Why does authentic casting matter?
In the run up to Trans Day of Remembrance on the 20th November, we find ourselves reflecting on acts of ally-ship big and small, and recognising the impact of words and actions which may just end up slipping past us, but which have a huge impact on whole communities of people.
Working with our incredible media clients, we often find ourselves in conversation about the importance of authenticity in casting. This authenticity is absolutely key when it comes to telling the stories of marginalised communities for many reasons - as cited in a recent article,
"The lived experiences of marginalised groups are so specific and complex that a level of personal understanding can make the portrayal more authentic".
There's also the fact that historically, the film and TV industry has been far too cis*, white and straight centred, meaning that the default for too many years has been inauthentic casting. As Eddie Redmayne said when speaking about his regret at his role in the film "The Danish Girl"
"I wouldn't take it on now. I made that film with the best intentions, but I think it was a mistake."
adding that "many people don't have a chair at the table" when it comes to casting roles for TV and film and saying "there must be a levelling".
When we consider the concept of authentic casting in light of the trans community, there's a whole new layer added to the conversation. The trans community is increasingly under attack from a hostile anti-trans movement, at the core of whose belief system is the perception that trans women are just "men pretending to be women". And this gets to the core of the challenge - as Jen Richards says in the documentary "Disclosure":
“Having cis men play trans women, in my mind, is a direct link to the violence against trans women. It reinforces the dangerous and transphobic idea that trans women are not women.”
Put simply, if we see the likes of Redmayne, Jared Leto (who played a trans woman in the Dallas Buyers' Club), it perpetuates the myth that trans women are simply men "pretending" to be women. This happens so subtly, so insidiously that it's almost imperceptible, but it is damaging. As Laverne Cox says in "Disclosure"
"According to a study from GLAAD, 80% of Americans don't personally know someone who is transgender. So most of the information that Americans get about who transgender people are, what our lives are and are about comes from media."
The flip side of this is that when we see wonderful actors like Laverne Cox being herself in real life, as well as playing trans women characters, it shows us the reality - trans women are women, trans men are men, and non binary people exist.
For more on this topic, the film "Disclosure" is available to watch on Netflix.
*Cis, or cisgender is a term which defines people who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth - simply put - people who aren't trans.