In July of this year, it was announced that Scarlett Johansson would play a transgender man and the controversy continues
The actress was involved in a controversy for her casting in the movie Rub & Tug, in which she would play Dante Tex Gill, a transsexual man who ran a chain of brothels during the 70s and 80s. This after being also harshly criticized for her role in the movie Ghost in the shell, adaptation of a manga in which she plays a Japanese commander. Is this offensive to the trans community? Is it wrong for trans roles not to be interpreted by members of this community? How should this be handled in Hollywood?
What does the trans community think?
After the announcement, the youtuber trans Jackson Bird published a video in which he exposed his arguments to feel offended by the casting of Johansson. The first is about the role of the entertainment world in education. He talks about how the media should take on the responsibilities of the education system, which does not comply with educating on the trans topic.
This argument, while well-intentioned, eliminates the responsibility of the public education system to teach about sexual diversity. The fight must be to demand that the system provide the necessary and appropiate information about other forms of love and sexuality. In this way, children will grow more empowered of their sexuality and will have more representation in the media in the long term. The media and the arts do not have to educate the public.
However, the entertainment industry itself must have good practices that do not discriminate against anyone in any way. This brings us to Bird's second argument: trans actors must be given work. According to the youtuber, there are no trans actors playing roles that are not, so trans roles are almost their only opportunity in the industry and these are given to the usual actors.
That the roles of trans characters are interpreted by actors who are not allows the denial of the existence of this community, because it makes us believe that there are no trans actors to interpret these roles. Quite the opposite: there are union organizations that bring together actors, writers, trans producers around the world. It is the responsibility, then, of film and television professionals to make these actors visible and to be rigorous when hiring.
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What do the actors say?
In his Emmy acceptance speech for his role in Transparent, Jeffrey Tambor dedicated the award and his interpretation to the trans community and thanked them for "allowing us to be part of the change." On other occasions, Tambor has invited writers, producers and directors to give trans actors a chance. It is supremely valuable that actors outside the trans community feel part of the change and want to do something about it.
However, the productions that try to make the trans community visible with stories with trans characters but do not hire actors from this community are doing the opposite of what they want to achieve, because they do not make people visible, only the characters. Even Tambor has acknowledged that he must be the last man to be rewarded for a trans role, because these must be given more to the actors of the community, which are many and very good.
Other cases of actors who have played trans roles are Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, Hilary Swank in Boys don't cry and Eddie Redmayne inThe Danish Girl. All have won awards for these performances. The trans actors, however, are already opening the field in the big productions. This is the case of Laverne Cox and Sophia Burset in Orange is the new black, and Jamie Clayton and Nomi Marks in Sense8.
What to do?
Latin America has been a precursor to the hiring of trans actors. The closest and most powerful example is that of A fantastic woman, starring Daniela Vega, a transgender actress. This film by Sebastián Lelio tells the story of Marina, a trans woman who loses her partner. It won the Oscar for best foreign film this year.
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The director has said in several interviews that the story was written for Daniela, who was inspired by her. But he was not inspired by her life, the paper was written for her, it was the actress's fiction. This is a creative process different from the conventional one in which the actress is included in the debate and in the reflection. Thus, Daniela, who is the closest to the trans problem, participated in the construction of the story.
The debate around this issue is still very broad and changes according to the productions and the stories. It can be analyzed from different perspectives. We must also take into account the psychological impact it can have for a trans actor to reinterpret what he was before, or tell his own story. However, not all stories with trans characters necessarily have to account for the transition. This is the case of A fantastic woman and the Dallas Buyers Club, which although they deal with the issue of transsexuality, do not necessarily tell the story of the transition.
I believe that film and television professionals have the responsibility to investigate, to be informed about the other professionals in the industry, including transgender professionals. This, in addition, can bring different reflections to the cinema. Sebastián Lelio says that Daniela Vega contributed a lot to the story of A fantastic woman and Jill Soloway, creator of Transparent, does not feel identified with any gender.
Thus, reflections and new stories can occur in the creative process of cinema and television. Movies and series with trans characters do not necessarily have to be about their transition. As Bird says, giving actors trans trans roles can be the first step, given that they are not given other roles. But I think that this is not why actors outside the community should be excluded. Maybe in the future it will be indifferent if one is trans or not and anyone can be given a role of one or the other.
LatinAmerican Post | Juliana Rodríguez Pabón
Translated from "Empoderando a la comunidad LGBT: ¡Actores trans para papeles trans!"