The history of actors, who don’t identify as trans, playing trans characters is decades old.
The argument against non-trans actors taking these parts have made headlines over and over. Is it right for cis-gender actors to play the parts of trans characters?
Warning this article may contain spoilers to various films.
The 1950s – 70s
Daniel Davis, Glen or Glenda, 1953
Glen or Glenda was released in 1953 starring Ed Wood – who was actually credited as Daniel Davis in this film. It’s a semi-autobiographical film, considered one of the worst films of all time. However, it is considered a plea for tolerance.
Tim Curry, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975
Probably one of the most famous films to feature a “sweet transsexual”. TRHPS has gone on to become a cult hit and recently had a remake filmed and it starred Laverne Cox in Tim Curry’s part of Dr Frank N. Furter.
The 1980s – 90s
Michael Caine in Dressed To Kill, 1980
In 1980 Michael Caine played a murderous trans woman in this erotic thriller. For his part in the film, Mr Caine was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor.
Jaye Davidson in The Crying Game, 1982
A drama which explores themes of race, gender, nationality and sexuality with the troubles of early 80s Northern Ireland as a backdrop. The trans character in this film is actually one of its great surprises, which is considered a “shocking twist”. Jaye Davidson was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor for the role.
Terrence Stamp in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, 1994
One of the most successful LGBT films of all times was released in 1994 is in the top 40 grossing gay and lesbian films of all times. Terrence Stamp’s Bernadette Bassinger is a carefully studied character, played respectfully.
Mary Sean Young, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, 1994
Possibly one of the most offensive portrayals of a trans person in film – which uses the trans character as a comedy mimic.
Julie Hesmondhalgh in Coronation Street, 1998
Coronation Street made history in 1998 when they introduced the first trans character to a British soap. It wasn’t until 2015 that EastEnders made further history by having a trans actor play a trans character. Julie Hesmondhalgh has been praised for her portrayal of a trans person and she is a huge advocate for the LGBT community. In 2017 she called on TV companies to employ trans people in trans roles.
Hillary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry, 1999
One of the most tear-jerking LGBT films of all time. Hillary Swank was truly remarkable in the film which was based on the true story of murdered trans man Brandon Teena. The film was nominated for 57 awards and won 37 of them including, Best Actress (Oscars and BAFTAs) for Swank.
The 00s to 10s
John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, 2001
One of the only musical films featuring a trans character in the central role. John Cameron Mitchell wrote and directed this film. It features in the top 100 LGBT films.
Felicity Huffman in TransAmerica, 2005
Felicity Huffman was widely praised for her role in TransAmercia as a pre-operative male to female transgender person. This was an unusual casting decision as usually male to female trans parts are played by males rather than females.
Rebecca Romijn in Ugly Betty, 2007-2008
Rebecca Romijn was another female who was cast in an M2F role in the comedy TV series, Ugly Betty. She appeared midway through the first season and left in season 3.
The 10s to 20s
Chloe Sevigny in Hit And Miss, 2012
Hit And Miss was a TV series which followed the life of a transgender contract killer. It ran for one series.
Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, 2013
Jared was awarded an Oscar for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, however, his casting in this film and subsequent acceptance of the Oscar with a full beard was criticised by some in the trans community. Laverne Cox recently said, “as brilliant as Jared Leto is, and all these actors who play trans women, when people who don’t know anything about trans folks and trans women see the very sexy Jared Leto and his beard accepting an Oscar for playing a trans woman, the message that it sends is that trans women are really men”
Jeff Tambor in Transparent, 2014
Amazon was praised for the production of Transparent starring Jeff Tambor who plays a trans person coming out as trans later in life. The show has won awards and much love from the critics for its sensitive portrayal of a family dealing with and accepting transition.
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl, 2015
Eddie Redmayne played the part of Lili Elbe, acknowledged as the first trans woman to go through sex reassignment surgery. Despite it being widely praised there was only one Oscar win out of four nominations. The film was banned in a number of countries including Qatar, the UAE, Oman, Kuwait and Malaysia.
Jonny Beauchamp and Otoja Abit Stonewall, 2015
Stonewall was much derided when it was released in 2015. It also stars two actors in trans roles who are not transgender themselves. Otoja Abit who played Marsha P Johnson (who defined during her lifetime as a drag queen and sometimes as a gay man, but has since been celebrated as a trans woman after her death) and Jonny Beachamp who played the fictional character, Ray/Ramona.
Elle Fanning, 3 Generations, 2017
Fanning plays a character who pursues his true identity as male. Its release date was pulled in 2015 and pushed back until 2017.
Matt Bomer in Anything
The film received a lot of criticism before it was released for having a cis-male actor, Matt Bomer play the part of a transgender person.
The film is about a transgender woman falling in love with a straight man. Mark Ruffalo is an executive producer on the film. Defending the decision to cast a cis-male in the role of Freda, Mark said that he had a “profound experience” working with Matt in The Normal Heart.
He later apologised to the transgender community saying, “To the Trans community. I hear you. It’s wrenching to you see you in this pain. I am glad we are having this conversation. It’s time.”
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*This article was first published in June 2017