• author
    • Kelvin Wade

    • March 5, 2014 in Columnists

    How dare Jared Leto play a transgender character!

    Not everyone is happy about Jared Leto’s Best Supporting Actor win at the Oscars last Sunday night. On Twitter, some lashed out, saying Leto’s role as a trans woman in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” was clichéd and stereotyped. But the real headscratcher started last month at a Santa Barbara film festival, when an audience member heckled Leto saying, “You don’t deserve an award for portraying a trans-woman because you’re a man.” The heckler accused Leto of “transmisogyny.” Others have echoed the protester’s sentiment.

    My response to that is I’m offended, too. How dare Leto act in that role when he’s not really a transgender woman. I’m also pretty ticked that Lupita Nyong’o, best supporting actress winner for her role in 12 Years a Slave, isn’t a slave! The Australia-based Walk Free Foundation released a comprehensive report last year stating that there are 30 million slaves in the world today. They couldn’t find one of these slaves to play the role of Patsey in 12 Years a Slave? They wouldn’t have even had to pay the slave!

    There are 47 active astronauts in the NASA Astronaut Corps and many more retired. They couldn’t have found two to play Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s roles in Gravity? At least the film could’ve been more realistic with actual astronauts in the roles. Hey, we’re not flying Shuttles anymore! Astronauts could use the work.

    Captain Richard Phillips was in the audience at the Oscars, so why didn’t he star in the Captain Phillips movie? You’re trying to tell me Tom Hanks can do a better job of playing a man than the man himself? Former crew members have come forward, saying the film takes way too much license with the truth. Well, maybe if we had the actual guy in the role, things would’ve been different.

    Then you have Scarlett Johansson playing the role of Samantha, the talking operating system in Her. Are you serious? CNN easily found the voice of Siri, Susan Bennett. How come Hollywood couldn’t? So Bennett is good enough to talk to millions of people every day through their iPhones and iPads, but Hollywood deems her not fit to talk to audiences for two hours in a movie?

    And while we’re at it, why is Neil Patrick Harris, a gay man, playing a womanizer on the sitcom, “How I Met Your Mother”? Shouldn’t that role go to a straight actor?

    Look, saying that only a transgender person should play a trans person is ridiculous. If that’s the case, is the corollary also true: that transgender actors should not be allowed to play roles that don’t call for being transgender?

    They’re called “actors” for a reason. They use methods and techniques to act like a certain character. Tom Hanks was neither gay nor HIV positive when he turned in an Oscar winning performance in “Philadelphia.” Daniel Day Lewis doesn’t have cerebral palsy, but he turned in an Academy Award winning performance playing someone who does. Al Pacino wasn’t blind when he snagged an Oscar playing a blind Lt. Colonel in “Scent of a Woman.” And when he won Best Actor playing Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs,” I’m fairly sure Anthony Hopkins was neither a cannibal nor a serial killer.

    Some are even comparing Leto in the role to blackface. Really? It’s puzzling to me why some feel Leto in the role has set back transgender rights. I think it will help more films on similar topics get made. But I suppose this kind of criticism will always exist. Steven Spielberg was criticized for directing “The Color Purple” because he’s not African-American. This is still show business. Like it or not, Spielberg’s name attached to that movie expanded the audience of the film. Sure, there are trans actors who could’ve played Leto’s role. But Jared Leto helped bring exposure to a small film that could’ve been buried with a lesser-known actor in the role. That’s just business.

    Whether Leto deserved the Oscar is a debatable issue that isn’t the focus of this column. Whether you thought his portrayal was stereotypical or clichéd is another good debate to be had in other forums. But if your position is that a cisgender man should never be allowed to play a transgender character, then I disagree. I’d love to see more transgender actors in all kinds of roles that have nothing to do with gender.  Transgender actors shouldn’t be limited to transgender roles and by saying only a trans woman can play a trans woman we’re really limiting art.

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