Film discussion

Anything: Why Matt Bomer Playing A Trans Woman is Problematic

Due for release in the US one month hence, Anything tells the story of the blossoming romance between a transgender sex worker Freda and her widowed neighbour Early. What makes Anything jump out is that the role of Freda is played by Matt Bomer.

The reason this makes Anything jump out is that yet again I see a cisgender man playing a trans women; and it’s instantly wrong to me. However, to most people, this will seem like just another film with a transgender character, because almost every film or television show with trans characters are played by cis actors.

As a trans woman, I very quickly came to learn that most people in my life only knew about trans people from what they saw in film and television. Whilst some of this includes documentaries, the vast majority of people who found out I’m trans only had entertainment to draw upon.

In the best case scenario this would be examples like Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) in Transparent, but they would often include sex workers or killers, like Sleepaway CampAce Ventura: Pet Detective, and Silence of the Lambs. This would more often than not lead to misconceptions about who I was, or what I would be like as a trans person. The most common thing I encountered is that because trans women are so often portrayed as sex workers, people assume that I must be a sex addict that’s willing to hook up with anyone.

However, the worst thing about the way media depicts trans women is that 90% of the time, they’re played by cis men. I was told once by a friend that they “hear trans and think a bloke in a wig”. That’s what films are telling people. Films like Anything.

No matter how well the intention behind the film, or how much those involved say they are allies to the trans community, continuing to cast cis men as trans women is not only insulting, but potentially dangerous.

Hollywood has trans actors, and trans people go for trans roles all the time, but a result I have seen time and time again from trans actors who don’t get these roles is that they “don’t look trans enough”. Hollywood wants people to be instantly seen as transgender, and for them this means men dressed as women.

From Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, to Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl, and now Matt Bomer in Anything, Hollywood seems determined to reinforce the idea that trans women are just men.

Trans actress and activist Jen Richards auditioned for a role in Anything, but was told that Bomer was pre-cast in the film, meaning that no other actor was considered for the role of Freda. Especially a trans actor.

She said: “I’m a filmmaker. I hold freedom of art sacred, but I also recognize its power as a responsibility. We shape perception, we are culpable.”

“Dear @MarkRuffalo & @MattBomer: if you release this movie, it will directly lead to violence against already at risk women,” she added.

Following the outcry online from numerous members of the trans and LGBT+ community, executive producer Mark Ruffalo responded on Twitter: “To the Trans community. I hear you. It’s wrenching to you see you in this pain. I am glad we are having this conversation. It’s time.”

Despite this, many people were still unhappy as Ruffalo went ahead with the project, keeping Bomer in the lead role, seemingly sympathising with the trans community and our struggle, despite adding to it.

Any time that a cis man is cast to play a trans woman, there are those that defend that decision. Some will say that the best people for the role get cast, some say that there aren’t any or enough trans actors to play trans roles; and some claim that films won’t get the recognition or acclaim they deserve with trans people in roles.

Whilst all of these arguments are quite clearly laughable (trans people have won Oscars for their work), there are other arguments that are even worse.

“Men are cast to play trans women because they’re just men anyway.” It’s an argument I see every time. People jump into discussions or comment sections to make known their opinion that “trans women are men”. Views that are only reinforced by casting men in these roles.

It would be easy to equate cis people playing trans roles as being akin to blackface, and whilst some people do make that argument, it’s not quite the same, but it does come close in a lot of ways. It others a marginalised community, it makes caricatures out of a group of diverse people with varying life experiences and personalities, it takes jobs away from people in those minorities, and reinforces poor stereotypes and public perception.

Sadly, any argument like this will tend to come down to personal opinion. Those who feel the same will support me, whilst those who feel different will never have their minds changed. They’ve had this view pushed on them time and time again, and it’s become entrenched.

I’ve been told that I’m a freak, that I’ll never be anything other than a man. I’ve been treated like dirt, and I wholeheartedly believe that films like Anything are a big part of this problem. Fortunately, I’ve been a lucky one. I’ve been threatened but never assaulted. I’ve been harassed but never raped. I have a happy home and a family that loves me. I survived my suicide attempt. But not every trans person is as lucky.

To a lot of people Anything is just another film, and any words against it will just be seen as trans people making a big fuss over nothing, but it can have very real, very dangerous results. Hollywood has a problem, one that desperately needs to change.

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4 comments

  1. Sounds to that Matt Bomer had a preset quality the producers wanted, therefore he was pre cast for the part. The part was probably written specifically to gain a response from the audience that only Matt was going to give them. This happens all the time in Hollywood. Characters are created specifically for certain actors to take the parts. I seriously doubt any producer is saying “trans actors aren’t worthy”, they are just saying “I want this actor to play this role”. To say trans actors need to be playing all trans roles is saying straight actors need to play all straight roles.

    1. ‘Sounds to that Matt Bomer had a preset quality the producers wanted, therefore he was pre cast for the part. The part was probably written specifically to gain a response from the audience that only Matt was going to give them.’ Yes. That quality they wanted was that he was a man. They wanted him in the part so that audience members would look at a man in drag playing a trans woman and feel comfortable, because that’s the stereotype that they want to reinforce. The response they wanted was ‘oh, a man playing a trans woman, that’s how we see trans women.

      ‘This happens all the time in Hollywood. Characters are created specifically for certain actors to take the parts.’ Yes, this does happen in Hollywood a lot, but there are limits to this. If a studio turned around and said that they wanted Benedict Cumberbatch to play Martin Luther King in a biopic because he’s a great actor and has a big fan following, and can bring a lot of gravitas to the role would you be happy with them blacking him up? No, you wouldn’t. Parts can be written for specific actors, but they can’t be so wildly off type that people are playing completely different races or genders because it’s backwards and insulting.

      ‘To say trans actors need to be playing all trans roles is saying straight actors need to play all straight roles.’ I’m not sure where you pulled this conclusion from, as it was never brought up once or even equated to within the article. But if you feel that it was, please feel free to point out where as I feel it would need to be addressed. Sexual orientation and gender are very different, however. It would be more like saying all black actors should be playing all black roles, or all female actors need to be playing all female roles. Both comments I’m sure you’d agree with. This isn’t the same as someone playing a different romantic interest, this is about how the world perceives a person, and having a man pretend to be a woman because they’re trans is damaging and deeply insulting.

    2. “To say trans actors need to be playing all trans roles is saying straight actors need to play all straight roles.”

      If straight people were being marginalized, kicked out of their homes, fired from their jobs, denied healthcare, or murdered for being straight, you might have had a point. But since straight people experience none of that ever for being straight (yet still wanting to much to claim how much of a victim they are), you are basically full of…

    3. Also, just because something it “the norm” doesn’t make it right. Sexual harassment was pretty much the norm as well, and yet here we are as a society challenging that norm. *Why* should this norm around producers pre-casting cisgender people in transgender roles still be considered acceptable. If you are going to defend the practice, at least do the same level of work Amy has engaged in and tell us why your position should even be considered defensible.

      Writing anything off as simply “the norm” is lazy argumentation. And spits in the face of people who actually make an effort to point out why our existing norms are harmful.

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