The majority of cis people who watch these movies [about trans people] are not terrible people. They are not transphobes. They want to be educated about trans people so they don’t do shitty things to trans people. They probably care about queer rights, but might not know any trans people. So they reach out to the media to inform them. And it sucks when they’ve been genuinely moved by something, only to find out that the trans community is not happy with it. So often, rather than acknowledge the problems trans people are pointing out with the film, they get defensive.
But most importantly, we [trans individuals] want to change the media because we want to see ourselves in it, just like everyone else wants to see their own lives reflected. Although I had seen documentaries and movies about trans women, like many people I had never seen a trans actress playing a trans character until I watched Laverne Cox on Orange is the New Black. The story was so authentic, so real, and so engaging that it now makes attempts from cis actors look embarrassing in comparison.
–Dori Mooneyham on letting trans artists tell trans tales.
Reminds me that, the other night (as I’m writing this, not as you’re reading it), I saw an ad on the ABC for a TV movie about Carlotta, a cabaret performer and arguably Australia’s most famous trans woman. Carlotta herself is apparently a co-producer on the movie, but if your first thought was, “I bet they got a cis woman to play her…” then congratulations! You’ve played this game before.
Ultimately I think there’s something in here about “education” versus “representation”, hence the two distinct extracts posted above. To a cis person making a film for a cis audience, “education” is usually going to be the (subconscious) priority, i.e. “educate other cis people why transphobia is bad”. Hence the thought that casting cis actors to play trans characters is “okay”. But for trans people, it would seem (to my admittedly imperfect cis girl lens) the “point” of seeing trans characters in media is to see people like themselves. And that holds true not just for the character but for the actor.
Representation is, and should be, the important factor, i.e. creating and casting trans characters and actors “for” trans audience members, not as After School Specials to teach the cis audience some Very Special Message about tolerance (or whatever). The latter is okay as a side-effect, but the former should be the priority. But I also think it’s something cis creators inherently struggle with (q.v. privilege).