2015 has been a banner year for the trans community. The trans comedy Transparent from Amazon is a huge success and earned 11 Emmy nominations this summer. The very public transition of Caitlyn Jenner, for better or worse, depending on how you look at it, opened the subject to mainstream America in a way that had never been done before. This summer, the film Tangerine starred two trans actresses and was met with stellar reviews and awards talk. John Oliver gave one of the most comprehensive breakdowns of transgender rights and what it means to be transgender on his show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO. People are beginning to understand how to talk about and to trans people with respect.
Last week the Gaby Dellal, the director of the upcoming trans drama About Ray, starring Elle Fanning as a teenager transitioning and the impact it has on his family (his mother is played by Oscar nominee Naomi Watts and grandmother played by Oscar winner Susan Sarandon), gave an interview to Refinery29 in which she repeatedly using ‘she’ and ‘girl’ in describing the film titular character.
In the article she says:
[box type=”shadow” align=”aligncenter” class=”” width=””]Dellal stands by her decision to cast a cisgender actress in a trans role. For one, she says, the part is for someone who hasn’t yet transitioned. The director uses female pronouns when discussing Ray. “The part is a girl and she is a girl who is presenting in a very ineffectual way as a boy,” Dellal explains. “She’s not pretending to have a deeper voice. She’s just a girl who is being herself and is chasing the opportunity to start hormone treatment. So to actually use a trans boy was not an option because this isn’t what my story is about,” she says. [/box]
While it seems that Dellal is not being malicious in her conviction and reasoning for not using he, him or boy in her description of Ray it’s that conviction that is troubling. In the same interview she admits that as of three and half years ago the concept of people transitioning was “news to me.” Again, troubling. Why would a producer choose a director to helm a film like this if they didn’t even have a basic working knowledge of the dialogue of its subject?
Messages to Dellal have, as of now, gone unanswered. It’s doubtful she’ll be able to avoid the controversy, as the film will be playing the Toronto International Film Festival next month just ahead of its September 18th release. No word from the film’s distributor, The Weinstein Company (who paid a whopping $6M for the film), but I imagine they’re scrambling a bit to find the right PR angle for this encroaching mess. Hopefully for Dellal (and the film) it’s just a misstep of language and not something inherently worse.