In 2020, Hollywood should know better than to cast cis people in roles about the transgender experience, but we’re still having to remind the industry that trans people should be able to tell their own stories onscreen. Halle Berry is the latest celebrity to be taken to task for a controversial role that would have seen her portray a trans man onscreen.
Over the weekend, the Oscar-winning actress sat down with hairstylist Christin Brown on Instagram Live. During the virtual conversation, Berry shared that she had signed on to play a woman who transitions into a man for an upcoming film.
“Who this woman was is so interesting to me,” Berry explained of her character. “That will probably be my next project, and that will require me cutting all of my hair off.”
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Wow, wow, WOW!!! Screaming “WE LOVE YOU” to one of the greatest people I will ever know! Check out my exclusive chat with @halleberry about hair on & off set, the culture, and going down memory lane with fave hairstyles! • • • #curlfactor #curls #curly #curlyhair #halleberry #texturetalktuesday
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“That’s what I want to experience and understand and study and explore,” she continued. “It’s really important to me to tell stories, and that’s a woman, that’s a female story. It changes to a man, but I want to understand the why and how of that.”
It didn’t take long before Berry’s comments went viral, drawing the ire of the trans community and allies alike. Many were disturbed that the actress had willingly pursued a role about being trans despite being a cisgender woman, pointing out the casting as a symptom of Hollywood’s continued ignorance about trans people despite the increased number of rising stars in the industry.
why the fuck was halle berry—a cis woman—considering playing a trans man in a movie when there are actual trans men actors who exist and aren’t getting any exposure—?
— carpet muncher 🧃 (@lesfemmefataIe) July 7, 2020
halle berry talking about the trans man character she’s playing like “understanding this woman is so important to me” jfc i hate how trans guys are infantilised and how cis women treat us
— korviday ¹³¹² (@korviday) July 6, 2020
i don’t think halle berry is some horrible transphobe. i think she’s an example of why trans people should play trans people. we understand our own experiences better than cis ppl can and can navigate tricky language situations that cis ppl might flub from inexperience.
— ♔ james frederick ♔ (@freddietrmpr) July 6, 2020
As the outcry against Berry’s comments continued, the actress realised that her part in the unnamed film wasn’t worth the pain that it would cause the trans community. She ultimately decided not to pursue the role and told Twitter as much.
— Halle Berry (@halleberry) July 7, 2020
“As a cisgender woman, I now understand that I should not have considered this role, and that the transgender community should undeniably have the opportunity to tell the own stories,” Berry wrote on Twitter.
“I’m grateful for the guidance and critical conversation over the past few days, and I will continue to listen, educate, and learn from this mistake. I vow to be an ally in using my voice to promote better representation on-screen, both in front of and on the cameras.”
A number of LGBTQ organisations praised Berry’s change of heart, calling it a necessary step towards equality for queer people. But the fact that she was considered for the role speaks to a disturbing pattern of minimising the lived experience of trans people.
Shows like Pose and Euphoria might give off the impression that the television and film space has finally kicked down the door for the trans community, but many of us know better. Even as stars like Laverne Cox, Dominique Jackson, MJ Rodriguez, Chella Man, Hunter Schafer, and Leo Sheng grow in popularity, we can’t trick ourselves into thinking that the world is fair for trans people anywhere. They often face devastating discrimination wherever they turn: in church, in schools, in government, and even on TV.
Representation for trans people means recognising their unique struggles and giving them the agency to speak their truth to power — that starts with casting the right people to tell their stories.
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