Category Archives: television

My 2016 Movies.

I saw 80 movies in 2016.

Movies of every sort can be viewed in all manner of ways now. The list below includes new releases in the cinema, classics on DVD or Blu-Ray, public domain oldies on YouTube. Personally owned films. Titles streamed on Netflix. I watched the Charlton Heston adventure, Secret of the Incas, via YouTube, on my iPad, for a few minutes at a time each night while falling asleep.

In an easy walk, the worst movie I saw in 2016 was Independence Day: Resurgence. Everyone associated with this movie, from director Roland Emmerich, to the cast, to the baker who supplied bagels to the craft services table, deserves to be chased out of Hollywood with torches and pitchforks.

The best movie I saw isn’t as easy to choose. Limiting myself to 2016 movies, I’ll offer the caveat that I didn’t see too many of them. My film diet mainly consists of Netflix discs and streaming experiences; my partner and I don’t get out to the cinema as often as we’d like. We do sometimes see recent releases once they’ve hit Redbox.

All that stipulated, Arrival was probably the best of the thirteen 2016 movies we slogged out to the cinema to see. Amy Adams is a personal favorite actor, and I just love science fiction that’s smartly written, eschews tedious chase or fight scenes, and isn’t afraid to present big ideas without spoon-feeding them to its audience. Arrival provided all of this, and it’s the one movie of 2016 that I was still thinking and talking about days after I’d seen it. It was sticky in my head. I ate it up with a spoon.

A close runner-up was Sully. I don’t know how much truth is in this “true story” of the commercial pilot who dead-stick landed his plane on the Hudson River with zero fatalities, but it’s a terrific white-knuckle adventure story regardless. Tom Hanks perfectly embodies another real-life captain (after Captain Phillips in Captain Phillips and Captain Lovell in Apollo 13), and Clint Eastwood never disappoints. I loved every frame of Sully.

Another “true story” we saw this year was Snowden. Again, I don’t know just how true it is, and it doesn’t matter. Joseph Gordon-Levitt did his career best in it, conveying all the odd mannerisms and speech patterns of Ed Snowden as well as showing us his inner moral turmoil.

Another year, another brace of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. I really enjoyed Captain America: Civil War. Doctor Strange was time well spent, but it’s heartbreaking to see Rachel McAdams as yet another Oscar-worthy actress relegated to playing “the girlfriend” in a Marvel movie (after Gwyneth Paltrow in the Iron Man films and Natalie Portman in Thor). We need a Marvel super-heroine movie! Or a half-dozen of them!

In a year in which Krysten Ritter killed it on the small screen in Netflix’s Jessica Jones series, is it too much to ask that female-starring super-hero films can become a more regular thing? I don’t think it is. Yeah, I know Captain Marvel is in the works, and that’s great. There still should be a Black Widow movie. And maybe a She-Hulk movie? Wouldn’t that work? I was shocked to discover, today, that the last super-hero movie starring a woman was 2004’s Catwoman with Halle Berry. No one remembers that one fondly, if at all. Maybe when DC’s Wonder Woman breaks the drought this year, we can hope for more female-centered comic book projects.

I saw Zootopia, like everyone else, and thought it was hilarious. I saw Ghostbusters, like many other people, and did not find it hilarious.

The Accountant was fun, but dumb. It had plot holes you could drive an Airstream trailer through, and it pretty much wasted the talents of Anna Kendrick and John Lithgow.

Atlanta-filmed Passengers (which, clearly, wasn’t set in Atlanta) was thought-provoking, as long as you don’t think about it too much. The “what would I do in that situation?” questions can lead to lively conversations, but the “why would a ship with 5,000 souls aboard it only have one autodoc?” questions just frustrated me.

Whit Stillman only comes around every few years. In 2016 he brought Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny with him in Love & Friendship. It’s like every other Whit Stillman movie: if you like this sort of thing (as I do), you’ll like this.

I only made it out for one movie of this year’s Out On Film festival, and that was the documentary The Trans List. Janet Mock interviewed 11 prominent transgender Americans about their lives. I wish she had interviewed fewer people and spent more time with each of them, because I hadn’t heard of several, and their stories of activism and triumph over discrimination were well worth exploring. Stonewall activists, immigrant-rights crusaders, and legal pioneers were among them. Oh, and Mock interviewed Caitlyn Jenner for the film, which is good, because I don’t think Ms. Jenner has gotten much press coverage since she came out and transitioned.

Rounding out the list of 2016 movies we saw in 2016 were Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them and La La Land. I liked them both, neither was perfect, and I’ve nothing interesting to say about them.

In addition to feature-length movies, I saw many shorts in 2016. My partner and I always go to Landmark Midtown Cinema to see the Oscar-nominated animated and live-action shorts each winter, to get ready for the Academy Awards. There are always some gems there. Also, she got me the Blu-Ray boxed set of Les Blank’s quirky documentaries for Christmas in 2015. I’ve spent the past year dipping into them whenever I’ve had a few minutes to share. Blank’s movies are a lot like Stillman’s in their idiosyncrasy: If you like them, you’ll like them. Personally, I love them.

Anyway, here’s my full list:

January

  1. The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1970). Directed by Les Blank. Documentary. Personally owned Blu-Ray.
  2. Holiday (1938). Directed by George Cukor. Starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Netflix DVD.
  3. Nothing (2003). Directed by Vincenzo Natali. Comedy starring David Hewlett and Andrew Miller. Netflix DVD.
  4. The Last Waltz (1978). Directed by Martin Scorsese. Documentary about and starring The Band. Netflix DVD.
  5. Smitty (2012), Directed by David M. Evans. Starring Peter Fonda, Mira Sorvino, et al. Netflix DVD.
  6. Summer of Sam (1999), Directed by Spike Lee. Starring John Leguizamo, Mira Sorvino, Adrien Brody, et al. Netflix DVD.
  7. Spellbound (1945), Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. Netflix DVD.
  8. Back In Time (2015). Directed by Jason Aron. Documentary.
  9. The Music Box (1932), Directed by James Parrott. Short. Starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. YouTube.

 

February

  1. Life Itself. (2014). Directed by Steve James. Documentary. Netflix streaming.
  2. All The Little Animals (1998). Directed by Jeremy Thomas. Starring Christian Bale and John Hurt. Netflix DVD.
  3. Lambchops (1929). Directed by Murray Roth. Starring George Burns and Gracie Allen. Short. YouTube.
  4. Ave Maria (2015). Directed by Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  5. Shok (2015). Directed by Jamie Donoughue. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  6. Alles Wird Gut (2015). Directed by Patrick Vollrath. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  7. Stutterer (2015). Directed by Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  8. Day One (2015). Directed by Henry Hughes. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  9. What’s Opera, Doc? (1957). Directed by Chuck Jones. Short. Starring the voice of Mel Blanc. dailymotion.com.
  10. Never Give A Sucker An Even Break (1941). Directed by Edward F. Cline. Starring W.C. Fields. YouTube.
  11. Sanjay’s Super Team (2015). Directed by Sanjay Patel. Short. Starring the voice of Brent Schraff. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  12. World of Tomorrow (2015). Directed by Don Hertzfeldt. Short. Starring voices of Julia Pott and Winona Mae. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  13. Bear Story (2014). Directed by Gabriel Osorio Vargas. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  14. We Can’t Live Without Cosmos (2014). Directed by Konstantin Bronzit. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  15. If I Was God… (2015). Directed by Cordell Barker. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  16. The Short Story of a Fox and a Mouse (2015). Directed by Camille Chaix, Hugo Jean, et al. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  17. The Loneliest Stoplight (2015). Directed by Bill Plympton. Short. Starring the voice of Patton Oswalt. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  18. Catch It (2015). Directed by Paul Bar, Marion Demaret, Nadège Forner Pierre-Baptiste Marty, Julien Robyn, and Jordan Soler. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  19. Prologue (2015). Directed by Richard Williams. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  20. Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers (1980). Directed by Les Blank. Documentary short. Blu-Ray.
  21. Like Dandelion Dust (2009). Directed by Jon Gunn. Starring Mira Sorvino, Cole Hauser, and Barry Pepper. Netflix DVD.
  22. Ex Machina (2015). Directed by Alex Garland. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander. Redbox Blu-Ray.
  23. Westworld (1973). Directed by Michael Crichton. Starring Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, and James Brolin. Netflix Blu-Ray.

 

March

  1. Children of the Century (1999). Directed by Diane Kurys. Starring Juliette Binoche. Netflix DVD.
  2. Bridge of Spies (2015). Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  3. Zootopia (2016). Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush. Starring the voices of Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman. AMC North DeKalb 16.
  4. The Big Short (2015). Directed by Adam McKay. Starring Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, et al. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  5. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). Directed by George Miller. Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, and Nicholas Hoult. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  6. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). Directed by Robert Wise. Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, et al. Netflix streaming.

 

April

  1. Brooklyn (2015). Directed by John Crowley. Starring Saoirse Ronan, et al.
  2. The Grey Zone (2001). Directed by Tim Blake Nelson. Starring David Arquette, Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, et al. Netflix DVD.
  3. Cloverfield (2008). Directed by Matt Reeves. Starring T.J. Miller, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan, et al. Netflix Blu-Ray.

 

May

  1. Waitress (2007). Directed by Adrienne Shelly. Starring Keri Russell, Adrienne Shelly, and Nathan Fillion. DVD.
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Directed by the Russo Brothers. Starring Chris Evans, et al. Redbox.
  3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). Directed by Nicholas Meyer. Starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Netflix streaming.
  4. Galaxy Quest (1999). Directed by Dean Parisot. Starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, et al. Netflix streaming.

 

June

  1. Trainwreck (2015). Directed by Judd Apatow. Starring Amy Schumer and Bill Hader. Redbox Blu-Ray.
  2. Trading Places (1983). Directed by John Landis. Starring Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  3. Captain America: Civil War (2016). Directed by Russo Brothers. Starring all the people. AMC North DeKalb 16.
  4. Creed (2015). Directed by Ryan Coogler. Starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone. Redbox Blu-Ray.
  5. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009). Directed by Sam Liu. Animated. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  6. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984). Directed by Leonard Nimoy. Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy. Netflix streaming.

July

  1. The Red Shoes (1948). Directed by Powell/Pressburger. Starring Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook. Netflix DVD.
  2. Independence Day: Resurgence (2016). Directed by Roland Emmerich. Starring CGI. AMC North DeKalb 16.
  3. Love & Friendship (2016). Directed by Whit Stillman. Starring Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny. Regal Tara Cinema.
  4. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013). Directed by Jay Oliva. Animated. Netflix streaming.

August

  1. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1984). Directed by Leonard Nimoy. Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelley, Catherine Hicks, et al. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  2. Ghostbusters (2016). Directed by Paul Feig. Starring Kristen Wiig et al. AMC North DeKalb 16.
  3. Men With Guns (1997). Directed by John Sayles. Starring Federico Luppi. Netflix DVD.
  4. The Dirty Dozen (1967). Directed by Robert Aldrich. Starring Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes, et al. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  5. The Lobster (2015). Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. Redbox DVD.

 

September

  1. Snowden (2016). Directed by Oliver Stone. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley. AMC North DeKalb 16.
  2. Sully (2016). Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart. AMC North DeKalb 16.

October

  1. The Trans List (2016). Directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Documentary. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  2. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Directed by Zack Snyder. Starring Batfleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  3. God Respects Us When We Work, But Loves Us When We Dance (1968). Directed by Les Blank. Documentary short. Blu-Ray.
  4. Strange Days (1995). Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett. Netflix DVD.
  5. Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2015). Directed by Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen. Documentary. Netflix streaming.

 

November

  1. Rescue Dawn (2006). Directed by Werner Herzog. Starring Christian Bale. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  2. The Accountant (2016). Directed by Gavin O’Connor. Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick. Regal Hollywood 24.
  3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Denholm Elliott. DVD.
  4. Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987). Directed by John Hughes. Starring Steve Martin and John Candy. Netflix DVD.
  5. Arrival (2016). Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Starring Amy Adams, Abbott and Costello. AMC North DeKalb 16.
  6. Doctor Strange (2016). Directed by Scott Derrickson. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch. AMC Sugarloaf 18.
  7. Secret of the Incas (1954). Directed by Jerry Hopper. Starring Charlton Heston and Thomas Mitchell. YouTube.
  8. The Sorrow and the Pity (1969). Directed by Marcel Ophüls. Documentary. Netflix DVD (2 discs).

 

December

  1. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016). Directed by David Yates. Starring Eddie Redmayne. Regal Hollywood 24.
  2. Love Actually (2003). Directed by Richard Curtis. Starring all the Brits. Netflix streaming.
  3. Muppet Christmas Carol (1993). Directed by Brian Henson. Starring Michael Caine, Kermit the Frog. DVD.
  4. Passengers (2016). Directed by Morten Tyldum. Starring Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence. N. DeKalb 16.
  5. La La Land (2016). Directed by Damien Chazelle. Starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Regal Tara Cinema.
  6. Goodbye, Lenin (2003). Directed by Wolfgang Becker. Netflix DVD.

If you’d like to support my writing efforts, please consider making a monetary contribution, either at:

Patreon

or

Paypal

Thank you!


A Sharp ReDuke!

It would be hard to remake The Dukes of Hazzard today, because much of the iconography of the classic TV series is evocative of the racist past of the American South.

I think I’ve hit upon a solution: move the story to England!

It will be called “The Dukes of Hampshire.” Beau and Lucas are actual dukes, and their cousin Margaret’s denim shorts are neatly hemmed and creased.

Their car is still a Dodge Charger. But the steering wheel is on the right, obvi, and instead of being named General Lee, it’s called Field Marshal Montgomery. A Union Jack is painted on the roof.

A constant thorn in the Dukes’ side, despite their “never intending any distress,” is Council Leader Hogg and his crony, Police Constable Coltrane.

The theme music’s lyrics, rather than calling the young troublemakers “good ole boys,” describes them as “right jolly chaps.”

You may all thank me in the comments.


If you’d like to support my writing efforts, please consider making a monetary contribution, either at:

Patreon

or

Paypal

Thank you!


Jenner Again.

Caitlyn Jenner, the most famous transgender person ever (so far), has put her foot in her mouth again. In a recent interview with TIME magazine, she said:

I think it’s much easier for a trans woman or a trans man who authentically kind of looks and plays the role. So what I call my presentation. I try to take that seriously. I think it puts people at ease. If you’re out there and, to be honest with you, if you look like a man in a dress, it makes people uncomfortable.

Outrage came from all corners, including the transgender community itself. Jenner gets a taste of her pedicure with practically every sentence in that quote. If you haven’t done much thinking or reading about these matters, it may not be obvious why these words were so inflammatory. I’ll take each misstep in turn and unpack them for you.

“I think it’s much easier for a trans woman or a trans man who authentically kind of looks and plays the role.”

Jenner meant by this that life is easier for a trans woman or trans man if his or her looks conform to what the general public assumes cisgender women or men “should” look like. What she described as “authentic” is more often called having a “cisnormative” appearance.

authentic_stamp

Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

There’s no such thing as “authentic” when it comes to a person’s gender expression. People look the way they look, and there’s nothing wrong with that, cisnormative or not. A woman with broad shoulders and narrow hips (and there are cisgender women shaped like this) is no less “authentically” a woman than a petite woman with an hourglass figure (and there are transgender women shaped like this), and to imply otherwise is to indulge in the reductive biological-sex-equals-gender essentialism that’s at the heart of transphobia, especially phobia against trans women: i.e., “you don’t look like a woman to me, so you’re really a man.”

But the biggest howler in that sentence is the three words, “plays the role.” Jenner seems here to conflate transgender people with drag artists. Trans people are not “playing a role.” Our gender is not a costume that we peel off when we arrive at home after a long day of applying for jobs, arguing with an ex-spouse over visitation rights with our children, or giving testimony in the trial of punks who assaulted us. Transgender women are women, down to their bones and 24/7. Transgender men, to paraphrase West Side Story, are men all the way. Caitlyn Jenner knows this, or at least should know it, after a full reality-show season of being lectured on such matters by Jenny Boylan and other luminaries.

“[W]hat I call my presentation. I try to take that seriously. I think it puts people at ease.”
“[I]f you look like a man in a dress, it makes people uncomfortable.”

I assume by these statements Jenner means that she strives to present herself to be as cisnormative (feminine) as she can manage. There’s nothing wrong with this; many transgender women present themselves in a hyper-feminine way, either by nature, or as a celebration of the identity they’ve finally learned to embrace, or—maybe more often—as a survival tactic, because transgender women who look cisnormative are less likely to be victims of physical assault. As Jenner said, it puts people at ease.

But it’s not the job of transgender people to put anyone at ease. It’s a free country, as the saying goes, and if the way we look makes people uncomfortable, that’s their lookout, not ours. To say otherwise is nasty and ignorant, the same as telling women not to dress in a manner provocative to rapists, or asking someone with a chronic disease to cover up her medication port, or suggesting a Sikh leave his turban at home because he might be mistaken for a Muslim and shot. Who we are is only our own business, and if haters are gonna hate, they’re welcome to suck it.Caitlyn_Jenner

Naturally, Jenner quickly walked back these remarks and apologized after the predictable backlash. Good on her for that; she has always been contrite after her podiatric oral intrusions. I don’t fault her for saying such foolish things; she’s new into her transition, and that’s a time of learning for all trans people.

The problem is that, newly transitioned or not, she’s looked to by the media as a leader, icon, and spokesperson for all transgender Americans. Her pre-transition fame makes that inevitable. She’s the person people will turn to for keynote speeches, diversity awards, and sound bites, and when she says something ignorant or dumb, the general public will assume she speaks for all transgender people.

This is something of a pattern with transgender people who get a little bit of notoriety early in their transition. Back in the middle of the Aughts, Susan Stanton made similar “man in a dress” remarks in an interview.

Susan Stanton was the city manager of Largo, Florida. She was quietly and privately transitioning when she was unwillingly outed and then fired by Largo’s city council, in an outrageous (and never punished) act of transphobia. This thrust her prematurely into the public eye, and reporters sought her out for interviews and quotes before she’d had time to work out for herself what it means to be transgender, or how to talk about such matters with sensitivity and grace.

Susan Stanton.

Susan Stanton.

When Lambda Legal accepted me as a client and we launched our lawsuit, Glenn v. Brumby, one of the organization’s conditions was that my interactions with the public had to go through their media relations department. This frustrated me at the time, because Lambda Legal was very careful about choosing which interviews and public events would be good for me or for the case. I wanted to talk to everyone about the unfairness and pervasiveness of the kind of discrimination I had suffered, but I wasn’t allowed to.

That parsimony is probably part of why the important legal precedent we set is still little-known today, but on the flip side, Lambda Legal definitely saved me from committing howlers like Stanton and Jenner’s. During those four years, I listened more than I spoke; I wasn’t thrust unprepared into a leadership or spokesperson position.

By dint of her pre-transition fame, Jenner didn’t have the option of a quiet, out-of-the-spotlight transition, even if she had wanted one (and, with the second season of her reality series greenlit, she doesn’t seem to want one). Like her or not, gaffe-prone or not, she is American media’s reigning go-to transperson, and will remain so until and unless someone even more famous transitions.

Her position of wealth and privilege, her political myopia, and her naiveté add up to the certainty that she’s going to continue to screw up like this.

As I’ve written before, Caitlyn Jenner’s transition has been enormously important for the transgender community, and has accelerated the cause of civil rights and public acceptance, probably by years. That shouldn’t be denied. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t highly problematic at the same time. Her position of wealth and privilege, her political myopia, and her naiveté add up to the certainty that she’s going to continue to screw up like this, and give cisgender America an impression of our lives that is at best inaccurate and at worst dangerous.

Which puts the rest of us on alert. We need to stand ready with our metaphorical mops and buckets, ready to leap into action and correct the record the next time a Cleanup on Aisle Caitlyn is needed.


Links to excerpts from my ongoing autobiography project are gathered together on this page.

If you’d like to support my writing efforts, please consider making a monetary contribution, either at:

Patreon

or

Paypal

Thank you!

 


Transparent.

Last month Amazon.com’s Instant Video service debuted its new TV series, Transparent. All ten episodes went live to stream via the Internet in a model copied from Netflix, with its many original series.Transparentposter

Transparent, a comedy/drama, is the creation of filmmaker and television writer Jill Soloway. It stars Jeffrey Tambor as Maura, a Southern California transgender woman who has lived most of her life as a male and is now, late in life, beginning her transition to female. She has an ex-wife and three adult children. The show is about her transition and the effect it has on herself and her family.

Jeffrey Tambor is not a transwoman, of course, and this fact has made Transparent the subject of some controversy in the transgender community. In July the pilot episode was screened in Los Angeles at the Outfest Film Festival, and in the panel discussion afterward, a transgender blogger criticized the casting of Tambor in the leading role, calling it “transface” and insisting a transgender actress would have been a better choice.

Soloway defended her casting decision thusly:  “Maura is coming out late in life. A lot of people in that situation do not physically transition. At this point in the story, it’s possible to have a cis male play the character.” She added, “Jeff was in my head before the issue became politicized to me. I didn’t see a controversy.”

I’m guessing by “do not physically transition” she meant that for someone so old (I don’t know exactly how old Maura is supposed to be, but Tambor is 70) hormone replacement therapy does little to affect a transwoman’s appearance. Breast growth will be minimal, and facial features won’t soften and become more feminine in appearance as they would for someone who transitions earlier in life. It was an odd way for Soloway to phrase it, but if that’s what she meant, she’s probably correct. And she’s not without experience in these matters; her own father came out as transgender in 2011. Transparent is fiction, but it’s informed by her own family’s experiences.

My partner and I have seen the first three episodes so far. Maura’s experiences in the present day, and especially the flashback scenes set in her repressed and closeted past, dredge up powerful emotions in me, so it’s not the sort of show I could binge on. But I’m enjoying it, and I think it’s fine that Tambor was cast in the part.

I agree it’s usually best to cast an actor who is a member of a particular race, minority, or community when making a film or TV show about a character in that category, when possible. Transgender people should play transgender people; Asians should play Asians; actors with Asperger’s should play people who have Asperger’s.

Not a Chinese actor.

Not a Chinese actor.

This is especially true when the minority in question has a history of being marginalized by Hollywood. I’m thinking of the Chinese detective Charlie Chan, who notoriously was played in all of his popular movies by white actors. Caucasian actress Donna Reed played Sacajawea, who was Shoshone, in The Far Horizons. A year later, Shirley MacLaine played an Indian princess in Around The World In 80 Days.

All outrageous casting choices, and I’m certain they were a result of the racist assumption, which I hope is going away, that Caucasians are the “default” race in the U.S., and they’re who Americans wanted to see as protagonists on screen, even in roles that aren’t Caucasian.

watermelonman

Not a Caucasian actor.

But sometimes the story makes it impossible to cast authentically. Melvin Van Peebles’ great comedy Watermelon Man was about a racist white man who spontaneously turned into a black man overnight. Since one actor played the role both before and after the transformation, would it have been “right” to cast a black man or a white man?

Sally Potter’s movie Orlando is about a person who lives 400 years, half as a man, then half as a woman. Whomever Potter cast would have to play against sex and gender for 50 percent of the scenes. She cast the great Tilda Swinton; should she have cast a male actor?

Not an actor.

Not an actor.

Another example that comes to mind is Gary Sinise in Forrest Gump. His character, Lt. Dan, lost both his legs in the Vietnam War. Sinise has both his legs; the director painted them out using CGI special effects. Ideally, you’d hire an amputee actor to play an amputee, but Lt. Dan’s story begins in the time before he lost his legs. Casting Sinise was a practical choice. An amputee couldn’t have played the character with legs as easily as Sinise played him without legs.

If Transparent were set entirely in the present day, and Maura were past her transition, I’d also have been critical if a transgender actress hadn’t played her. That’s not the case. Maura is just beginning her transition; in the first episode she hadn’t told her loved ones her secret and still presented as male most of the time. Furthermore, many scenes are set in the past, in the time when Maura, still Mort to everyone she knew, was still learning how to cope with her gender dysphoria.

A transgender actress could play those scenes, sure, but it would be a lot to ask of her emotionally (I know I couldn’t do it), and could be a makeup and special effects challenge, depending on how different the actress looked from her pre-transition self. I remember thinking how brave it was of Laverne Cox to play her character’s pre-transition self in flashback scenes in Orange Is The New Black; later I learned it hadn’t been her, but her (formerly identical) twin brother in those scenes. That was a brilliant casting move, but one that wouldn’t be available for most productions.

Tambor is good in the part because we still see so much of Mort in the show. He’s also good, I’d argue, precisely because he’s not transgender.

Much of the U.S. still thinks transgender people are bizarre, exotic, even mentally ill. There’s a whole lotta Othering going on. Jeffrey Tambor is a well-known actor who has been on TV screens for decades now. People know him and like him, and know he’s not transgender himself. That makes him the perfect guide to take audiences along on this journey, to show them that, just as Jeffrey Tambor is an ordinary, sympathetic individual, so is Maura, and by extension, all transgender people.

Parenthetically, Tambor was also in the cast of Arrested Development a show I enjoyed, but which was guilty at times of some shockingly transphobic attempts at humor. So another good reason for Tambor to play Maura is so he has a chance to pay off that karmic debt.

Yes, casting Tambor to play Maura meant a transgender actress didn’t get the job, and it’s fair to guess unemployment is even worse among transgender actresses than for transgender women in general. But Soloway’s not ignoring the transgender community. According to this New York Times story from August 31:

Soloway enacted a transfirmative action program, favoring the hiring of transgender candidates over nontransgender ones. It wasn’t just a corrective to the trans community’s high rates of unemployment. Soloway wanted to create a set on which inclusivity was more than a buzzword, a place where no one should ever feel that they are part of a majority — not even the majority, whoever that might be on a particular day. ‘I really want it so that there’s no moment, on the set, when trans people are being otherized by people in the crew because they don’t think there are any trans people listening.’ As of this writing, 20 trans people had been hired in the cast and crew, and more than 60 had been employed as extras.

She also hired two full-time transgender consultants to steer her away from any pitfalls.

Those two consultants are Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, who know as much about being transgender as any three people, even though they are only two.

Transparent is doing right by us. It is respectful, carefully thought out, and thoroughly researched, and by her life experiences and by her hiring, writing, and production decisions, Jill Soloway has shown she has the authority and credibility to tell her story the way she’s telling it. It’s not transphobic in any way, least of all in the casting.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.