Transgender actors have a message for Hollywood: “Why you so obsessed with us?”
Films like “Dallas Buyers Club,” “The Danish Girl,” and now “Anything” tell the stories of trans women, but don’t actually star trans actors. What’s up with that?
Trans actors Jen Richards (“Nashville”), Alexandra Billings (“Transparent”), Trace Lysette (“Blunt Talk”), Ian Harvie (“Transparent”), D’Lo (“Sense8”), Rain Valdez (“Lopez”), Elliot Fletcher (“Shameless”), Alexandra Grey (“Drunk History”) and Jazzmun (“When We Rise”) gathered for a new PSA put together by GLAAD and Screencrush to make the case for why Hollywood needs trans actors, and the issue is multi-faceted.
Many examples of sometimes cruel representation are brought up throughout the video, such as in “Silence of the Lambs,” where a trans person is turned into a villain, or in the recent film “Stonewall,” where Marsha P Johnson, a trans woman and vital part of the actual riots, was erased completely.
Besides inaccurate portrayals, trans characters are often played by cisgender (person who’s gender identity aligns with their biological one) actors. A recent example is the film “Anything,” which cast Matt Bomer as a trans woman. Richards, who also wrote the PSA, has been outspoken against the casting, which she said she auditioned for. She has also said that she was considered not “trans enough” for roles that went to cis men, a sentiment which Valdez echoes.
“We’re not all serial killers and hookers,” Lysette said, a sentiment to which When We Rise costar Jazzmun responds: “Even if we were, we could be [in], you know, ‘Dexter’ or ‘Pretty Woman.'”
The point of the video isn’t to ensure that cis people can’t play trans roles, but to suggest that there might be consequences to casting a cis person to play a trans part, or of a character that might evoke a dangerous and stereotypical portrayal. This could possibly lead to violence — and sometimes death — towards a trans person.
“When cis people play trans parts, they’re focused on playing trans,” Richard said. Billings continues, “When we play a trans role, we play the character.”
Media representation is incredibly important. A 2015 GLAAD survey showed that while the number of Americans who know a trans person is rising, it’s still low — around 16 percent. That means the representations most people see are on TV and in film.
So what can Hollywood do to help? The actors suggest starting by putting them in smaller roles (Fletcher would love to be a Jedi) so that they can graduate into larger parts. Lysette gives a shout out to Laverne Cox of “Orange is the New Black,” who has been getting major roles.
“For many young or closeted trans people, film and television is the first or only time that they see themselves,” Harvie said.
The actors also suggest writing different stories for trans people, specifically ones that don’t focus on their “trans-ness” and to employ trans people behind the scenes.
“Imagine if all the movies in the theater were coming of age stories,” Billings suggests. “That’s what it’s like for us,” Fletcher continues.
You can watch the full PSA above.