I recently watched Netflix documentary Disclosure which details the history of Trans representation in TV and Film and the impact on society. The film features many trans stars including Laverne Cox, Bianca Leigh Jen Richards, Lilly Wachowski, Brian Michael Smith, Sandra Caldwell, Chaz Bono and many more.
This documentary is essential viewing especially in times of the Black Lives Matter movement and the planned rolling back of Trans rights by the UK government and celebrities such as JK Rowling making their transphobia known. I know JK is only one person but she has a a lot of power, Harry Potter is a behemoth of a franchise. The comments she has made completely baffle me after she wrote a whole series based around the virtues of accepting others, especially those that differ to you. That being said I don’t wish her any hate or ill will, but it is a great shame and hope she changes her thinking on trans issues, since many LGBTQ people will have found solace in her stories.
… Anyway back to Disclosure!
“I think for a very long time the ways in which trans people have been represented on screen have suggested that we are not real, have suggested that we are mentally ill, that we don’t exist. And yet, here I am. Yet here we are, and we’ve always been here.” – Laverne Cox says just before the titles roll perfectly setting up the rest of the documentary.
The documentary details the first trans portrayals in film, transphobic film tropes and various other topics. I found the part about Cis actors playing trans characters very interesting. Where Jared Leto and Eddie Redmayne may do a decent job of playing trans women it reduces the roles to being costume like e.g. Jared Leto playing a Trans woman in Dallas Byers Club and later receiving the Oscar looking unrecognisable to the character he portrayed. But when trans women are cast in a trans role like Laverne Cox playing Sophia in Orange is The New Black this creates positive representation. Cox is not just representing a transwoman on the show she is also representing herself as a transwoman in real life which is great for trans youth to see.
Jen Richards relays coming out to a good friend as trans. The friend then asking if being trans is like Buffalo Bill. Buffalo Bill as in the serial killer from Silence of the Lambs who makes a dress out of women he has murdered … Richard’s reassures us that her friend is more understanding now and didn’t mean offence by her comment. But it’s scary that trans representation was/is so scarce that this was someones first frame of reference.
I also found Sandra Caldwell’s story very interesting, Caldwell had a long career starring in films like The Cheetah Girls and Serendipity before coming out more recently as a transwoman. Chaz Bono also shares his experience of being the first trans contestant on Dancing With The Stars.
I highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t watched Disclosure to check it out!