Toronto 2020: A Good Man Is Another Transface Film

Noémie Merlant in A Good Man.

A Good Man is yet another example of transface casting gunning for awards with cisgender actress Noémie Merlant in a transgender role.

It would be one thing for a cisgender filmmaker to bring a trans story to the screen if they actually had a transgender actor in the trans role.  However, this certainly isn’t the case here.  Not by a long shot.  What’s even more insulting is that the film’s co-writer, Christian Sonderegger, has a transgender brother.  The very casting of a cisgender woman as a transgender man is very telling.  If I knew a cisgender man were playing me in a biopic, I would be raising all sorts of hell.

Benjamin (Noémie Merlant) and Aude (Soko) want to have a child but Aude isn’t able to conceive.  The gist of this part of the film isn’t so upsetting in as much as the film’s execution is.  First of all, the casting: NO CIS WOMEN AS TRANS MEN EVER AGAIN.  This is where the film loses me and other transgender viewers.  No amount of make up or additional hair on her face will change my mind.  It’s not a case of Darkest Hour where you know Gary Oldman is playing Winston Churchill with all the makeup and prostheses.  Knowing a cis woman is playing Benjamin, that’s all I’m going to see for the rest of the film.  This certainly wouldn’t be the case if an actual trans man was cast in the role.  It would be a bit better if they went with a cisgender male for crying out loud!

Another terrible flaw the film commits here is the flashbacks.  This is especially where Merlant is required.  However, even at this point in the timeline, Ben knew he wasn’t a girl.  You wouldn’t know this from the gender presentation.

In the press notes, Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar cites Hilary Swank’s Oscar win for her performance in Kimberly Peirce’s Boys Don’t Cry:

It is probably the film that is most watched by young trans men, probably because it is so strikingly accurate that they relate to it. Thanks to the film, and its lead actress, the visibility of the trans community increased tremendously.

Wait a minute here. If you’re going to cite Boys Don’t Cry as an influence, you might want to bring up how journalist Donna Minkowitz apologized for botching Brandon Teena’s story.  The same story that influenced the anti-trans framing of that film.

For years, I have wanted to apologize for what I now understand, with some shame, was the article’s implicit anti-trans framing. Without spelling it out, the article cast Brandon as a lesbian who hated “her” body because of prior experiences of childhood sexual abuse and rape.

All the goodwill that Toronto earned by selecting the Billy Tipton documentary, No Ordinary Man, evaporates with the awful selection of A Good Man.  It doesn’t even matter that this film casts trans actor Jonas Ben Ahmed in a supporting role is enough to save this film.  Not even close.  That the director also chooses to cast a trans actor in a cis role would be nice if it weren’t for the decision to cast a cis woman as a trans guy.

Look, we’ve been dealing with transphobia from British author J.K. Rowling all summer long.  The casting of a cis woman isn’t doing Europe any favors here.  It only serves to reinforce awful stereotypes that people don’t view trans men as men.  Instead, they view trans men as women because trans men aren’t even good enough for the role!  This is not the first time we’ve had this conversation.  This is something that has been well documented–see my piece at /Film or from three years ago on these very pages.  How many times must we have the same conversation?  It’s certainly starting to feel very old by now.

It’s not lost on me that Noémie Merlant stars in this movie as a transgender man.  Last year, the actress was getting a lot of internet love for her role as a lesbian in Portrait of a Lady on Fire.  And then she chooses to sign on for this role–why?!?  It is not that hard to turn down a role.  It really isn’t.

I believe that there are transgender stories worth telling but A Good Man horribly botches any chance at success because of its transface casting.

DIRECTOR:  Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar
SCREENWRITERS:  Christian Sonderegger and Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar
CAST:  Noémie Merlant, Soko, Vincent Dedienne, Gabriel Almaer, Alysson Paradis, Anne Loiret, Genevieve Mnich, Jonas Ben Ahmed

A Good Man screened during the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival in the Industry Selects program. Grade: 1/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.