“Disclosure” Delivers Dimensioned Depiction of the Transgender Experience

Image via disclosurethemovie.com.

BY CHARLI BATTERSBY | It will be impossible for me to review Disclosure objectively, because it is a resoundingly authentic documentary about transgender actors in the film and TV industry. And, when I’m not working as a writer, I’m an actress.

The performers interviewed in Disclosure include Laverne Cox, Candis Cayne, MJ Rodriguez, and others, plus behind the scenes trans people like film director Lilly Wachowski. Their stories are so similar to my own that I felt like I was watching an interview with myself. Halfway through, I started to wonder if the filmmakers would end up showing a clip of me in one of my many “Trans Hooker #2” roles. Sure enough, the final montage of the movie does have a brief clip of me as “Trans Party Guest” in a scene from Tales of the City. As someone who has “been there,” I can say that this documentary is one of the most accurate depictions of the transgender experience that I have seen.

The actors interviewed discus their own careers, as well looking at historical films that use trans characters. As demonstrated, the use of stereotyping goes right back to the silent film days, and the negative depictions continued long enough that nearly everyone in the film can discuss their own experiences playing those same stereotypes.

Nearly all of the transwomen can boast of several roles as either “The Hooker” or “The Trans Hooker” (I have played a dozen of those myself). And there is a montage of scenes from medical dramas involving trans women dying (you can catch me dying of HIV in the first episode of Pose, right over Billy Porter’s shoulder). There is yet another montage of cop shows featuring the “Dead Trans Hooker” complete with famous actors spouting “witty” lines about the dead hooker’s genitals. (I am yet to land a job as “Dead Hooker”—but I have high hopes for the next season of Law & Order.)

These storylines typically use the trans characters for specific plot-related needs, and the production teams take some interesting measures to ensure that audiences understand that the guest star is transgender. Candis Cayne even recounts how one show had the audio team alter her voice to sound deeper and more masculine, for her character’s first line.

There is also much discussion of Hollywood’s traditional use of cisgender actors to play trans characters. This segment of the film includes an interesting montage of cisgender men who grew their facial hair out in time for awards season, so they could look suitably masculine when accepting their Oscar for playing a trans character. The pattern is undeniable when shown as a montage.

The transmale perspective is given equal time in Disclosure, although, sadly, Hollywood itself devotes less time to exploring this aspect of the transgender community. The plotlines and stereotypes are still equally cliche, including the victimized transperson, and medical issues with hormone replacement. And, of course, the use of cisgender actresses playing trans men.

The one problem with Disclosure is that it often comes across as a feature-length commercial for Netflix—as a company, and to tout its progressive values. It is no coincidence that the people interviewed include performers from several Netflix projects: Laverne Cox is from Orange Is the New Black, and Jamie Clayton and Lilly Wachowski are from Sense 8 (Wachowski’s Matrix trilogy is currently also available on Netflix).

Although Pose airs on FX (a subsidiary of Hulu/Disney), Seasons One and Two hit Netflix just in time for June’s Pride Month (you can catch me as “Trans Phone Sex Worker #4” in Season 3). Even the clip from Tales of the City featuring this reviewer is from Netflix.

When discussing projects made by rival streaming services, the focus is on backstage scandal. One segment of Disclosure takes a look at Transparent, which is about a transwoman who comes out late in life. But instead of examining the storyline of the show, the discussion is about the “Me Too” accusations from transgender actresses on the show. Transparent is produced by rival streaming services, Amazon Prime.

Netflix had its own scandal about choosing to have cisgender actress Olympia Dukakis reprise her role as the trans character Anna Madrigal in Tales of the City. This scandal is glossed over in Disclosure.

Screened at this year’s virtual Tribeca Film Festival, Disclosure arrived on Netflix June 19, in a nearly prophetic degree of good timing.

Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Directed by Sam Feder, executive produced by Laverne Cox, produced by Amy Scholder. For more info, visit disclosurethemovie.com.

 

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