Here’s The Real Problem With “The Danish Girl”

By Kelsey D’Auben

The nominations for the 87th annual Academy Awards have received a great deal of backlash due to a lack of minority representation.

Despite this, many great films and great actors were nominated, and among them was Eddie Redmayne for his role as Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl.

The transgendered community has slowly begun to gain more and more of it’s rightful recognition in the media over the past year.

Actresses such as Laverne Cox and Jamie Clayton have featured roles in acclaimed Netflix series has been an amazing stride for the community, because transgendered people often receive very little representation in a very hetero/cis dominated media.

So when films such as The Danish Girl are released and widespread throughout the nation and praised as a powerful and inspirational story of the struggles of a transitioning person, it’s not hard to understand why there would be anger within the trans community over the casting of Eddie Redmayne, a cis male, as the leading role of a transgendered woman.

And Redmayne doesn’t play just any transgendered woman either, but the first trans woman to ever undergo full reconstructive surgery.

Lili Elbe is an important historical figure within the community and a movie about her is something that should ultimately be portrayed by a trans woman.

Lili Elbe is an important historical figure within the community and a movie about her is something that should ultimately be portrayed by a trans woman.

The Danish Girl is not the only project guilty of miscasting.

About Ray, which premiered at Sundance this past year casted Elle Fanning to play Ray, a young trans boy in early stages of his transition. And Transparent is a popular Emmy winning Amazon original series starring Jeffrey Tambor as an older woman in the beginnings of her transition.

Storylines featuring transgendered people are appearing more and more among television and films, and that’s a great thing.

Stories about transitioning and the struggles the trans community faces were almost non-existent until just a few years ago. However, it is not the fact that these stories are being told that is the problem. It is the way they are being told.

These stories are about trans folks and what being trans is all about, so to have it told by a cis-man not only makes it genuinely less authentic but also takes away the voice of the trans actor who is representing them. These are their stories to tell and by having cis actors portray their characters we are not letting them speak for themselves.

Many argue that the casting of a cis person is not due to cis-normativity, but because the actor is genuinely fit for the role.

Tom Hooper, the director of The Danish Girl used this same defense in an interview with Slate:

“I must admit I thought about Eddie Redmayne the very first time I read the script… I always have felt there was femininity in Eddie or his features, and I’d remarked on the fact that he’d been drawn to the feminine – he played the girl’s part in school plays,” Hooper told Slate.

Hooper did also say that he had actually cast several transgendered people in the film, giving them all cisgendered roles. But why deny them the chance to play the part of the one actual transgendered character in the film?

Simply placing a transgender actor in the background behind the cisgendered lead actor and hiding them by casting them in a cisgendered role does not count as representing the community in a film that is about them and their own history.

Miscasting is not a new problem in Hollywood. It has been happening for years, especially with characters of color.

Even recently the film Exodus received harsh criticisms for casting an nearly all white cast for a film set in ancient Egypt and Cameron Crowe, director of Aloha had to come out and apologize for casting Emma Stone as an Asian-American woman.

Miscastings of transgendered characters is no different.

“At this moment especially, I think this industry has a responsibility to put trans actors in trans roles,” Sean Baker, director of the Sundance film Tangerine told the New York Times.

“At this moment especially, I think this industry has a responsibility to put trans actors in trans roles,” Sean Baker, director of the Sundance film Tangerine told the New York Times. “To not do it seems wrong in my eyes. There is plenty of trans talent out there.”

Representation of the transgendered community is important, especially today.

By denying them the chance to represent themselves and speak for their own community even in the fictional world of television and movies we are not progressing as a society. We are only taking steps further backwards into oppression.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for you us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: torbakhopper/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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