Girl, since acquired by Netflix, has taken home not one but two awards at Cannes. It’s frustrating to see this film take home any award. The practice of Transface–casting cisgender people in transgender roles–is a practice that seriously needs to come to an end. It’s no different than the casting of white people and making them up to appear as people of color. If you wouldn’t cast someone in Blackface, don’t bother casting in Transface! We should not have to be arguing this in 2018 because enough is enough already!
Taking home the award for Best Actor in the Un Certain Regard competition section was cisgender actor Viktor Polster for playing a transgender female in Girl. The five-member jury was headed by actor Benecio Del Toro. Other members included Palestinian director & writer Annemarie Jacir, Russian director Kantemir Balagov, French actress Virginie Ledoyen, and Telluride Film Festival executive director Julie Huntsinger. The argument was made before me and it will no doubt be made after me if this trend continues. When the casting for Anything was announced in 2016, the transgender community was in full outrage. Actress Jen Richards herself has argued why these performances harm the transgender communuity in a 2016 thread on Twitter. She did so again in 2017 when the first look was presented ahead of the LA Film Festival premiere.
If you think we’re angry, you’re not wrong. We are. I was involved in some very heated Twitter arguments last week so much that my blood was boiling because PEOPLE STILL DON’T GET IT. And to have some cisgender critics tell me that I should evaluate art by watching it before writing it off: I have zero interest in watching any film where a transgender person is played by a cisgender actor. I’m not coming from this approach as a film critic but as an actual transgender woman with actual lived experiences. If Netflix so much as thinks about campaigning Girl for Best Foreign Language Film during Awards Season, they can forget sending me an awards screener. It’ll just get cut up and placed in the garbage.
The other thing that these films can’t capture: ACTUAL BODY CHANGES ON HORMONES. No amount of prosthesis will be able to do what hormones do when a transgender woman starts HRT. This includes fat redistribution, breast development, and skin softening, etc. Never mind the whole process of electrolysis and laser hair removal (some of us, myself included, don’t have the money to spend on getting rid of facial hair). No amount of makeup can truly cover up all those facial hairs that don’t change because of HRT. Hell, I have to shave my face multiple times a day to lessen the dysphoria.
Swiss director Ursula Meir was the president for this year’s Caméra d’or Jury and awarded the Caméra d’or Prize to Lukas Dhont’s Girl. Other people making up the members of the jury included: French director Marie Amachoukeli, French-American director/writer/critic Iris Brey, Cinéphase president Sylvain Fage, French cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie, and French directors/writers Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu.
“I want to thank all those around me during the making of this first film,” Dhont said of the win. “And in particular I want to thank my producer, who believed in this project from the very beginning. I also want to dedicate this film to two people who were really important: Nora, who was the inspiration for the film and Viktor Polster, who played this role with such astonishing ease.”
Along with the two aforementioned awards, Girl also took home the Queer Palm. The Queer Palm was enacted in 2010 and was selected from among all LGBTQ-themed films.
What makes matters even worse when it comes to Girl are the frustrating comments from director Lukas Dhont.
I asked GIRL director Lukas Dhont about controversially casting a cisgender actor in this trans story, which picked up multiple awards at Cannes. "If we talk about whether a homosexual man can play a heterosexual part," replied Dhont, "we would say yes immediately."
— Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) May 19, 2018
Let’s get this straight. Vulture‘s Kyle Buchanan asked Dhont about the controversy behind casting a cisgender actor. Dhont replied, “If we talk about whether a homosexual man can play a heterosexual part, we would say yes immediately.”
Oh, Lukas. You just don’t get it. There’s a big difference between sexuality and gender identity. This line of thinking from Dhont is what leads to transgender women getting killed. Whether people realize it or not, it’s this line of thinking that feeds on the awful negative stereotypes of transgender women. Trans women are not men in dresses and that’s exactly what people see when cis men play trans women on screen. Being trans shouldn’t be seen as being all about our genitals. This practice needs to come to an end.
If it needs to be said: put projects on hold until a transgender actor comes around if necessary. The right actor is out there if someone is looking hard enough. If you can’t find the right actor, maybe you should rework the script because we exist. It’s not only that transgender talent exists but we’re struggling to find opportunities for work because we’re not seen as being trans enough. How can trans talent not be seen as being trans enough?!?
It’s best to leave transgender narratives to the trans filmmakers so that cis filmmakers like Lukas Dhont don’t screw it up. If you don’t want to take my word for it, listen to transgender filmmakers and talent.