By Taylor Reese
It’s something that marginalized people have wanted in Hollywood since its creation. It’s a wish that has often either been ignored. Or it’s stereotyped to befit the White gaze of America at the expense of those marginalized groups. Although we are slowly starting to get more representation, simply getting more stories that center marginalized people is not enough. It is just as important to have quality representation and tell these stories with the most earnest respect towards the groups they will represent. Unfortunately, old habits seem to be dying hard.
On July 3 The Verge published an article about plans to produce and release a film about real life business owner Dante “Tex” Gill. Gill was exposed for running a secret prostitution ring in the 70s. An exciting story right? What makes this story especially enticing is that it was well documented that Tex was transgender. Finally! More aspects of LGBT+ culture are being shared and brought into the mainstream after so little acknowledgment from Hollywood for so long. What could possibly go wrong? Well, they cast Scarlett Johansson to play the role of Tex.
It seems as if the whitewashing criticism fell on deaf ears. It happened before in Ghost in Shell. Although Scarlett Johansson has–rightfully– dropped out of the role, she did so only after a social media backlash that the studio could not deny. LGBT+ people are craving to see themselves in media, and Dante “Tex” Gill’s story would be welcoming. However, the initial choice to have a cisgender actress play a transman would only continue an ugly Hollywood tradition.
From the moment Tex was discovered to be transgender, reporters were constantly misgendering him. A problem that is still prominent for the transgender community. A cisgendered woman playing Tex would re-enforce the harmful rhetoric that transmen are “just women playing dress up.” That’s the only part of the nuance that Rupert Sander is failing to grasp, despite several members of the trans community voicing their concerns.
From Jamie Clayton and Trace Lysette pointing out the disproportionate opportunities in Scarlett’s favor to a group of trans men auditioning for her roles. It’s clear how important proper representation is. Shows like Will & Grace, The L Word and Pose are proof that LGBT+ stories can be done by LGBT+ people very well, and mean so much more for pop culture.
If Rub and Tug filmmakers persist with using cisgendered actresses, then they will be following in the footsteps of the 2016 film biopic film Nina. What sparked so much outrage, and the ultimate failure, about this film, was the director and writer of the film’s choice to use Blackface.
In life, Nina Simone was a talented singer and Civil Rights Activist who dedicated her life to fighting European standards of beauty. To have Zoe Saldana play her in the biopic rather than an actual talented dark-skinned actress was mind-boggling to the Black community. Nina was a beautiful dark-skinned woman with more Afrocentric features but was either pressured to or shamed for not fitting into a certain look. Something a lot of other black women can identify with.
The insult was to have her played by a woman with more Eurocentric traits only for the filmmakers to then have the actress darken her skin with makeup. And, let’s not forget the fake plastic nose. It was Blackface, and having it done by another person of color with African ancestry doesn’t make it any less damaging. Not only that, but several Back women with dark skin — a community that Nina was a part of— were very outspoken about how offensive the film was going to be. Even the Nina Simone estate was against the film but it still continued into production. The film rightfully flopped but was anything learned?
Apparently not, because there are still people out there in Hollywood who are still making movies about individuals from oppressed groups, but can not be bothered to cast someone who belongs to the same community. There’s just this disconnect that the more privileged don’t see or refuse to see. Actresses like Viola Davis, Danai Gurira, Alfred Woodard, India Arie, and several other talented dark-skinned women could have played Nina but were ignored. The case seemed to be the same when it comes to a trans man playing another trans man. Hopefully, the next choice of talent for Rub and Tug will be a better fit.
If a movie about individuals from a community is good enough to be made, then the actors of that same community deserve to play them. However, if Hollywood was truly fair and equal when it came to hiring people, this probably wouldn’t be such a huge issue. Pointing out this type of problem is not a bad thing, and people should not be seen as “bad” or “bullies” when they do it. Telling stories that have more women, people of color, and/or LGBT+ people is great but the storyteller can be just as important as the story itself.
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