When I read Eddie Redmayne is going to play Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl, I rolled my eyes so far I saw my skull. I cringed when articles said it’ll be his most “challenging” role.
My issue is Hollywood’s insistence in casting (white) cisgender men and women to portray transgender characters. Transgender stories are being told at the expense of trans actors’ careers. Many fans and directors defend these casting decisions, arguing it’s based on talent. However, these decisions render the transgender community invisible and artificial.
Many transgender roles are grossly stereotyped, tragic, misogynistic, queer-phobic or played for laughs. This type of representation is harmful with real-life consequences. Many trans youth commit suicide because their families and peers bully them. Many trans people are murdered and forgotten. The transgender community struggles with prejudice, discrimination and violence on a daily basis.
Positive representation matters. It can encourage understanding and positive attitudes towards the trans community. Portraying sympathetic and complex transgender characters on screen validates these identities. It’s a HUGE deal. It allows trans actors like Laverne Cox and Ian Harvie to become successful role models.
But casting cis actors in sympathetic trans roles perpetuates the erasure of the trans community. Furthermore, cis actors are rewarded for portraying these “challenging” roles and being “allies”. But trans actors are rejected and left without a job.
Cis actors portraying trans characters take away jobs for trans actors. Hollywood denies trans people’s right to tell their own stories. The media distorts the representation trans people desire. It’s not malicious, but it’s damaging and deadly.
There’s no shortage of transgender actors and actresses but, as Laverne Cox points out, the sad fact is it’s all about business.