Actors should play roles! That’s why they do! Matthew McConaughey didn’t have to have HIV to star in The Dallas Buyers Club. Meryl Streep didn’t need to be a bad singer to appear in Florence Foster Jenkins. She could pretend!
So, ideally, it should be OK that Matt Bomer was cast by producer Mark Ruffalo to play a trans female sex worker in a film called Anything. But there was an uproar—particularly from the trans community—and I can understand the sensitive issues that underlie the anger.
For one thing, all actors don’t get to play all roles, as it turns out. Matt Bomer wouldn’t get cast as a cis woman, so you might conversely ask, “Why should he be cast as a trans woman? Both roles are female.” Furthermore, if you’re going to constantly have cis people like Bomer playing trans—as has happened with Felicity Huffman, Jared Leto, Eddie Redmayne and Jeffrey Tambor on down—the reverse should be the case and trans people should be cast as cis people. But that hardly happens! I don’t see Candis Cayne in The Cyd Charisse Story or Carmen Carrera playing Linda Evangelista. I rejoiced when Chaz Bono was cast as a cis man in a movie two years ago, because it makes sense for a man to play a man—I mean, women are women and men are men, right? And if cis people aren’t limited to cis characters, why should trans people be limited to trans characters? But most of the time, it seems like trans people can’t get to play cis roles and sometimes they can’t even get trans roles! Various TV shows have shaken all that up, but not everyone’s followed suit in a way that opens up enough opportunity. Generally, trans actors gets shafted every which way but loose. And the familiar argument “Well, there isn’t a really bankable trans actor producers can use” is bull, especially because even if that were true, it would only be due to the same root problem—Hollywood has severely limited the chance for that to happen.
But is there hypocrisy within the hypocrisy? The wonderful Laverne Cox is playing “a sweet transvestite” (and bisexual) in TV’s version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but how come the people who are so angered by Bomer haven’t expressed an avalanche of furor over that? After all, a 2010 movie called Ticked Off Tr**nies with Knives—which was fabulously pro-trans—was protested and banned, partly because some drag queens played the lead roles. So that’s horrible, but a trans female playing a transvestite is OK? Why are some LGBTs playing other LGBTs accepted, but not others? Ideally speaking, I think they’re ALL OK—and even Bomer’s casting could be considered more acceptable—but only if we strive for a show business in which actors are allowed to explore all sorts of options. (Interestingly, some actors of color are appearing in NYC productions of Shakespeare and Chekhov this season. Why the fuck not?)
Faced by the protest, Ruffalo said it’s wrenching to know the pain trans people are going through on this, and he’s glad to open up the debate. Let’s keep talking while greenlighting some real trans acting projects—maybe Tangerine II: This Time They’re Nice?
THEY LIVE FOR THE APPLAUSE, APPLAUSE, APPLAUSE
Lady Gaga fans span a healthy array of genders, but some of them are a bit mischievous, I must say. Someone on Twitter is apparently trying to manipulate Gaga’s new single, “Perfect Illusion,” into a perfect illusion of a number one song, and they actually want us to contribute cash to make that happen. (I’m surprised they didn’t just ask for graft money to give to DJs). The GoFundMe request for this project states that Gaga deserves so much because of what she’s done for gay rights. “We are here to repay Mother Monster,” it goes on, “and give her another number one hit. We know how to manipulate iTunes and Amazon accounts in order to buy several thousand copies of "Perfect Illusion" with just a couple accounts. Billboard and SoundScan will COUNT all these purchases. There is one problem, though. We don’t have a lot of money and are looking for you to donate.” Oy. I’ve been asked to donate to a lot of these things—from potato salad to a documentary about the history of paper clips—but this one might really take the gay cake. Perhaps Gaga’s fans should be a little more confident that their idol can hit number one without this shady shit. And if she only makes it to the edge of glory, just deal with it. Or maybe this is a big hilarious hoax and I’ve just been had? It could be, though last time I looked, the campaign said it had gotten a whopping $78 (with a goal of $10,000), so maybe they’ve been had.
Update: GoFundMe just took down that page, but the campaign’s organizers are threatening to post their request elsewhere.
Meanwhile, a whole other fundraising campaign was begun by a club promoter in NYC to try to create PR and education to lessen GHB use and also to develop a machine that will measure the volume of each dose and the time between doses. I bet the addicts contribute—and then take five doses!
ONE LESS BELL TO ANSWER
Other stuff to get annoyed about: A Taco Bell commercial that aired during the VMAs set my alerts clanging. In the ad, a guy named Alan in a flamboyantly patterned shirt with thin suspenders, a bowtie, and tinted glasses says, with a sort of lisp, “It’s all imported cheeses. This is a fondue party, Mike.” Alan is effete and has three hipster friends around him. Mike is a more “regular” dude who says he understands Alan’s point of view, but he prefers the plain old burrito with melted cheese at Taco Bell. “This is a gorgonzola gruyere medley,” interjects Alan, perturbed, about his fondue. “This is a three cheese blend plus nacho cheese sauce…medley,” says Mike, with a hint of mockery. And we’re supposed to applaud that choice over the more, shall we say, fruity stuff. Maybe this commercial simply aims to make fun of the pretensions of foodies and hipsters, but the laceration of a prissy aesthete comes off cheesy to me.
Oh, and on Unsung—the TV One show I usually love, about black music stars’ trajectories—Monifah’s lesbian life was addressed as a “choice.” I chose to change the channel.
SHAKES THE CLOWN
The multiracial casting I alluded to earlier happens in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at the Delacorte Theater—and the play, of course, spans fascinating gender issues too. In it, the shipwrecked Viola (Nikki M. James) disguises herself as a man named Cesario and enters the court of Duke Orsino (Jose Llana), who wants her to help him woo his big crush, Olivia. But Olivia instead falls for Cesario! And Viola has fallen for Orsino! And then Viola’s twin brother Sebastian resurfaces! As conceived by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub, with music and lyrics by Shaina Taub (who plays Feste), the Public Works production is a colorful, lively, and entertaining brew. The result might not please Shakespeare purists since this is an intermissionless 95-minute update with lots of music, but those songs are hypnotically good and the onstage talent keeps coming at you. Nikki M. James is immensely talented, Andrew Kober is funny as the humiliated snob Malvolio, and the stage eventually swirls with kids, New York Deaf Theater members, a brass marching band, Asian drummers, and even Pokemon. If music be the food of life, let this play go on.