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Hollywood Heavyweights Back Calls for Better Trans Representation in Film

Production companies, talent agencies sign open letter in wake of Scarlett Johansson flap.

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Some influential Hollywood production companies and talent agencies are supporting a call for a more responsible approach in the telling of stories about the transgender community.

Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland, Ryan Murphy Productions, J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot and Greg Berlanti’s Berlanti Productions are among the 45 companies and advocacy groups that signed an open letter released Tuesday, Aug. 7 that called on Hollywood to ensure trans people are “brought to the table” to tell their own stories.

The open letter comes just weeks after actress Scarlett Johannson opted to drop out of a film in which she was set to play a trans man and amid a larger conversation about the importance of involving members of diverse groups in the creative process when their stories are told in film or on television.

In the open letter, spearheaded by Time’s Up’s 5050by2020 and GLAAD, the groups point to the power of storytelling to change perceptions. The trans community has been negatively affected from being “portrayed almost exclusively as tragic victims, psychotic killers, and one-dimensional stereotypes,” the open letter said.

“We believe that we are at an unprecedented cultural moment — a moment when we can ask Hollywood to use its power to improve the lives of trans people by changing America’s understanding about who trans people are,” the letter said. “We want to help you tell our stories —and we need your help to do it.”

GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis added in a statement: “Hollywood changed the game for gay and lesbian acceptance by telling compelling stories and involving community members in front and behind the camera. At a time when the industry is at a tipping point for empowering diverse voices and audiences are demanding more inclusion, Hollywood needs to prioritize transgender talent and stories.”

The letter’s release was complemented by the unveiling of a guidebook meant to act as a resource for those in Hollywood looking to tell transgender stories.

In a Variety roundtable, actress Laverne Cox, best known for her role on Orange Is the New Black, said seeing cisgender actors portraying transgender people “reinforces the idea that trans women are not really women and trans men are not really men and nonbinary people don’t exist.” (Cisgender is a term used to describe someone whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth).

“That is the basis of the discrimination that trans people experience,” Cox said.

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