Written By Utkarsha Kesarkar
The lead actor of 2016 movie ‘The Danish Girl’ based on painter Lilie Elbe openly apologised for playing a transgender character as a cis male, “I made that film with the best intentions, but I think it was a mistake” he regrettably confessed to Sunday Times, a UK based newspaper.
Redmayne joins the list of other cis straight actors Scarlett Johansson, Halle Berry, Elle Fanning, Jared Leto, Hillary Swank, Rebecca Romjin and Jeffrey Tambor who also experienced criticism for taking up queer roles.
Eddie Redmayne’s position starkly differs from his statement at the time of the film's release. He had said, “I hope—as an actor one hopes—that one should be able to play any sort of part if one plays it with a sense of integrity and responsibility.”
The root of the controversy is that we are forgetting the function of the films and television as a cultural phenomenon and as a result we have reduced it to a piece of utility. But on a subconscious spectrum, films become our primary reference point of information and behaviour. We are quick to grasp plenty of messages and stereotypes deliberately embedded in a dialogue or scene. Films have proven to influence the way adults communicate with each other – at work, on a date or in a public place. Therefore, the censors against profanity, alcohol, smoking, male gaze, objectification and so on. Many aspects of our personality after watching a film are vulnerable to transformation, whether we want it or not.
Accordingly, actors, casting directors and film fraternity at large need to be reminded that being ‘woke’ is being awakened. That producing a film is work of social and cultural impact and its value cannot be reduced to an entertainment quotient. Unique Selling Point of an actor hinges on fan following. With the creation of social media, the audience perception of an actor has expanded dramatically to consider her of his individual decisions. If the actor exposes himself or herself to wrong choices eventually, he loses the proverbial trinity of money, fame and unlimited sex.
Problem is not about Eddie Redmayne personally but what he represents. He represents a dominant collective of thinking prepared to outlandishly mock and disregard emotional distress, healing, gentility which are vital and indispensable markers of the queer viewer – who sees their nemesis getting nominations and congratulations off of suffering of their own representative.
The meaning of Queerness is then perceived as a raw material of fame notwithstanding the mental and physical exploitation.
For a sensible reader it is maddening to see many reputed publications reducing Lili Elbe’s introduction to “one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery” which I believe literally reduces her existence to a whacky guy of yore who wore colourful dresses like women and died without doing any significant contribution except for putting up fake genitals. Many of these writers perhaps did it subconsciously and this is where debate for reasonable casting starts.
Eddie Redmayne playing a trans woman is as problematic as Eddie Redmayne playing a woman. Accordingly, Eddie Redmayne playing Lili Elbe is no more different than Zac Efron and Dwayne Johnson dressing up as tropes of weird manly women in Baywatch.
Putting up a trans actor on board sends a clear signal that trans lives are real lives are not limited to parallel universes of cinema and theatre. Queer people live in your neighbourhood, school, colleges, workplaces, bars and clubs. If you haven’t noticed you are overlooked. Or perhaps never took efforts to find out.
The right time for cis actors to play trans characters is when we decide to ‘see’ trans lives beyond silver screens and realize that The Danish Girl is not their story but our story.
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