“A Good Man,” the latest film from French filmmaker Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar, is facing backlash at the Toronto International Film Festival for casting a cis actor in a transgender role.
Based on true events, “A Good Man” stars Noemie Merlant as Benjamin, a trans man in the midst of his transition while working as a hospital nurse. He and his wife, Aude, want to have a child, but Aude is barren. Despite having already completed his name change and struggling for acceptance among his family and friends, Benjamin decides to bear the child himself through in vitro fertilization, making his road to discovering his new identity even more turbulent.
While critics have praised the film for its empathetic approach, it has come under fire in LGBT circles as the latest example of the film industry not casting trans actors for trans roles. While there have been some notable exceptions, such as Daniela Vega in the Oscar-winning “A Fantastic Woman,” Hollywood stars like Eddie Redmayne, Jared Leto, Scarlett Johansson and most recently Halle Berry have been criticized for taking trans roles.
In defense of Merlant’s casting, Mention-Scharr said in the program notes for “A Good Man” at the Cannes Film Festival that there are few trans male actors in France and that she did cast Jonas Ben Ahmed, a trans actor, to play a cis male role in the film. She also argued that cis actors can provide strong depictions of the trans experience, pointing to Hilary Swank’s Oscar-winning performance in the 1999 film “Boys Don’t Cry.”
“For me, it would be stupid, unfair and counter-productive to only give trans roles to trans actors and cis roles to cis actors,” Mention-Schaar said. “Before his gender, his sexual identity, his skin color, an actor or an actress is above all an actor or actress. And I believe the character that he or she embodies needs his technique and his talent.”
But trans film critic Danielle Solzman rejected this argument, telling TheWrap that she finds it “tiring and exhausting” to hear that there are not enough trans actors to cast in a film about the trans experience. She also lamented that it was Merlant who took the role of Benjamin, as she was praised last year for her work in the LGBT period romance “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” She encouraged Mention-Schaar to watch “Disclosure,” a Netflix documentary on the history of trans depiction in pop culture whose filmmakers urged Berry to drop her plans to take a trans role.
“I’ll say the same thing now that I said in 2018 when ‘Girl’ was getting all the outrage: if you cannot find a transgender actor for the project, maybe you shouldn’t be going ahead!” Solzman said. “I was watching ‘No Ordinary Man’ during my TIFF coverage and this film featured a beautiful display of trans-masculinity on screen. The idea that filmmakers can’t find trans-masculine actors is complete BS. It just proves to show that they aren’t looking hard enough.”
Film sales and distribution consultant Bryan Glick also criticized TIFF for including the film on its program. “They cannot claim to support my community while actively working to erase our own voice. Worse, they exploit my community in pursuit of prestige. Transface only serves to reinforce the idea that I and other trans and non-binary people are pretending,” they wrote on Facebook. “TIFF cannot claim to support inclusion when year after year they push transface from transphobic talent.”