Remember how, in the general scope of cinema, Benedict Cumberbatch was relatively unknown, and then suddenly HE WAS EVERYWHERE? It looks like a similar ascension is on the horizon for Eddie Redmayne. Fresh off his Oscar win for The Theory of Everything, and probably gaining a cult following for his over-the-top villain in Jupiter Ascending, the next role on Redmayne’s list is already generating buzz.
Last week on Twitter we were granted a glamorous glimpse at Eddie as Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl. Originally a book inspired by true events, the film is slated for a November 27th release date. But much of the buzz surrounding the film is the controversy of a cisgender male portraying a transgender woman.
Look, I love Eddie Redmayne and I have no doubt he’ll give another poignant performance. He’s prepared for the role of Lili by meeting women of the transgender community and just generally trying to educate himself. And that’s great that he wants to do both Lili and the community justice, but what about an actual trans actor?
“There is an incredibly valid discussion for why a trans actress isn’t playing the part, because there are so many brilliant trans actresses, and I’m sure there are many who could play this part sensationally.” – Eddie Redmayne in a Telegraph interview
This is a pleasant change from the excuse that Transparent gave with its casting of Jeffrey Tambor as a trans lead, but it still doesn’t address whether any trans people of the acting profession were ever considered. Apparently Tom Hooper, who also directed Redmayne in Les Miserables, sent him the script a few years back and he loved it. Another contender for the role of Lili was Nicole Kidman, a cisgender woman. Which I think goes against the “explanation” as to why a cisgender male was given the part. In the same Telegraph interview quoted above, Redmayne stated that the use of hormones (which were not largely available in the 1930s for Lili) complicate the casting. “Nowadays….many trans women have taken hormones. But to start this part playing male you’d have to come off [them].”
That’s a fallacious argument. If you follow the logic that “So-and-so- can’t play Biologically Male if they’ve taken female hormones”, it becomes a slippery slope. A slope of “You can’t play that character fighting Depression because your serotonin level is normal!” or “How dare they put age makeup and prosthetics on that actor? We know how young they really are!” It’s an argument that demeans the effort of the actor and the ability of the film to suspend the audience’s disbelief.
I have no doubt Eddie Redmayne will give a great performance, and that the minds of the film are doing as much as they can to avoid exploitation of the transgender community. But I agree with Susan Stryker that it’s a missed opportunity to cast a trans actor as the first transgender woman to have a successful reassignment surgery, and it may end up contributing to more unfortunate stereotypes.