in Uncategorized

Well, as long as I'm asking "Why?" questions, I might as well ask this one…

I have often wondered about the accolades that go to actors in Hollywood for playing certain roles. Two examples come to immediately to mind: Felicity Huffman was recently widely applauded for her portrayal of a pre-op male-to-female (MTF) transgendered person in the movie Transamerica and, not so long ago, Tom Hanks won an Oscar for his portrayal of a man with a mental disability in Forest Gump. Thus, in the first instance, we have a woman portraying a person born male who is transitioning to being a female, and in the second case who have a person with a normal intelligence, portraying a person with a “low IQ.”*
This then is my question: why wouldn't the movie studies hire an actual pre-op MTF person to play the first role, and an actual person with a mental disability to play the second role? There are, after all, aspiring actors who possess these characteristics. I wonder what this says about Hollywood's (and, by extension, popular culture's) attitude to people with these characteristics. Is it possible that, even as we produce movies that are intended to increase audience sensitivity to certain issues, we are actually promoting the marginalization of said individuals?
Now I realize that acting is about entering into the role of a fictional character and thereby becoming somebody or something that you are not. I mean, I don't expect Hollywood to only film soldiers as soldiers, or doctors as doctors, or whatever. However, there is something about the first two examples that irks me. Perhaps another example might help explain this. Imagine, if you will, a white actor being hired to portray a black hero — say Brad Pitt is hired to play Martin Luther King Jr. Now, do we think that Pitt would be widely applauded for playing this role? I suspect not. Indeed, I suspect that there would be a rather large outcry from the black community. I suspect that hiring Pitt to play that role would be seen as (at best) highly insensitive, and (at worst) as blatantly racist. Heck, I suspect that Pitt, and any other white actor, wouldn't touch that role with a ten foot pole.
Thus, when we read our first two (real) examples in light of this (fictional) example, my suspicion is that similar complaints have been voiced by the transgendered community, and by the community of people with disabilities — but I suspect that they, by and large, lack media attention and lobbying power in Hollywood and so those complaints have gone unheard.
I suppose I will have to ask my friends who are involved in those communities what they think about these things. I would, however, be curious to hear what any readers think about this (if y'all even care).
* I also wonder a little bit about the way in which Hollywood seems to be enamoured by “beautiful” people playing “ugly” roles. After all, both Hillary Swank (in Boys Don't Cry) and Charlize Theron (in Monster) were awarded Oscars for playing characters that required them to disguise their beauty. Would more “ugly” women have received such accolades if they had portrayed these characters convincingly?

Write a Comment