking about the lack of diversity in the Oscars (and diversity in general), Wilson said that she would like to win a BAFTA one year, and that she “has been practicing [her] transgendered face.” Let’s unpack this one slowly.

Wilson’s deadpan speech fit squarely into her wheelhouse, which is to say that this is the kind of comedy she’s known for. Many of the responses have called her and her speech edgy, absolutely hilarious, dangerous, and “the best intro.”

However, her comment about her “transgendered face” has landed her in hot water with plenty more people.

Wilson, in her own way, tried to poke fun at the Oscars and the film industry in general by making fun of the practice in which they cast cis actors in trans roles. It’s a practice everyone has decried again and again, and yet somehow continues to happen. Her comments could be taken to mean that she’s practicing her “transgendered face” because it might earn her an Academy Award nomination. This is all to say that she may be poking fun at Hollywood’s strange infatuation with cis actors in trans roles.

But here’s the thing: Wilson’s comments come at a time in which trans stories in ostensibly trans movies and shows are placed in the backseat to highlight cis struggles and issues around trans people.

Take, for example, The Danish Girl, which placed a cis actor (Eddie Redmayne) in the role of Lili Elbe, one of the first women to undergo sex reassignment surgery. Despite the movie’s title, and the focus on Redmayne-as-Elbe, it became a story about how everyone else reacted to Elbe’s struggle. The same could be said of Transparent, which often gets labelled as a “trans show” despite it (again) featuring a cis actor in a trans woman role and its still focuses on everyone else’s reactions to a trans character–with some of her story thrown in.

In each of these instances, we see cis people profiting and finding success by using stories and identities that do not belong to them. We’re seeing people receive recognition and praise that should be going towards highlighting trans issues, especially since we live in a world that works so hard to sweep us under the rug.

Wilson’s comments are divisive because they are just that: divided. She makes fun of Hollywood in the same breath that she makes a joke at trans people’s expense. Once again, we’re seeing a cis person (Wilson) getting praise for making an “edgy” joke about “the system” (the Academy), displaying a glaring lack of knowledge of what’s actually going on by using an outdated term (“transgendered”), and doing it all at trans people’s expense.

Put simply: this is another cis person getting laughs and recognition at the cost of trans people. She’s making fun of a situation that many of us are still sensitive about and something we take to be a very serious problem. Moreover, the very same people who perpetuate that problem–the entertainment industry–all laugh and don’t see the problem at play.

What happened last night was more than just a speech; it was a demonstration of how much people still don’t understand what’s wrong with trans representation in the media. It was a demonstration of how ignorant people remain of trans issues, and how incredibly hypocritical it is of them to be patting themselves on the back for furthering trans stories when in fact they’re simply silencing them more.

Personally speaking, I always find myself at the end of these posts wanting to ask if we can do better, because I want to believe we can do better. But if people can’t even see the glaring problem with this speech that’s staring them right in the face, then I don’t know how much more I can say. Still, I suppose, it must be said: you can do better. You have to do better. For the sake of so many people everywhere, you must do better.

(via The Independent, featured image via Universal)

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Jessica Lachenal
Jessica Lachenal is a writer who doesn’t talk about herself a lot, so she isn’t quite sure how biographical info panels should work. But here we go anyway. She's the Weekend Editor for The Mary Sue, a Contributing Writer for The Bold Italic (thebolditalic.com), and a Staff Writer for Spinning Platters (spinningplatters.com). She's also been featured in Model View Culture and Frontiers LA magazine, and on Autostraddle. She hopes this has been as awkward for you as it has been for her.