Redmayning and Ruffalo-ing: how Hollywood can make better trans movies | Jane Fae


Whether in The Danish Girl or new films like Anything, casting non-trans actors in trans roles is not just offensive but dangerous. Movie moguls must change

If you like movie confrontation, then take your seats for a battle of epic proportions: trans people v Hollywood.

The trans community has long objected to the way major film companies have sidelined trans actors, while simultaneously demonising or pathologising trans characters. This has just grown worse as trans has become newsworthy.

There was outrage in 2015 as Roland Emmerich attempted to rewrite the history of the Stonewall riots by substituting cute, white and gay for real activists: people of colour, trans women, lesbians and drag queens.

There were mixed feelings too over The Danish Girl, and things soured considerably when the films lead, Eddie Redmayne, decided that playing a trans character gave him carte blanche to lecture the world on trans issues or Redmayning, as it is now called.

This year the studios have announced (Re)assignment, a fairly ludicrous sounding revenge fantasy about a hitman who undergoes forced gender reassignment surgery; and the final straw – Mark Ruffalo, the executive producer of Anything, has defended the casting of Mark Bomer as a trans woman.

The trans actor Jen Richards responded magnificently to the news, warning Hollywood that casting non-trans actors in trans roles was not just offensive, but dangerous. Ruffalo rather meekly replied that we are all learning and wished he had known this sooner. The trans community seethed.

Is this battle wise? Ruffalo is known, after all, for turning monstrously green when angry and trashing tall tower blocks with his bare hands. Although he was nice to the Black Widow. Or was that just an on-screen thing?

The trans actor Jen Richards responded magnificently to Mark Ruffalos casting of Mark Bomer as a trans woman. Photograph: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Which is exactly Richards point. Movies create a halo effect, endowing real people with imagined characteristics. Trans authenticity is already frequently challenged: so casting non-trans actors, and pushing a narrative that suggests being trans is just a matter of acting or putting on a dress, contributes directly to discrimination and violence.

And despite Ruffalos protestations, its not hard to do better. Here are some pointers for would-be movie moguls keen to cover the topical issue of trans life:

Involve trans people

In the UK groups such as Trans Media Watch and All About Trans, will help you to understand the sensitivities and the issues and put you in touch with real trans people. No one is going to lay down the law: but they will let you know if you are falling into cliche and tired tropes.

Explore actual trans narratives

Not every film need mimic mundane reality. There is drama, comedy and interest aplenty in the lived experience of ordinary trans folk. Likewise not every trans person is hero or villain, homicidal axe murderer or pathetic victim. In fact most trans people are very ordinary indeed. Dont obsess over the extraordinary or dwell on negatives.

Avoid unnecessary triggers

Trans people are so often a target for violence and discrimination, it would be preferable if we werent constantly reminded of this. Happy endings are good, but so too is not finishing face down in a gutter.

Stop and think about when to use trans and non-trans actors

This doesnt mean handing every trans role to a trans person (The Danish Girl, covering transition, is a case in point). Nor is it about relegating trans actors to a trans ghetto. Do, though, consider the impact of casting on both the trans community and audience. If you do use non-trans actors, casting according to (final) gender rather than initial body type is preferable

But dont keep giving trans roles to non-trans people

This plays straight into the hands of those who would harm us politically, legislatively or on the streets

Learn from the best

Films like Tangerine and Paris Is Burning, or TV series like Her Story even The Matrix, which just brims with trans imagery and symbolism all point the way to doing trans better.

Above all, when youve just, for the umpteenth time, done something that the trans community loathes and feels misrepresented by and has told you so dont mutter self-deprecatingly about the need to learn and promise to get it right next time. Because the trans community is fed up with jam tomorrow. Tolerance of Hollywoods carelessness is at an all-time low and if things dont improve, then, as they say in the movies: This means war!

Films like Paris Is Burning point the way to doing trans better. Photograph: Alamy

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