There’s a lot of debate circulating the film <em>The Danish Girl</em>. The movie attempts to tell the true story of the famous historical painter, Einar Wegener, as he transitions to become a woman named Lilli Elbe. It is a deeply moving story and so the movie is a frontrunner to win at the Oscar’s this year. Only, there is one glaring issue that needs to be addressed: a cisgender male actor is playing the role of the transgender female protagonist. </p>
I have a lot of respect for the transgender community, so I was curious to find out what they were saying about The Danish Girl. I turned to YouTube first to watch what trans vloggers have said, as I consider their opinions to be the most authentic since they are not bound by marketing commitments. The opinions were not entirely consistent. The trans community was not entirely hostile towards the casting decision, despite many articles claiming that they were. Yes, there was outrage, but there was also a lot of understanding. The argument in favour of casting Eddie Redmayne to play Lilli was that the role was about a man attempting to transition to become a woman. Since the role was not about life after transitioning, it was acceptable that a cisgender man was selected to portray the character.
After spending a lot of time reading reviews of the movie, I decided to actually go and see it. I really liked the movie because it was artistic and entertaining, but I felt like there was an emotional wall between the screen and me. I usually cry all the time during movies and leave feeling an emotional catharsis. A lot of actors have the ability to figuratively reach out and grab me so that I become a blubbering mess. Eddie Redmayne usually has that ability; I cried so much during the Theory of Everything and Les Misérables. Something definitely went wrong because I wasn’t even sad while I watched The Danish Girl.
The movie told one of the most amazing and heartbreaking stories in history, yet it was flat and, at times, boring. In my opinion, Redmayne’s performance was amazing so I tried really hard to play along, but nothing that he could have done would have been enough to convince me. That’s when I realized that justifying the decision to cast a cisgender actor didn’t matter. Simply put, the movie will never be great because, in order to properly move the audience, you need to be watching an authentic trans actor. The emotional wall will always be there because Eddie Redmayne is not a true transgender woman. In order to understand what I mean, you have to go and see the movie for yourself because it isn’t something that can easily be explained in words.
Comparing The Danish Girl to Orange is the New Black provides more evidence to support my theory. Laverne Cox, a trans actor, has brought tears to my eyes many times in Orange is the New Black. When she plays Sophia, a transgender female prisoner, I believe her and so her performance breaks my heart. It’s not about the quality of acting; it is about the honesty of her performance.
The controversy of whether or not it was morally right to cast a cisgender person is not easy to answer as simply “yes” or “no.” On the other hand, what is a lot more simple is the fact that the casting directors robbed us of a potentially life-changing experience. Watching the story of Lilli Elbe unfold could have been a beautiful and eye-opening experience. Instead, it will always remain gimmicky and an obvious attempt to make easy money and win Oscars.
So, I do not think it should win at all. I don’t think that we should award a cisgender, heterosexual, male actor for attempting to cash out on the struggle of the severely marginalized transgender community. Especially since he didn’t even do it well.