How Hollywood is Failing Transgender and Non-Binary Characters and Why the Indies Aren't Enough Anymore

When it comes to transgender and non-binary representation, Hollywood has a lot of work to do.

Days after Mj Rodriguez made history as the first transgender actor nominated for an Emmy in a lead role, GLAAD released their annual Studio Responsibility Index and found that there were exactly zero transgender or non-binary characters in major Hollywood films.

That’s right, zero.

For the fourth year in a row.

By GLAAD’s own estimates, there were zero transgender characters out of almost 400 films released in January 2017. That’s pitiful, especially given the progressive steps forward on TV where there were 29 regular and recurring transgender characters just in the past year.

A Long Way To Go

The last transgender character to be included in a major studio film was All played by Benedict Cumberbatch in 2016’s Zoolander 2, a role GLAAD dubbed “an offensive caricature”. All, portrayed by a cisgender man, is a non-binary supermodel who gets asked about their genitals using a hot dog/bun euphemism and later gets referred to as “hermself”. That’s the kind of thing you might have expected from Borat back in 2006, but we should have grown by now.

More positive examples of representation, such as Daniela Vega‘s performance in A Fantastic Woman, were released through indie distributors and were not included in GLAAD’s reporting, which focuses on the work of major studios (Disney, Fox, Paramount, etc). GLAAD also noted that while there were characters played by transgender and non-binary actors in recent years, the characters themselves had to have their story made clear on screen. One example is Trace Lysette who appeared in 2019’s Hustlers but whose character was not identifiably trans. Another is Asia Kate Dillon‘s role in John Wick 3, where the press tour confirmed the character was non-binary more than the film itself.

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis noted in her opening statement to the index that things in Hollywood are changing, but the need for representation is ever-present.

“This is a great time of transformation for Hollywood — challenged to redefine business lines and practices during a global pandemic, driven by an increased demand from consumers hungry for new content, and rocked by the rightful reckoning and pressure for these studios to create more meaningful substantive change in representing and investing in marginalized communities.”

It’s so frustrating as a non-binary person to watch as Hollywood ignores transgender and non-binary characters time and again. While there have been some small strides forward in terms of representation for gay and lesbian characters and LGBTQ+ characters of color, there has been none for people who don’t fall into the neat and tidy binary of the gender spectrum as most are familiar with it. Representation is important to those of us who want to see ourselves in entertainment, but it’s also a way for people to become more comfortable with ideas or constructs they may be unfamiliar with.

Last May, GLAAD and Procter & Gamble launched the first “LGBTQ Inclusion in Advertising and Media” study, a survey measuring the attitudes of non-LGBTQ Americans to exposure of LGBTQ people and images in the media. The survey found that simply seeing LGBTQ characters in media related to greater acceptance in the community. People are afraid of what they don’t understand, and including transgender and non-binary characters in entertainment might help them be more understanding.

It’s time.

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