So my gf told me about a new film about a trans guy who is being played by Scarlett Johansson.
She said something about people freaking out (trans community?) because they feel the role should be given to a trans guy.
Welllll… I’m trans too. This matters to me. I’m also working on a trans story myself (fiction) and this is a topic I’ve wondered about before (cis actors playing trans people)… I have a unique perspective on this and I want to comment.
I haven’t looked up the film or any of the commentary around it, so this is purely a first reaction based on my girlfriend’s news alone.
I understand why some people would be upset, but there are other things I’m more concerned about than who is playing the trans character, like whether the writer actually understands the difference between a ‘tomboy’ and a TRANS guy.
An actor or actress is doing a job. It’s their expertise to take on roles that may differ drastically from their own experiences. Some of the best actors/actresses for queer or trans characters have been straight/cis people. Look at Hilary Swank in the 1999 movie ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and Jennifer Beals playing Bette Porter on ‘The L Word.’ There are so many other similar examples out there. Those are just two examples of acting that amazed me when I first watched that film and that show…
[Jennifer Beals as Bette Porter]
[Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry]
Hilary Swank is a cis woman who acted for a trans man.
Jennifer Beals is a straight woman who played a lesbian.
I’m sure everyone can think of at least one non-queer, non-trans actor or actress that captured the essence of the queer or trans experience so well that they were surprised to learn the person wasn’t LGBT.
Yes, sometimes it can be disappointing to learn that the actor is not themselves LGBT… (I will admit it crushed me to think of the person who plays Bette being straight in real life, b/c when I first came out I identified so much with her character). But acting is an art. Just because someone’s life is similar to the character does not mean they will play the character well.
So a trans guy playing a trans guy might not do the role justice, if he doesn’t have the necessary acting skills. Plus, if he had already transitioned, it would be hard to pull off a pre-transition trans guy.
When it comes to actors playing roles, the most important question shouldn’t be, How do they identify? It should be: How well can they play this role? CAN they play it authentically? Do they have the skills/ the passion/ the appreciation for the story and character necessary to give it their best? And, if you’re like me.. you might also ask: Do their personal values reflect a non-judgmental attitude?
[Scarlett Johansson – just look at that sweet face. How can you hate on that?]
The only thing that surprised me when I heard of this new movie is that it’s SCARLETT JOHANSSON… She was the last person I would expect to play a trans GUY – only because she always seemed to be the embodiment of femininity in her features / outfits / gender expression.
So it’s kind of funny to me. But at the same time, it’s great. It’s great that a cis woman who has that kind of reputation would care enough about the trans male experience to take on a role like that.
That’s a beautiful thing. Why is anyone saying negative things about it?
People need to go watch some movies and films with great acting for LGBT characters and then go check out the actor/actress’ real life sexual orientation/gender identity. Do it the other way around too (for queer actors playing straight characters).
That’s the other thing people need to remember. If you start demanding that actors only play characters with the same sexual orientation as them, it’s going to affect queer actors/actresses too. Imagine how limiting that would be for their career if they can only play queer or trans characters always (Especially considering there’s already a sore lack of these in mainstream fiction.)