Why cis men should never, ever play trans women as Eddie Redmayne admits ‘mistake’

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Eddie Redmayne has finally realised that his playing a trans woman in The Danish Girl was problematic – something that was expertly explained in Netflix’s brilliant Disclosure.

Since its release in 2015, Eddie Redmayne has defended his decision to play a trans woman, Lili Elbe, in The Danish Girl. But not any more.

In a new interview the actor has acknowledged the “mistake” he made in accepting the role, telling the Sunday Times that while he “made that film with the best intentions”, he would not make the same decision were it made today.

He called for a “levelling” in the industry, saying: “The bigger discussions about the frustrations around casting is because many people don’t have a chair at the table.”

The debate on who gets to play what roles has been particularly prominent in recent years as the industry faces up to decades of misrepresentation.

Today, there is a broad consensus that trans roles should go to trans actors. Part of the driving force behind that consensus is, undoubtedly, the Netflix documentary Disclosure, which shone an unprecedented light on the way Hollywood has treated trans lives.

Writer Jen Richards expertly explains in the film that 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.

“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”.

Eddie Redmayne
Eddie Redmayne

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.

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