Eddie Redmayne. Jared Leto. Jeffrey Tambor. John Lithgow. David Duchovny. Matt Bomer. The number of cis men who have played trans women could fill pages.
When they do it well in a critically-acclaimed project, they are praised endlessly for taking on such a “brave” role. Often, it’s a slam dunk for awards nominations and wins. Tambor has won the Emmy for outstanding lead actor two years running for playing Maura on “Transparent.” Redmayne was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in “The Danish Girl,” and Leto won for “Dallas Buyers Club.”
Those are just the recent, generally positive portrayals of trans women. Let’s not forget about “The Silence of the Lambs,” “The Crying Game,” and “Dressed to Kill.” Those are just some of the many examples trotted out by ScreenCrush senior editor E. Oliver Whitney in an excellent new video essay chronicling the troubling history of cisgender actors playing transgender characters.
The video also tackles cis women playing trans women, such as Felicity Huffman in “Transamerica.” While this is “slightly preferable…because at least a woman is playing a woman,” it still takes roles away from trans actresses who could bring a whole range of experiences to those roles. While there are far fewer depictions of trans men onscreen, those roles almost always go to cis women.
Watch the video below for a brief history of the troubling practice: