UPDATED, AUGUST 13 12:30pm: “Revealing a transgender person’s birth name without permission is an invasion of privacy that can put them at risk for discrimination,” said Nick Adams, GLAAD’s Director of Transgender Media. “IMDb’s new policy is a step in the right direction and gives some transgender professionals in the entertainment industry the dignity and respect that they’ve long deserved – however, it remains imperfect. Trans people with credits under their old name for work in front of or behind the camera will still be affected by IMDb’s determination to publish outdated information. The platform still has a long way to go in maintaining the privacy of all the entertainment industry professionals listed on the site. GLAAD and SAG-AFTRA, along with trans people working in Hollywood, will continue to advocate that IMDb create policies that respect everyone’s privacy and safety.”
ORIGINAL: On Monday, IMDb — best known as the website where you can find out which episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Wentworth Miller guest starred in — announced that it has updated a policy that restricted actors and crew members from changing their names in its database. The former policy was specifically harmful for trans industry members who were unable to alter their IMDb pages to reflect their proper names, leading to what essentially amounted to professional deadnaming.
The new policy allows for “the removal of birth names if the birth name is not broadly publicly known and the person no longer voluntarily uses their birth name,” a spokesperson for IMDb told Variety. “To remove a birth name either the person concerned or their professional industry representative simply needs to contact IMDb’s customer support staff to request a birth name removal. Once the IMDb team determines that an individual’s birth name should be removed subject to this updated process, we will review and remove every occurrence of their birth name within their biographical page on IMDb.”
This means that IMDb still gets to decide whether or not someone gets deadnamed on their site, all while potentially forcing trans people to endure an annoying and potentially triggering bureaucratic process. In turn, trans folks in Hollywood will have very little agency when it comes to how they’re publicly represented. It’s already overwhelmingly difficult to have your name changed legally, why does it need to be so complicated to do so on a website that tell you yes, Meg Ryan was in the Anastasia cartoon?
Under the new policy, birth names will still appear as it was originally credited on the IMDb pages of the respective projects — their correct name will only appear on their personal page, keeping it connected to their work and available for any troll to exploit. “This is in order to continue providing IMDb’s hundreds of millions of customers worldwide with comprehensive information about film and TV credits, thereby preserving the factual historical record by accurately reflecting what is listed on-screen,” said the website’s spokesperson. Is IMDb run by seperatist lesbians, because this sounds an awful lot like TERF rhetoric. The language also comes across as defensive and callous when it should seek to uplift the trans creators this policy change was meant to support. Why does it matter what name someone went by in a movie they worked on 10 years ago? It’s not their name anymore, so why would anyone need to know it?
IMDb’s policy change comes after a concerted effort from SAG-AFTRA, who partnered with LGBTQ+ advocacy groups including the National LGBTQ Task Force, GLAAD, the Transgender Law Center, and others. But why was this even an issue in the first place? IMDb exists so that stoned twentysomethings can take a look back at Kate Bosworth’s film career after watching Blue Crush, and the fact that it took the website this long to partially change their policies in order to protect trans people is not something they should be applauded for, especially when the new policy still leaves trans people open to deadnaming and misgendering. This policy change is honestly non-news. The real news is that IMDb believes that “facts” and being “historically” accurate is more important than affirming the real lives and experiences of trans folks, and instead, sets them up for failure.