We NEED To Stop Casting Cis People in Trans Roles
By Matilda Douglas-Henry
Today it was reported that Matt Bomer – perhaps the most conventional gay man ever, who only narrowly missed out on coveted roles such as Superman and Christian Grey – has been cast in Anything, an upcoming film where he plays a trans sex worker.
Am I dreaming? Is this actually real? It’s 2016, for god’s sake. Oh wait, yes – the world is indeed still the worst.
In 2014, Jared Leto won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Rayon, a trans woman with HIV, in the (in my opinion deeply underwhelming) film Dallas Buyers Club. He received widespread acclaim for his Method Acting approach – shaving his eyebrows, waxing his whole body, and even meeting trans people (can you believe it? Such commitment). This year, Eddie Redmayne was nominated for Best Actor for his depiction of Lili Elbe, a trans woman, in The Danish Girl. Both of these films were based on true stories. While Leto’s character was conceived for the film, Elbe was very much real, and is famous for being one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery.
The Danish Girl received mixed reviews for its historical inaccuracy, but unanimous praise was given to Redmayne’s complex and committed portrayal of Elbe (I think that might be the most ironic sentence I’ve ever written).
The film was released in 2015, the same year as Sean Baker’s wonderful Tangerine – a film about trans sex workers that actually had trans women in the lead roles. Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor’s performances were met with acclaim, with Mya Taylor winning a Gotham Award. While a campaign was initiated for Academy Award nominations, they were unsuccessful. Instead, the accolades go to cis white wealthy men – the true manifestation of privilege, who are critically lauded for superficially inserting themselves into a queer community.
Matt Bomer is a gay man, but that does not warrant him a free pass to take on a role that rightfully belongs to a trans woman. If you consider it pragmatically, the casting of this role has stripped a trans woman of a job and all the security that goes with it. On a foreboding and more pervasive level, this decision has contributed to transphobia by silencing a voice that needs to be heard, and erasing a face that deserves to be seen.
Another tragic layer to the debacle is Mark Ruffalo. As a standalone statement it appears to be an oxymoron – could the peppery-haired, smiley-eyed, passionate human rights advocate Ruffalo ever do something terrible? Unfortunately, his role as an executive producer on Anything suggests that yes, he has the ability to be awful. This is made all the worst by Ruffalo’s history as a vocal champion for trans rights – going to show that inherently privileged people often think they’re doing the right thing, when they’re actually just perpetuating their own sense of entitlement.
These parting words from the inimitable Mya Taylor sum it up. I implore you not to speak on behalf of someone whose experience is dramatically different to yours. There is too much of that going on in the world already.