Why is Hollywood so fearful of casting trans actors to play trans roles?
An extraordinary story of a Danish trans woman, one of the first individuals to have sex reassignment surgery, known famously as Lili Elbe.
The Danish Girl follows Lili’s story as she struggles to find her identity and grasp the reality of how society will perceive her after transitioning. Eddie Redmayne, who portrays Lili Elbe in the movie, conducts a splendid job with raising awareness of such an incredible, yet tragic story. Lili Elbe to this day and age, is upheld by the LGBT community and often seen as an iconic part of history who shaped and transformed societal views forever.
Yet the question still remains as to why Hollywood continues to neglect and abandon the trans community, in terms of casting and acting. I’m no film critic or Hollywood expert but surely to truly make a difference and bring such issues to light, the trans community should be actively shown in the spotlight. Hollywood however, seems to be avoiding this issue entirely and insists on casting cisgender actors (those consistent with the gender identity assigned at birth) to play trans characters.
Some may argue that in order to fully show the character pre-transition, a cis actor must be cast, but it can also be argued that this is just another excuse. Moreover, it isn’t completely impossible for a trans actor to play a pre-transitioning role; with a bit of editing and polishing, which Hollywood is known to excel at, I’m pretty certain a trans actor could carry a trans role — which would make sense, now wouldn’t it?
Interestingly, this isn’t Hollywood’s first rodeo i.e., the first time that a casting director has taken the decision to cast a white cisgender man to play the role of a trans woman. Jared Leto received an Oscar in 2014 for playing the role of Rayon, in the Dallas Buyers Club; to imagine a trans actor winning the award instead seems to remain just that, an imagining, a dream. In a world where we should be progressing towards equality and learning from our past mistakes, social platforms such as media and film could be seen as excelling at this, but are they really?
How hard is it to actually attempt to represent trans actors/performers on the big screen? Every one of us is being affected by the media on a daily basis whether they are conscious of it or not, which is why this is a problem. Every time a film is produced, an actor is cast, a script is written, we are all being affected on some level, so why not use this in a positive way? We need to break down stigmatised ideals of casting an actor who is part of an ethnic minority or a member of the LGBT community. We need to break down the cultural homogeneity which is gradually spreading across continents, and we need to break down the view of beauty residing primarily within the white, straight population. As a race, we are the same but as people, we are different. Instead of showing intolerance towards differences, we should be celebrating them.
Despite some clear underlying issues, The Danish Girl is certainly an influential movie which has intensively brought to light the story of Lili Elbe. Not only has it succeeded in doing this, but it has also crucially brought attention to the ongoing issue of underrepresentation of trans actors, even if this wasn’t intentional.