As Eddie Redmayne moves to defend JK Rowling, trans allies have been quick to share a scene from the Netflix documentary Disclosure that perfectly articulates why the actor’s allyship is so problematic.
The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them star, who resumed filming this week, said he was alarmed by the “vitrol” directed at Rowling in response to her explosive views on trans people.
He also added that the “hideous torrent of abuse” hurled at trans people online is equally as disgusting, reaffirming his support for his “trans friends and colleagues” who face discrimination on a daily basis.
Redmayne’s sympathy for the controversial author came as a surprise to some, given that he previously joined Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and several other Harry Potter stars in rebuking Rowling for her comments.
The actor has been an outspoken advocate for transgender rights since playing the historic trans woman Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl in 2016. However, the role was not without controversy.
While Redmayne was praised for delivering a sympathetic and award-worthy performance depicting Elbe’s transition, as a straight male actor he faced considerable criticism for accepting the role in the first place.
He initially defended the casting, suggesting that trans or cis actors should be free to play any role as long as they did it with “a sense of integrity and responsibility”.
But as the trans writer Jen Richards expertly explains in Netflix’s Disclosure, appropriate trans representation is about more than giving opportunities to marginalised actors – it has far-reaching implications for the safety of the transgender community as a whole.
Amongst the ongoing JK Rowling / Eddie Redmayne discussions around trans identities, I implore you to watch Disclosure on Netflix. It’s phenomenally educational and eye opening for us cis people, and has so many important moments like this one pic.twitter.com/it6JuAf3m0
— wap rem x (@jackremmington) September 29, 2020
“Having cis men play trans women, in my mind, is a direct link to the violence against trans women,” she begins in the documentary.
“And in my mind, part of the reason that men end up killing, out of fear that other men will think that they’re gay for having been with trans women, is that the friends – the men whose judgement they fear of – only know trans women from media, and the people playing trans women are the men that they know.
“This doesn’t happen when a trans woman plays a trans woman.”
Richards goes on to list examples of successful trans actors, like Laverne Cox, Trace Lysette and Angelica Ross, who proudly live their lives as women, just as beautiful and feminine off-screen as they are on-screen.
“When you see these women off-screen still as women, it completely deflates this idea that they’re somehow men in disguise,” she continues, adding that these actors can perform their roles authentically without having “to play the transness of it”.
Richards directly contrasts this with Redmayne in The Danish Girl, admitting that while it’s certainly a convincing trans performance, “it reduces that person… to a performance of transness, a performance of femininity, rather than as a whole person of whom transness is one aspect of.”
As Eddie Redmayne walks the red carpet in suit and tie, the epitome of masculinity and the antithesis of Lili Elbe, he reinforces the harmful and offensive trope that a trans woman’s identity is nothing more than a costume which, when removed, reveals a man beneath.
And with trans women facing higher rates of murder and violence than ever before, it’s clear that Eddie Redmayne’s best intentions count for little in reality.