Transgender actors can connect more with the roles
Solely transgender actors should be allowed to play transgender characters because they’ll be able to give a more authentic performance and produce better content. The actors who have personally experienced a situation bring a more personal connection, which results in a more real experience for viewers.
Transgender actors should be favoured when casting transgender characters to simplify the portrayal of the characters. The consequences of not doing so were clear when Degrassi introduced character Adam Torres, the first transgender teen character to appear as a series regular on a scripted TV show.
Torres was played by Jordan Todosey, a cisgender female. After three seasons of playing Torres, Todosey left the series, supposedly due to her contract ending. However, many fans and critics have speculated about the reasons behind the actress’ departure.
One common theory was that since Adam was beginning hormone therapy on the show, it would have been difficult for Todosey to depict this part of the transition, especially considering that she’s a cisgender female.
This example demonstrates how difficult it is for cisgender actors to portray transgender characters, due to the complex natures of the lives of transgender people, particularly surrounding their transitions.
Transgender actress Laverne Cox rose to prominence for her role as inmate Sophia Burset on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. Cox’s character depicted the struggles of being a transgender woman. Through Cox’s own experiences and personal journey of being born in the wrong body, she was able to authentically create and play a character whose message reached a wide audience, and effectively taught viewers about the lives of transgender people.
Finally, only transgender actors should be allowed to play transgender characters because they deserve recognition for their talents and efforts as a marginalized community. A study released by GLAAD, a media monitoring site, found no identifiable transgender characters in any of the 114 major studio release films they examined in 2014. Laverne Cox has gained widespread recognition for her acting abilities as well as the work she has done in the transgender community. Allowing transgender actors to play transgender characters gives them a more prominent place in society, and ultimately acts as a form of advocacy for the minority group.
Focus on the portrayal of transgender characters instead
Portrayals by non-white men in mainstream media have always left something to be desired. While there should be some limits to what characters should be able to represent, specifically around race, cisgender actors should be able to play transgender roles, and vice-versa.
Acting is all about role-playing. Nobody can expect a movie or a play to perfectly model reality. Should we be outraged that sci-fi movies almost always portray spaceships zooming through space, when that isn’t how the science works? Should we also be outraged that American actors regularly fake British accents and vice-versa?
It doesn’t matter so much who plays the role as how the role portrays transgender people. Movies such as Dallas Buyers Club and The Danish Girl are true stories that helped bring awareness to the difficulties of life for transgender people. If the role portrays transgender people in a positive light, then why does it matter who the actor is behind the role?
However, if the role is transphobic, then there is a problem. If we address the root causes of transphobia, transgender role models will become more prominent in the film industry on their own.
Having rigid societal rules , such as saying that only those actors who have fully completed their transition may play transgender characters, will only limit the actors who could play these roles. Not to mention that such a policy would marginalize viewers who are at the beginning of their transition by limiting the amount of characters they can directly identify with.
Censuring movies also won’t help fight transphobia. The best way to fight discriminatory ideas is through free speech—show why those ideas are wrong. Also, if you don’t like the way a minority is portrayed in a movie, fight it with your wallet by boycotting a movie or donating to a program with a larger platform to echo your concerns across the industry.
If we feel comfortable giving transgender roles to cisgender actors then we should also open up the possibility for transgender actors to play cisgender roles. If we want to effectively fight transphobia, we need to make sure that the education system is properly addressing youth, and normalizing transgender identities in Canadian culture at an early age.
With these measures Canada can ensure that discriminatory ideas won’t be reflected among future generations, or on the silver screen.