Another cisgender actor plays a transgender person, while transgender actors continue to struggle in Hollywood.
This weekend, the Los Angeles Film Festival is hosting the world premiere of Anything, which stars John Carroll Lynch as a widower who moves to LA and winds up in a relationship with a transgender woman played by Matt Bomer. It is based on the play of the same name by Timothy McNeil, who also directed the adaptation.
In anticipation of the film’s debut, Deadline offers a first-look clip, which you can check out above. The scene features an early interaction between Lynch’s and Bomer’s characters, and shows promise for the rest of the movie, which was shot by Oscar-nominated cinematographer James Laxton (Moonlight).
Upon the announcement of the film and its cast, though, Anything has raised a familiar debate over the casting of cisgender males as transgender women. We saw it recently with Dallas Buyers Club and The Danish Girl, the former of which netted Jared Leto an Oscar, the latter a nomination for Eddie Redmayne. All the while, trans actresses continue to struggle to find success in the film industry.
While it’s definitely a positive thing that trans women characters are becoming increasingly popular, and it’s a step forward for a gay man to play such a role, it is unfair and frustrating that actual trans women are missing out on parts that are met with such critical acclaim. One exception is Orange is the New Black’s Laverne Cox, a trans woman who plays a trans woman on the show. The result is deeply emotional and humanizing.
This only begs the question: why cant we cast more trans people in trans roles? The more audiences see Cox and other trans actors — Harmony Santana, who earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for her performance in the film Gun Hill Road, and Jamie Clayton, of Sense8, are just two examples — the less impressed they’ll be with cis men like Bomer and Leto playing their parts.
Casting issue aside, Hollywood does occasionally produce trans characters with depth, at least. Redmayne in The Danish Girl and Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry both put forth brilliant, moving performances and portrayed characters over caricatures. However, even in critically acclaimed, Oscar-winning roles like Leto’s in Dallas Buyers Club can serve as nothing more than a hollow stereotype to highlight the protagonist’s certain character traits.
Leto’s presence in the press surrounding his role in the movie did not help matters, as he trivialized the seriousness and importance of the community he represented, often making jokes about cross dressing. He failed to thank them, and his disastrous Golden Globes speech focused on his appearance more than anything he might have discovered about the marginalized community, especially those with AIDS, like his character. Although Leto’s Oscars speech was slightly better, he still failed to utter the word “transgender” once.
We can hope that Bomer, as a gay man, has a firmer grasp on the reality of the transgender community’s struggles and will give adequate thanks if and when he’s in a similar position of recognition or attention, pushing for further representation in the industry.
In defense of Bomer, Anything executive producer Mark Ruffalo stated on Twitter last year, “In all honesty, I suggested Matt for the role after the profound experience I had with him while making [the HBO movie] The Normal Heart.” However, he admitted to being “glad we are having this conversation. It’s time.” When asked then to recast the role, Ruffalo explained that the movie had already finished production and that Bomer “poured his heart and soul into this part.”
Hopefully, this means his performance is on the same level as Redmayne or Swank. Or at least something close to it. And hopefully this movie brings some representation to a community that desperately could use it in our popular culture, and the surrounding conversation pushes future filmmakers to cast trans people in trans roles, or in any sort of role at all.
Anything screens at the LAFF this Saturday, June 17th.