On Monday, transgender actress Jamie Clayton spoke out on Twitter against cisgender actors playing trans roles in Hollywood.
Clayton, star of the Netflix sci-fi series Sense8, specifically went after fellow actors Michelle Rodriguez and Matt Bomer—both of whom play transgender people in controversial upcoming films.
Clayton’s statement came on the heels of a Medium post she retweeted—trans writer Emily Maxima’s “Making movies with transgender protagonists is not, on its own, progress.” The article emphasized the lauding of cisgender actors who play transgender characters in film and television, stating that what Hollywood cites as progress is actually “cheap opportunism.”
“Society sees us through the stories that Hollywood tells,” wrote Maxima. “It is because of this impact that producers should at least try to make movies as authentic as possible by consulting transgender writers and using transgender actors whenever possible.”
Clayton’s calling-out of Rodriguez and Bomer was hardly an unusual stance in the transgender community—which has been expressing a certain amount of jaded horror at Rodriguez’s casting in the upcoming film (Re)Assignment, in which she plays the victim of a nonconsensual gender-reassignment surgery.
Bomer’s addition to Hollywood’s trans-face problem came when his role as a transgender woman in the new film Anything was announced.
While both Bomer and Rodriguez are openly LGBT (that, at least, is a form of progress), neither are transgender—and their casting in trans roles is seen as an obstacle for trans actors trying to make it in Hollywood.
Clayton’s sharp words caused Bomer to block—and later unblock—her on Twitter, but they also instigated a social media conversation about transgender people in film and television and what exactly defines “progress.”
Emmy-nominated transgender actress Jen Richards (Her Story, I Am Cait) weighed in with a dozen tweets explaining that she had auditioned for a role in Anything, along with other transgender performers. Richards spoke out on Twitter about the process of navigating casting as a transgender actor, and how often men are chosen to play trans women because of pervasive stereotypes about what trans women “should” look like in films.
I auditioned for this. I told them they shouldn't have a cis man play a trans woman. They didn't care. https://t.co/T7YFe6OeX9— Jen Richards (@SmartAssJen) August 28, 2016
Having trans people play trans people allows for more informed, subtle, authentic performance. It makes for BETTER ART, which is the point.— Jen Richards (@SmartAssJen) August 28, 2016
Eddie Redmayne, Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, etc., are great actors, but we, and those who know us, see the difference between them & us.— Jen Richards (@SmartAssJen) August 28, 2016
When @MattBomer plays a trans sex worker, he is telling the world that underneath it all, trans women like me are still really just men.— Jen Richards (@SmartAssJen) August 28, 2016
While Bomer and Rodriguez remain at the center of the controversy around transgender acting roles, some Twitter users posted that the problem was in the hands of directors and casting agents—not actors.
Bomer’s own Twitter did not include any statements about the controversy. Rodriguez responded to questions about her role as Frank Kitchen in (Re)Assignment last November, when TMZ stopped her on the street to ask whether the portrayal might do harm to the transgender community.
“I remember a day when white people were playing black people,” said Rodriguez in the TMZ video. “So it’s just about the evolution. Thank Kris Jenner [sic] for becoming who he became, and now you have a popular subject matter that nobody wanted to make a movie about and now everybody’s on it.”