I recently saw The Danish Girl. A biopic based on a book by the same name, itself based on the life of artist Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sexual reassignment surgery. I went out to the cinema, paid my $10 (matinee) and sat down in the cold theater (it’s freaking cold in San Francisco right now) with about a dozen other folks. I guess that not the important part of this post.
I enjoyed the movie. It’s well shot and well acted, a bit too “Hollywood” for the actual, rather tragic history of the people it portrays, but I enjoyed the performance, nonetheless. I couldn’t help but draw parallels to my own transition while watching Lili on screen, which leads me to my point.
It has come to my attention, through Reddit and other areas of the internet where there is a Trans presence, that the casting of a cisgender actor (Eddie Redmayne) for the lead role of Lili was a poor choice, and that the role should have gone to a transgender actress. I certainly see where the criticism lies. Characters of color get “whitewashed” all the time (Emma Stone in Aloha comes to mind) and as a transwoman don’t I want to see a trans actor playing a historical transgender figure? Well yes, but I’d rather see a character portrayed with care and at least some reverence by a cis actor than not at all.
I think it would have been great to see a transwoman playing Lili. How cool would that have been? How much more important would the role have become if it was being played by a trans actress? Under the circumstances, Eddie Redmayne played a great Lili Elbe, and considering the amount of, I guess bodily inspection he goes through it actually makes a bit of sense to cast him.
Of course, as with any film adaptation, it’s not the whole story. Liberties are taken. Some small, some quite large. You can go see the movie and then look up Lili Elbe to see where things diverge, but like I stated above, the movie has quite a bit of “Hollywood” in it. I mean, it’s a love story. It has a similar tragic ending to the real life events, but we’re made to cheer on the main character in her transition from man to woman and to hope beyond hope that her wife’s “love will see her though.” Or something along those lines.
Honestly, I’m just happy to see this movie in theaters. I could see this being passed over as some kind of exploitation film or dismissed as some kind of art piece, but with the director of Les Misérables and a cast that seems to take pride in the film? That’s progress we haven’t yet seen in Hollywood. I’m as anxious as anyone for widespread acceptance, but for now, I’ll take knowing a few people have our backs.