The upcoming Bollywood release Laxmii is raising eyebrows, and not for it's choreography, songs, or acting. The movie, which premieres on Disney+ Hotstar (a streaming Indian subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company) and in theaters internationally on November 9, represents an unfortunate return to tired and harmful transgender tropes that we had hoped were done with.
The film is a Hindi remake of the 2011 Tamil film Kanchana. Director Raghava Lawrence has been at the helm for both movies. Starring Akshay Kumar, the movie is about a transgender ghost taking revenge on a family and possessing the star character.
Obviously, just the premise is transphobic. The only trans character in the movie isn't a person, just an evil, vengeful spirit. In addition, she's being played by Kumar, a male actor. The movie is billed as a "horror/comedy," and the preview does a lot with getting laughs from situations where Kumar's character puts on a saree or acts in feminine ways, making the ghost's gender the punchline of the joke.
The film goes further, though. One of the most harmful tropes the film employs is that men start to crossdress, or "become trans," when they're possessed by an evil spirit. We don't yet know the ending of Laxmii, but in the original, the evil trans spirit is defeated when the main character goes to a dargah (a shrine) to be exorcised.
Just like in America, where gay and trans people are brought to conversion therapy to try to "pray away," or punish away, their queerness, many parents in India take their children to holy people to exorcise the spirits out of them. In fact, earlier this year a proposed law in Indonesia encouraged just that. This movie only reinforces the idea that that can work.
Twitter user IndraJeet_G started a social media campaign begging Disney to not release the film. "Trans-negativity in films directly results in violence against trans persons. Don't release Laxmii. #DisneyStopTransphobia," they tweeted on Tuesday, encouraging others to retweet and spread the message. They also created images that offer easy things you can do to try and convince Disney to not release the film.
\u201c@WaltDisneyCo @DisneyPlusHS Trans-negativity in films directly results in violence against trans persons. Don't release Laxmii. #DisneyStopTransphobia\n@tonton1968, @AshleyAtTWDC, @rayantec - Laxmii will undo years worth of sensitisation efforts in India and endanger trans lives!\u201d
When the original movie came out, the title, "Kanchana" became a popular slur for trans people in Tamil.
"People started teasing any person who was femininie and trans persons as 'Kanchana' in a transphobic manner, as this was the very clear image they saw," Kanmani Ray, a Tamil trans woman and law student, told Huffington Post. Now, trans people are worried "Laxmii" might be used similarly.
While filmmakers have pledged to donate money to the trans community in India, many say it's not enough. The film didn't hire any trans actors, writers, or consultants, and portrays many harmful tropes and beliefs about trans people that will likely do more real life harm than a small donation will do good.