Come on Hollywood, when are you going to learn? Stop casting cis people in trans roles, no more with ScarJo okay. The narratives of transgender people are rarely – if ever – portrayed in mainstream media. But when these plots happen to attract the attention of major studios the transgender roles are quickly handed to cisgender actors, swiftly taking away the opportunity for proper representation for trans people in the process.
Too often cis people are praised for their portrayals of trans characters, while having little to no understanding of the actual issues that trans people face daily. If cis actors are going to be cast in trans roles they could start by using their platform to at least draw attention to these struggles, rather than following in the footsteps of Jared Leto, who focused his ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ Golden Globes acceptance speech around how that “tiny little Brazilian bubble butt was all mine”. Cis actors are being hired to share trans narratives in predominantly stereotypical ways, while trans people are still fighting for the opportunity to actually share their own stories.
Providing representation for trans people onscreen is vital for visibility, with only 16% of Americans saying they know a transgender person according to a 2017 GLAAD/Harris poll. The change has to start in pre-production with casting directors, who need to hire trans actors to tell the stories of their own community. The 2019 GLAAD Studio Responsibility Index revealed the extremely dismal news that not a single trans person was featured in a major studio film that year. Despite the disappointing numbers and overt misrepresentation, there are a few films out there that are blazing the way for trans actors to share trans stories, with hopefully many more to come.
Hari Nef in ‘Assassination Nation’, 2018
Model turned actress Hari Nef kicks ass in this femme-first gory revenge black comedy as transgender teen Bex. The film explores the violent effects of social media when a town literally “lost its motherfucking mind,” after personal secrets are leaked and a public suicide video goes viral. No prisoners are spared in the onslaught of hysteria, which 4 teen girls are caught in the middle of. But helpless victims are not part of this narrative – these girls fight back, and that includes Bex, whose secret involvement with the football star lands her in a nasty predicament.
Daniela Vega in ‘A Fantastic Woman’, 2017
The first trans actor to be nominated for a grammy for playing a trans character, Chilean singer/actor Daniela Vega makes history in this gripping drama that explores the narrative of Marina, a trans woman who is forced to prove the validity of her relationship to her partner’s family when he suddenly falls ill and dies. Her partner Orlando loved her for her, but now she is faced with her entire identity being questioned and scrutinized through inhumane means. Daniela shines in ‘A Fantastic Woman’, bringing an incredibly honest perspective to a film that is a raw depiction of prejudice, providing a glimpse into a world unknown by most.
Indya Moore & Mj Rodriguez, ‘Saturday Church‘, 2017
Before the angels blessed us with their presence on ‘Pose’, Indya Moore & Mj Rodriguez dazzled in musical drama ‘Saturday Church’. The film follows the story of Ulysses, a genderqueer teen who is coping with the death of his father and struggling with his identity & religion. This uplifting vogueing fantasy film sees Ulysses finding comfort in the transgender community, a world which Mj Rodriguez & Indya Moore welcome Ulysses into with open arms.
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, ‘Tangerine’, 2015
A major leap for the transgender community, comedy-drama ‘Tangerine’ caused quite a stir for its intimate yet witty portrayal of the shenanigans of two sex workers. Oh, and it was all shot on 3 iPhone5’s, impressive right? Kitana Kiki Rodriguez plays the lead of Sin-Dee Rella, a transgender sex worker who finds out that her boyfriend/pimp has been cheating on her from friend Alexandra (played by Mya Taylor). Unlike most films that portray sex workers as tragic victims, ‘Tangerine’ presents honest and endearing characters, reflecting the significant input that Rodriguez and Taylor both had in the screenplay, drawing from real-life people.
Mya Taylor and Eve Lindley, ‘Happy Birthday, Marsha!’, 2017
‘Happy Birthday, Marsha!’ chronicles the life of black transgender activist and artist Marsha “Pay it no mind” Johnson, before and after the Stonewall Riots of 1969 in New York. Rising trans actress Mya Taylor plays Johnson while Eve Lindley plays activist Sylvia Riviera, who started the Stonewall Rebellion with Johnson. This short film is monumental in providing recognition to the pioneers of the transgender rights movement, and the film was co-directed and written by trans writer Reina Gossett.
Man Made, 2018
This documentary explores the sport of bodybuilding at the only world’s only all-transgender competition, the Trans FitCon in Atlanta. ‘Man Made’ focuses on the journey of four trans men, shedding a unique light on the physical and mental process of self-discovery and identity. “Bodybuilding empowered me to take control over my life by transforming my body in ways that I couldn’t fathom,” Mason Caminiti, one of the four men featured in the film shared in an essay for Outsports. Although this film doesn’t feature actors, it provides a unique insight into the experiences of trans people in the world of sports.
Written by Sahar Nicolette