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Why Cisgender Actors Should Never Be Cast In Transgender Roles — Under Any Circumstances

Photo: DFree & lev radin / Shutterstock
Hunter Schafer, Laverne Cox, Elliot Page

The casting of cisgender actors to play trans roles has been something done in Hollywood plenty of times.

Eddie Redmayne in his role as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl.

Hillary Swank in her role as transgender boy Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry.

Felicity Huffman in in her role as a transgender woman in Transamerica.

And the list goes on and on.

Even though there’s is a long list of cisgender actors playing trans characters, that doesn’t mean it should be happening — or should even have happened at all.

Those roles were never meant for them, and will never be meant for them.

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It has never been ethically, morally, or politically justifiable for transgender roles to be given to cisgender actors, espeically not in this time of history.

There are so many trans actors in Hollywood who are more than capable of being cast.

Laverne Cox, Indya Moore, Elliot Page, Trace Lystte, Hunter Schafer, and so many more.

Trans actors who have been begging Hollywood to stop their overlook on them, to stop creating trans roles only to hand it to cisgender actors, like Scarlett Johansson, who was cast to play a transgender man in the movie Rub & Tug, before her exit over the backlash.

The way our society views trans people versus cisgender people is vastly different.

Cisgender people are more valued, viewed as more worthy and attractive. They’re given an endless amount of privilege, whether it’s pertaining to job opportunities, better access to education and healthcare, and their overwhelming presence in the media. 

Any trans actor who walks into a room for an audition is already at such a disadvantange–unlike a cisgender actor. 

The bar in Hollywood is defined by cis people, the talent is defined by cis-led instutions.

The 2020 Netflix documentary, Disclosure, talks heavily about Hollywood’s depiction of transgender people and the impact this has on American culture.

In the film, Jen Richards, a trans actress, spoke about the direct link between cisgender men playing trans women roles and how that plays a hand in the violence inflicted upon trans women.

“In my mind, part of the reason that men end up killing trans women 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 judgment they fear of, only know trans women from media and the people who are playing trans women are the men they know. This doesn’t happen when a trans woman plays a trans woman.”

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There are so many beautiful shows and movies where transgender actors have been given platforms to show the world that they can be so much more than a statistic, that they can perform roles greater than many cis actors.

Shows like Pose, and the representation of not only trans people, but Black trans women. 

But there needs to be more. 

Hollywood seems to have spent the last few years making amends with it’s many faults. Whether that’s acknowledging the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement led by many prominent actresses. 

It’s time for Hollywood to start making amends for it’s biggest problem to date. Letting trans actors have the spotlight and putting the budget into creating productions that give trans people hope for representation.

It’s one thing to cast trans actors, but it’s another to have the people behind the scenes be transgender as well. 

We want trans writers, directors, producers. Because they know the stories better than anyone, and they know exactly how to tell them.

The transgender community has been vocal and loudly critical of cisgender actors playing roles meant for them, for far too long. 

They are asking Hollywood to consider them, to finally look at them and acknowledge that they’re right there, and are willing to do the work, willing to be on the screen.

Maybe now, Hollywood will start listening, and they’ll realize just how talented so many trans actors actually are.

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Nia Tipton is a writer living in Chicago. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.