SWEET TRANSVESTITE? REPRODUCING FILMS IN 2016

by Jess Howard

When it comes to film remakes, many viewers are very protective of their original cinematic loves. In the same way that people react to novels being turned into films, many feel that film scripts should be left well alone, with the common opinion being that it was the original script, cast, and production that made their old favourites work so well. However, as with any form of art, films are constantly ageing, and so new perspectives are constantly being developed and incorporated.

Aside from what I would consider to be a slightly hypocritical opinion of screen acting — no one would ever expect the opening cast of Wicked to continue performing indefinitely — film reproduction is not only a method of visualising new opinions and interpretations, but also a way of maintaining cultural relevance and depicting changing societal perspectives through the medium of film. For instance, this year will see the release of a 2016 remake of director Jim Sharman’s 1975 musical sensation The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a made for TV movie set to star Laverne Cox in Tim Curry’s iconic role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

Cox herself is a transgender actress, and as the iconic song so rightly tells us, Rocky Horror’s protagonist Dr. Frank-N-Furter identifies as a ‘sweet transvestite’, and therefore casting Cox in this role can be seen as extremely progressive for today’s society and 2016 film production. I am in no way suggesting that identifying as a cross-dresser is anywhere near identifying as transgender, but Cox’s depiction of this role does represent a massive step forward in an industry that, sadly, is known to universally cast cisgender, white, and able-bodied actors and actresses in the majority of roles, regardless of the character they are playing.

Whilst I understand the social privileges I was born with as a cisgendered white woman, I find myself having mixed opinions about the outcry that often surrounds casting certain actors in roles that they are not necessarily the most well suited for. British actor Eddie Redmayne’s two most recent films are an excellent example of this.

casting Cox in this role can be seen as extremely progressive for today’s society and 2016 film production

In 2014, Redmayne won an Oscar for his portrayal of British theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, in The Theory of Everything. The film shows how Hawking continued to live, work, and love while simultaneously dealing with constantly deteriorating health as a result of being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, a condition marked by the progressive degeneration of the nervous system. His performance was indeed iconic, and he undoubtedly deserved the recognition and success he gained as a result of this role. However, many have asked why an able bodied actor was cast in such a role when, regardless of the amount of research Redmayne undertook in preparation, he would in no way have the same amount of knowledge and experience as a differently abled character.

( Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking © RexFeatures )

A similar response was seen in reaction to his more recent production, The Danish Girl, in which he played transgender pioneer Lili Elber, depicting her experiences as one of the first women to undergo gender reassignment surgery. I myself thoroughly enjoyed both productions, but still have mixed opinions about the casting and the public’s response. Would the films have depicted a more thorough and in depth description of life as a differently able or transgender individual if a more appropriate actor was cast? Yes. Does this mean that Redmayne was not suitable for these roles? No, I don’t think so.

[I] still have mixed opinions about the casting and the public’s response

In the case of Rocky Horror, I look forward to enjoying Cox’s portrayal of Dr Frank-N-Furter. In 2016, the idea that film directors need to cast white cisgendered actors in all film roles is dated and embarrassing. It does not mean I feel that every single film requires a modern remake, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.

Featured image © Steve Wilkie/FOX

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