Trans in the Movie Industry.
(As part of our trans visibilty day series, we invite our trans friends and followers to submit your stories @AGoodEqualTime)
Last year, Jared Leto won Best Actor in a Supporting Role at the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes for his interpretation of Rayon, a transgender women in Dallas Buyers Club; Eddie Redmayne, most recent Academy Awards winner, will soon be back on movie theaters as Lili Elbe, a transgender women in The Danish Girl. Those two interpretation are the occasion for us to ask two questions: why those parts weren’t played by actual transgender women and how trans are represented in the cinema industry.
Trans actors and actresses: where are we?
Jennie Kermode indicated in her article in The Independant on March 6, 2014, that 16% of LGBTQ+ actors/actresses say they’ve been victims of discrimination in their job, and that those discriminations are even harder towards trans people.
While in Hollywood it’s a well known fact that an openly gay actor is less likely to be chosen to play a straight guy for “credibility” reasons, Lexie Cannes, a british trans activist, thinks that if trans people aren’t given parts in Hollywood it’s mostly based on on the fact that producers wants big names (like Leto) who are most likely to fill the theaters. Based on the fact that none of the present blockbuster actors are trans, the likelihood to have a trans actor in a leading role is close to none.
Regarding Leto playing Rayon, Chelsea Hawkins wrote in PolicyMic that "Dallas Buyers Club" fails trans actors” while Paris Lees asked "Why can’t we cast trans people in trans roles?". Actually by casting a cisgendered actor in a trans role, the all part becomes only about the performance, the way the actor is able to change his physical appearance, the way he moves, the way he talks and while of course, limiting trans actors to trans roles isn’t an option, choosing a trans actor for an A-List Hollywood movie to play a trans character would be more than welcome.
And for those ready to say that the reason why trans actors do not have the parts is because there are no trans actors, here’s a non-exhaustive list:
- Richard O’Brien, he is also known as the writer of the musical The Rocky Horror Show
- Calpernia Addams, in May 2008 , she became the PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) association’s spokesperson for their educational campaign, This Is Our Love Story. She also conceived the idea for an all-transgender production of The Vagina Monologues.
- Bibi Andersen, was credited in no less than 4 Pedro Almodovar feature films during the late 80’s and early 90’s.
- Alexis Arquette, is part of the famous Arquette family alongside with siblings Patricia, Roseana, David and Richemond.
- Alexandra Billings, starred on E.R. and Grey’s Anatomy amongst other. She is also the first openly trans woman to have played a transgender character on television, in made-for-TV movie Romy and Michelle: A New Beginning (2005)
- Alejandra Bogue, in 2010, she is chosen to be part of the Mexican stage version of the film Todo sobre mi madre of Pedro Almodóvar in the role of the transsexual character of Agrado (interpreted in the film by the Spanish transgender actress Antonia San Juan).
- Candis Cayne, she is the first transgender actress to play a recurring transgender role on prime time as Carmelita in Dirty Sexy Money.
- Jamie Clayton, Clayton hosted VH1’s TRANSform Me alongside Laverne Cox, she also starred in two episodes of HBO’s Hung.
- Elizabeth Coffey, she is famous as a “Dreamlander”, one of John Waters’ regular cast of actors. She also played a transgender role in the iconic Pink Flamingoes.
- Laverne Cox, she is known as the Breakout star of Orange is the New Black, passionate trans advocate.
- Harmony Santana, her role in Gun Hill Road (2011) led to a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Independent Spirit Awards. She is the first trans actor nominated for a major acting american award.
- Stephanie Michelini, she is famous for her role as a transgender prostitute in Wild Side. The film won the Teddy at the Berlinale and a clutch of other festival awards, including a Best Actress trophy for Michelini.
They are a lot of other trans actresses, naming all of them would take a long time, so let’s be honest, if a director really wants a trans actress for their movie, they could easily find one.
Trans representation in movies: long live the stereotypes
First of all, we have to point out that the cinema industry most often shows MtF trans persons or transition than the other way around, even if Boys don’t cry back in 1999 earns Hilary Swank an Academy Award for the role of the trans man Brandon Teena. We also have to recognized that trans people in movies are portruate following 4 mains stereotypes.
- The serial killer or the dangerous psychopath
Big screen often shown the idea of an aggressive, perverse trans person, some sort of monster. For instance, Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) is actually a transgender person, trying to make himself a woman’s body by killing and dismembering his victims. Even before Bill, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), described Norman Bates as a gender-troubled murderer and set a template for the portrayal of trans people as psychopaths. Norma Bates character being based on serial killer Ed Gein, who killed over a dozen women and made a vest of their skins. Ed Gein is also the starting point of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and The Silence of the Lambs and their lovely main characters. We can also mention Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980) in which Bobbi is a transgender psychopath who taunts her former psychiatrist for breaking off their therapy sessions and refusing to sign the necessary papers for Bobbi to get a sex change operation.
In Duncan Tucker’s Transamerica (2005), Felicity Huffman is a trans woman, Bree, on a road trip after she learnt that her until-then-unknown son is in jail. Bree is struggling to live in ‘stealth’ by not revealing her gender history.
Ma vie en rose, which won the Golden Globe for best foreign film in 1997, is about Ludo who looks like a boy but keeps telling everyone she is a girl. Alain Berliner gives us to watch a character constantly patronised, told that her gender is “a phase” by her parents and ostracised by her neighbours and her school. The scene where Ludo’s hair is forcibly cut being a symbol of the character suffering.
Other than Jared Leto dying character in Dallas Buyers Club, we, of course, think about Kimberly Pierce’s Boys don’t cry (based on the true story of Brandon Teena), in which Hilary Swank is Brandon, a trans man struggling to fit in with the local guys while keeping his gender identity secret resulting in him being killed.
Trans people are also often used for a comic effect, some of them being caricatural almost grotesque. Among those movie we count Stephan Elliott’s Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994) in which a transsexual woman, a transvestite and a drag queen resurrect their old cabaret act on the other side of Australia.
But some other movies already offer another representation of trans people, but to find them you will have to watch to the less famous side of the industry, and take a look to some specialized festivals such as Entzaubert in Berlin, XXYZ in Toulouse (France) or The London LGBT Film Festival.
Since the 30’s a lot of movies presented trans characters, sometimes in a tragic way, other times in a comic one, but some progresses need to be made to offer to a larger public more truthful and representative trans characters. To reach that goal the movie industry needs to:
give more part to trans actor and actresses, especially when the role is a trans person
start to write characters beyond clichés and stereotypes and direct the actors with that purpose in mind
give more visibility for trans people, both in front and behind the camera.
To finish, here’s a list of movies and videos featuring trans characters/persons.
Trans men: Willy/Milly (1986) - Boys Don’t Cry (1999) - Southern Comfort (2001) - Flying with One Wing (2003) - Funny Kinda Guy (2005) - Strange Circus (2005) - Boy I Am (2006) - Itty Bitty Titty Committee (2007) - Romeos (2011) - Trans: a documentary about transboys (2014)
Trans women: The Christine Jorgensen Story (1970) - Myra Breckinridge (1970) - Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) - I Want What I Want (1972) - Dog Day Afternoon (1975) - Let Me Die a Woman (1978) - Dressed to Kill (1980) - The World According to Garp (1982) - Sleepaway Camp series (1983, 1988, 1989, 2008) - Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985) - The Silence of the Lambs (1991) - Soapdish (1991 - The Crying Game (1992) - Just Like a Woman (1992) - Orlando (1992) - Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) - The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) - A Transgender Path (1995) - Different for Girls (1996) - Crayon Shin-chan: Pursuit of the Balls of Darkness (1997) - Ma vie en rose (1997) -The Adventures of Sebastian Cole (1998) - Better Than Chocolate (1999) - Creature (1999) - Todo sobre mi madre (1999) - Wild Zero (1999) - Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) - Yellow Hair 2 (2001) - The Badge (2002) - Beautiful Boxer (2003) - Normal (2003) - Bad Education (2004) - 20 centímetros (2005) - Breakfast on Pluto (2005) - Transamerica (2005) - The World’s Fastest Indian (2005) - En Soap (2006) -Grilled (2006) - Red without Blue (2007) - Citulja za Eskobara (2008) - Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives (2010) - Gun Hill Road (2011) - The Skin I Live In (2011) -The Danish Girl (2013) - Dallas Buyers Club (2013) - Der Spalt (2014)
Both: Dating the Enemy (1996) - It’s a Boy Girl Thing (2006) -Zerophilia (2006) - Wandering Son (2011) -Lyubov-Morkov (2007)