Film Forward

'Variety' Publishes A Powerful Open Letter To Hollywood About Trans Representation

"Trans people are fighting every day to be seen."

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

The latest issue of Variety magazine is exploring an important topic in the world of Hollywood — representation of transgender people in film and television. The issue's cover features transgender actors Laverne Cox, Alexandra Billings, and Chaz Bono.

Inside, Variety features the three cover stars, as well as Brian Michael, Jen Richards, and Trace Lysette, in a "Transgender Actors' Roundtable." The concept is reminiscent of an idea suggested by Richards (and backed by Cox) on Twitter following controversy over Scarlett Johansson's role as a transgender man in the upcoming film Rub & Tug. (Johansson has since dropped out of the film.) 

"I think if all things were equal, then everyone should be able to play every character. But all things are not equal," Cox told the magazine, emphasizing the challenges trans people face to be accepted. "So in this cultural environment, when we see representations of cis people playing us over and over again, that reinforces the idea that trans women are not really women and trans men are not really men and nonbinary people don't exist."

The issue also includes an interview with Caitlyn Jenner and a list of "20 Trans and Non-Binary Actors to Watch" — not to mention a powerful open letter to Hollywood about the importance of representation. The letter was put together by GLAAD and 5050by2020, and was signed by almost four dozen talent agencies, production companies, and other organizations, including CAA, SAG-AFTRA, Shondaland, and Ryan Murphy Productions.

The letter begins with the reminder that "trans people are fighting every day to be seen and accepted as human beings," followed by statistics about the inequalities and dangers trans people face — including the 44 trans women of color who have reportedly been murdered in the U.S. in the past 18 months. 

"We believe that we are at an unprecedented cultural moment — a moment when we can ask Hollywood to use its power to improve the lives of trans people by changing America's understanding about who trans people are," the letter continues.

GLAAD and 5050by2020 also developed a resource guidebook for networks and studios to understand how to cast trans talent and develop ideas by trans artists. As Variety points out, a study by GLAAD last year found that only 1.9 percent of characters on scripted broadcast primetime shows were transgender, while zero trans characters were featured in major studio movies in 2017.

There have been several brights spots in recent months, as Ryan Murphy's show Pose premiered on FX, featuring the largest cast of transgender series regulars in history. Trans actress Nicole Maines was also recently cast as TV's first transgender superhero on The CW's Supergirl. However, Hollywood still has a long way to go.

"We believe that when trans people are empowered to help culture makers tell our authentic stories, it will improve how we are treated in the real world," the letter concludes. "Those negative statistics will become a part of our history, not our present. Let's work together to create a beautiful, diverse and inclusive world in which trans people are fully accepted as equal human beings."

Cover image via Glynnis Jones I Shutterstock

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