Earlier this week Netflix dropped ‘Disclosure,’ a documentary on Hollywood’s portrayal of the Transgender community, from the very first Trans portrayals on screen to the most recent. This crucial viewing will stay with you long after the two hours are over.
The monumental nature of Disclosure cannot be stressed enough. This documentary intersects the Trans community, Black community, and film industry in such a poignant way. I truly think every single person needs to watch it. Cis-gender people especially need to view it since so many of us, myself included, are wildly unaware of how the film industry has harmed the Trans community.
The beginning of the documentary discusses how early depictions of Trans people strictly followed two damaging narratives. Trans characters were either laughed at or depicted as psychopathic murderers.
The interviews are heartbreaking. The Trans creatives in the film grew up with this incredibly harmful depiction of an identity they resonated with. Their existence was either made to be a joke or a monstrosity. Then as time went on, when Trans characters weren’t the butt of the joke or the story’s villain, they were either being killed or over sexualized. Actress Alexandra Billings said, “I died so many times (on screen). They just kept killing me.”
One actor Chaz Bono, whom I recognized from the American Horror Story franchise, recalled how as a kid he loved Ace Venture: Pet Detective. However, upon rewatching it as a young adult who was struggling with his gender identity, he was horrified to watch how they portrayed a Trans woman. Ace Ventura and other characters became physically ill by the knowledge that she was Trans, which is obviously so harmful.
It’s more than tragic that this is how the Trans community was portrayed on the screen. It’s cruel. Hollywood has done a number on every oppressed community, and it’s time we talk more about how film and TV feed into transphobia.
Even as Hollywood improves its depiction of Trans people, such as with actress Laverne Cox on Orange Is The New Black, it’s still lacking. Disclosure explains that the 2018 TV show, Pose was perhaps the first instance where Trans voices were included in the writing and development of a TV show.
Pose is also special because it focuses on BIPOC Trans people, who are disproportionately murdered in real life. In 2019, there were at least 27 Trans people murdered. The majority of whom were Black Trans women.
The ending of Disclosure leaves watchers with a call to action. It won’t be enough to improve the lives of Trans people on the screen. Our society needs to improve the lives of Trans people off the screen by fighting for the Trans community. If you are cis-gender, educate yourself with this accessible resource. Watch Disclosure. Sign petitions. Donate if you can. Say the names of Trans individuals who lost their lives due to violence. There is no peace until we are all equal.