In 2015’s The Danish Girl, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them actor, Eddie Redmayne, took on the role of Lili Elbe, one of the first people to undergo gender confirmation surgery. There’s a handful of things you can do as an actor in Hollywood that can easily land you in the hot seat, but nothing sparks a flame like misrepresentation of a transgender person in film.
A recent example was in 2018. Black Widow actress Scarlett Johansson was considered for the role of Dante Tex Gill, a transgender man who ran a ring of sex work fronts. After a startling volume of complaints over this casting consideration, Johansson pulled out of the starring role in Rub & Tug, which was a film following Gill’s life of underground racketeering.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, the Academy Award-winning actor said he “wouldn’t take it on now” after he was criticized for the biopic. “I made that film with the best intentions, but I think it was a mistake,” Redmayne said of the role that earned him an Oscar nomination.
His casting created a fiery debate over whether or not cisgender actors should play transgender roles. “The bigger discussion about the frustrations around casting is because many people don’t have a chair at the table,” he added. “There must be a levelling, otherwise we are going to carry on having these debates.”
Redmayne’s portrayal of Lili Elbe was brought up in the 2020 Netflix documentary, Disclosure, which speaks about the way that Hollywood has treated trans lives. In the documentary, trans writer Jen Richards explains that casting a cisgender man to portray a trans woman not only lessens already scarce role opportunities for deserving trans actors, but reinforces incredibly offensive stereotypes about trans women. “Having cis men play trans women, in my mind, is a direct link to the violence against trans women,” Richards notes.
“Part of the reason that men end up killing trans women, out of fear that other men will think that they’re gay for having been with trans women, is that their friends — the men whose judgment they fear of — only know trans women from media, and the people playing trans women are the men that they know,” she continues. “This doesn’t happen when a trans woman plays a trans woman.”
Redmayne has since become a defender of transgender people. Last year, he joined others condemning author J.K Rowling, the author of the book on which the film is based. Rowling has been under fire for her comments on the transgender community.
Photo via Universal Pictures