Award-winning actress Halle Berry (X-men, Swordfish, Monster’s Ball) was killing some time during the pandemic lockdown recently by doing an Instagram interview with a hairdresser when she committed an almost unforgivable sin. She mentioned an upcoming film project that she was considering doing. Mind you, this isn’t a project that was already in the can, in production, or even greenlighted. She was just considering it. While dropping some hints, however, she mentioned that the character she was going to play is a transgender man. (i.e. a woman who “identifies” as a man.)
That was all it took. The LGBTQ community was immediately up in arms, though I’m not entirely sure why. Still, one LGBTQ outlet, Pink News, was moved to immediately express its dismay in an article dramatically titled “Halle Berry says she’s preparing to play a transgender man in a new film, and we are so very, very tired.” In it, they endeavor to explain why this is such a terrible turn of events.
Berry’s comments come two years after Scarlett Johansson was strongly criticised for signing up to play the role of a trans man in the film Rub and Tug.
After pleas from the trans community, Johansson eventually opted to drop out of the project, which was ultimately cancelled despite calls to recast it with a transgender star.
There are fears Berry’s film project could end up the same way, after the clip was noted by The Geekiary.
One writer appealed to LGBT+ film stars to “reach out to Halle Berry” and discuss the project with her.
Berry had plenty of people “reaching out to her” in private and on social media. The backlash was swift and began gaining traction quickly. Of course, given Berry’s record of social activism, it was a far more gentle type of backlash than some random straight, white, male actor likely would have received. Still, the message apparently came through loud and clear. Before Berry’s agent could even have time to muster some sort of advice or PR statement, Halle Berry issued a flood of panicked apologies and promised that she would drop out of contention for the role. (Deadline)
Berry didn’t waste any time to make things right. On Monday night she took to Twitter to apologize to the trans community and said that she was no longer considering the role.
“Over the weekend I had the opportunity to discuss my consideration of an upcoming role as a transgender man, and I’d like to apologize for those remarks,” she said. “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 their own stories.”
She continued, “I am grateful for the guidance and critical conversation over the past few days and 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 behind the camera.”
You’ll notice how many among the offended masses referenced the short-lived effort to get the movie Rub and Tug onto the silver screen. They had signed on Scarlett Johansson for the lead role, also a transgender male character. (Johansson is similarly afflicted with the same curse of being a “cisgender” female.) The pressure got to her and she dropped out. And what happened to Rub and Tug? The entire project collapsed and wound up in the burn file. That means that the screenwriter, the director, the other actors who would have performed in it and the entire production crew all lost out on that work.
The reasons are obvious. As anyone who has worked in or around the industry will tell you, it’s incredibly hard to get a script from the drawing board to the big screen. There are literally millions of scripts floating around Hollywood and the rest of the country. Pretty much every waiter and waitress in Los Angeles has one in their glove box at any given time. But if the people pushing the project can sign on a really big name for a leading role, your chances shoot up astronomically. Halle Berry is one of those names. Anything she agrees to act in is almost assured a full theatrical release.
So what’s going to happen to the film now? Nothing is ever a sure thing in Hollywood, but it’s a safe bet that it will go the same way that Rub and Tug did. And everyone else associated with this new project will see the same fate.
So what’s the alternative scenario that all of the noisy critics in the LGBTQ community were pushing for? Obviously they want someone who is an authentic transgender actor to be given the leading role. Fair enough. Now, without resorting to Google, see if you can list all of the authentically male-to-female transgender actors who have won major awards and draw huge audiences (and salaries). I was able to think of one from a Netflix series I watched a while back, but without Googling I couldn’t recall the name of the series, to say nothing of the actor. (It was Jamie Clayton who starred in Sense8, by the way. Arguably many, many levels below Halle Berry in terms of star power and influence.)
This is apparently being lumped in with the general idea of “cultural appropriation.” But what else is off-limits now? I’ve seen any number of films and series where straight women play characters engaged in lesbian love affairs. Should those all be banned as well unless the actresses have some sort of pink union card proving that they’re lesbians in real life? Should Black actors be barred from playing the roles of real-life figures who were/are white? Or vice-versa?
It sounds to me as if some people in the community have forgotten what the fundamental definition of “acting” is. The job of the actor or actress is to bring to life a character other than themselves. They are playing the role of someone they are not. I’ve looked over Halley Berry’s resume and I see she’s never once in her life worked a job as a truck driver. Should she be banned from playing a truck driver in a movie?
This is an argument that’s been going on since before the question of a Black actor playing Othello many years ago. And the debate hasn’t gotten any prettier since then.