Moving on from Jared Leto; Why trans actors don’t usually get trans roles

different for girlsLEXIE CANNES STATE OF TRANS — Jared Leto is just a hired hand. It was a mistake for anyone in our community to think an actor should also take on the role of an advocate of some sort for the persona portrayed in a film. Dwelling on the blunders of Jared Leto will not solve the real issue at hand — trans actors for trans roles.

In a perfect world, yes, of course we should fill trans characters roles with transgender actors. We’ve a number of great actors to choose from. So why isn’t it happening?

The short answer: money — we don’t have any.

Not-so-trivia fact: Seven out of 10 films lose money, two break even, and only one becomes a “blockbuster”.

Virtually all big money films are green lit by investors (executive producers) based on “A-list” stars they’ve chosen to commit to the project. Directors, writers and producers rarely have final say in who gets cast in the lead roles. Investors look for someone who will fill seats, hence Jared Leto. At this stage in her career, Laverne Cox has virtually no chance of someone investing $50 million plus in her.

Another not-so-trivia fact: The majority of screenplays in serious consideration don’t get green lit.

A director or producer shopping around a screenplay with a major transgender character that they insist be Laverne Cox will find no buyers among traditional film investors. Sure, the trans community can underwrite the film themselves, but with films being bad investments, who but those that have money to lose would step up?

With time and a bit of luck, the Laverne Coxes in our community may find someday themselves on Hollywood’s “A-list”. In the meantime however, our demands for trans actors for trans roles is likely to remain ignored by those who pony up the cash to produce films.


In my opinion, one of the best transgender characters portrayals caught on film was by Steven Mackintosh as “Kim” in the UK film “Different for Girls.” His performance was spot-on — posing a huge challenge for any actor, trans or cis, to top.

different for girls


“Lexie Cannes” — an award-winning feature film about a transgender woman who is stalked, solves a mystery, saves a lost soul and finds love. Get it here:   

LEXIE CANNES STATE OF TRANS is associated with Wipe Out Transphobia:

Read Lexie Cannes in The Huffington Post:

Categories: "Lexie Cannes" (the movie) and filmmaking, Transgender, Transsexual, Trans

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18 replies

  1. And if you’re a trans actor and aren’t a Laverne Cox-type, all the harder. So far as the folks writing the checks are concerned, trans people are all female and all glamorous.

    And this is all the more frustrating because the points stated here are spot on.

  2. The thing is, it’s not ONLY about the money. I recently auditioned for a lead role in a short film (unpaid work and the film was crowd funded). I didn’t get the part, despite my impressing with my interpretation and showing that I take direction well; because of my “lack of camera experience, given the brief window available for shooting” was seen as being “too much of a gamble”. So yeah, it was about the money, kinda…

    So, we don’t get cast because we’re not seen to be experienced enough and we’re not seen to be experienced enough because we don’t get cast… so we don’t get cast because we don’t get cast… yay for zen erasure…

    The positive is that after further rounds of auditions, they did wind up casting a trans woman in the role. Thing is, though she’s rather better known than I am, film isn’t what she’s known for either… the other positive is that I established some dialogue and advised on de-stereotyping some of the content, for which contribution I’ve been promised a credit. Small steps!

  3. Although I do sympathise with trans actors struggling to be cast in things, the answer isn’t to campaign for trans roles for trans people. Thats asking for the craft of acting to turn into something it isn’t. Just as Leonardo Di Caprio doesn’t need Wall Street experience to play Jordan Belfort, Meryl Streep shouldn’t have to have been a fashion mogul to act in ‘The Devil Wears Prada. Even Helen Mirren hasn’t actually been a monarch, though sometimes acts as though she has.

    Its what acting is. Actors play the part of something they aren’t, we judge how well they did. As trans people, that is how we should view Jared Leto’s performance; was his portrayal realistic or not? If not, we say so. We don’t call for the person playing an acting role to have actually lived it!

    Its a double-edged sword anyway. I would think the Laverne Cox’s of the world would want the oppertunity to play all kinds of roles (including, maybe especially, non-trans roles) and would be quite distressed to find themselves in what would surely become an awful type-casting situation.

    The ‘trans for trans roles’ idea is also getting a little disturbing in itself as at least one commentator has, absurdly, likened non-LGBT people playing LGBT roles as akin to ‘putting on black face’ (Alonso Duralde, ‘The Wrap’.

    I don’t profess to know the answer for trans actors who don’t feel they pass like Cox and struggle to get parts, but I’m certain it isn’t that.

    • I think you thinking that non-LGBT people playing LGBT people is absurd is perfectly fair, but only if I remove the T. Trans people physicalities are most often a few ticks removed from the norm of what people like to think of as male and female, and being T is not about someone’s sexual orientation. I think blackface-era casting politics is very comparable to omissions the T community is dealing with in film and television roles today, and I look forward to seeing more conscientious directors and producers cast real trans people for trans characters. That has to happen first. And then when being trans is less of an issue in society, a daisy can challenge herself being cast as a bullfrog.

  4. Obviously I can’t say “I love you!” for mentioning Mackintosh in “Different for Girls” (probably the ONLY film that gets what it mens to be trans right).
    But I LIKE you a whole lot.
    That said, not as sure of the money thing as I am of the “shock” value in productions like “The Crying Game”, “Breakfast on Pluto” or “Hit and Miss”.
    Amazon has just green lit “Transparent” which impresses me as little more then a “Portnoy’s
    Complaint” with a late transitioning trans woman on the couch (no, no shock value there, move along).
    I’d rather see “Different for Girls” re imagined as an American production.
    Done right.
    Likely the only film about Ts that left you with the feeling of wanting more of Kim and Paul’s story.

  5. Sorry Meera, but blackface was never an attempt to accurately portray black people, but to cruelly caricature and mock them.

    Hardly comparable to Leto’s performance, like it or hate it.

    Any actor can physically portray a trans person. Whether it is an accurate portrayal or not is down to their acting abilities.

    I don’t suggest that trans actors shouldn’t ever play trans roles, but calling upon producers/directors to cast people in roles according to their actual gender identity instead of ability is a terrible idea.

    Across the board, what we see in movies and the like is called acting. People playing the part of someone they are not. What on earth makes you think that trans roles should be singled out for special treatment?

    Besides, they’re not documentaries!


  6. Film | trans* played by trans*? | performance (my opinion)
    Gun Hill Road | yes | 9/10
    Wild Side | yes | 8/10
    Boys Don’t Cry | no | 7/10
    Transamerica | no | 3/10
    Dallas Buyer’s Club | no | 1/10

    See a pattern here? Even if for the sake of argument all there was to care about was the quality of performances, that would still be a good reason to want more trans* roles to be played by trans* actors.

  7. I am not particularly well-versed in cinema . . . I just know what I like, I guess. In the meantime, a trans*male actually DID win an Oscar and he won it because he is actually awesome at what he does — Aleka McAdams. Check him out. He won for special effects on “Frozen.” As I watched Jared Leto’s performance, I cringed . . . At least Dustin Hoffman was honest. LOL. When I heard about the award – I did not watch, I never do – I imagined that the decision was made by people who said to each other: “Now THAT’s a gutsy performance!” When what they were thinking was something more like: “Now THAT’s a tranny!!” Like I said, i imagined it, but that’s because I’m more than a little frustrated lately. Anyway, sometimes I hate my imagination, and sometimes I hate the movies, too. I don’t apologize for how I feel (but I do apologize for my rant here). Lexie, your piece was right on the mark. Thank you. BTW, I am posting these comments on Facebook, too. Just saying.

  8. The logic of capitalism.

    Money + Patriarchality -> Exclusion & body/sex-hierarchie –> more money & patr. –> more exclusion …

    so don´t feed capitalism & patriarchalic/normative maonstream

  9. In ancient times and up until the last few hundred years or so EVERY part of ANY productions were played by male actors. Just as getting everyone a vote and healthcare and equal rights etc. time is always needed. I am sure at some point in the future there will be a famous enough trans person we can admire for their acting abilities but until such time do as the Romans did and use your imagination, its all make believe remember.


  1. Trans* im Film: Das wollen wir ändern | jayromeaufdeutsch
  2. Représentation des Trans* au cinéma : On va changer ça. | ICH BIN EIN BERLINER QUEER
  3. Transgender juxtaposition: Gorgeous (and nude) vs. “schlumpy” | LEXIE CANNES STATE OF TRANS
  4. Trans actors only for trans roles? An artist’s perspective. – LEXIE CANNES STATE OF TRANS

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