We are now, quite rightly, seeing the prominence of both transgender characters and transgender actors increasing. This year alone, UK TV show Cucumber/Banana saw transgender actress and stand up comedian Bethany Black take the role of Helen and has since been confirmed to join the cast of Dr. Who. In the U.S., transgender actress Laverne Cox reprised her role as Sophia in Orange is the New Black having also appeared on I Want To Work For Diddy (2008) and hosting her own makeover show TRANSform Me (2010).
One of the most talked about and highly commended films currently released in the film circuit is The Danish Girl. The film sees actor Edie Redmayne, adulated for his performance as Stephen Hawking in Theory of Everything, portray the true story of Lili Elbe. Elbe began life as Einar Wegener but when he begins standing in for his artist wife’s female models, Einar begins to dress in female clothes and eventually becomes the first ever recipient of male to female gender reassignment surgery.
Over the years, a number of transgender characters have been brought to the big screen so TheRichest wondered what were the best portrayals of transgender stories that have graced the silver screen. Here is our top 10.
10. Breakfast On Pluto (2005)
In the 1970s, a young transgender woman named Kitten (Patrick) Braden leaves Ireland. She wants to find her mother but she also needs to escape the oppressive small town she calls home, where her gender identity is neither accepted nor understood. Written by Neil Jordan, who also wrote The Crying Game, the film follows Kitten as she traverses a number of slightly unbelievable situations such as getting involved with a rock band, escaping the IRA, becoming a Womble, entering the world of prostitution, gaining a job as a magician’s assistant, getting arrested as a suspected terrorist and working in a peep show.
The film may not have the depth or substance of The Crying Game, but it explores a variety of topics, including self image, identity and how that can be received by others.
9. The Crying Game (1992)
Neil Jordan’s Oscar-winning screenplay, originally titled The Soldiers Wife, begins as an IRA war drama following IRA member Fergus who is the man in charge of guarding Jody, a prisoner due to be executed. In the process, Fergus pursues Jody’s girlfriend, a trans-gendered woman.
The Crying Game looks at love, gender, sexuality and identity against a the backdrop of Ireland’s troubles, which in contrast to the emotional turmoil of the relationship between Fergus and Dil, seem diminished. Full of twists and turns, this emotionally-charged masterpiece is a must see.
8. Soldier’s Girl (2003)
A less well known piece of cinema produced by Showtime, Soldier’s Girl is all the more dramatic for being based on true life events. Much like the films that came out of the murder of Matthew Shepherd in Laramie (such as The Laramie Project), Soldier’s Girl utilizes the gravitas provided by the knowledge these events actually happened to tell the story of Barry Winchell, a private in the US army who meets a transgender showgirl called Calpernia. The two begin seeing each other regularly and Barry’s roommate Justin begins to spread rumours around the army base pertaining to Barry and Calpernia’s relationship. Barry is victim to increasing verbal abuse and humiliation by those at the base, goaded by his roommate. Events lead to a savage murder on a Fourth of July weekend, whilst Calpernia is performing in a pageant.
Soldier’s Girl is a savage and unrelenting look at the issues faced by both transgender individuals but also by people who accept them. The film looks at the dangers associated with relationships society deems abnormal. The film is first and foremost a tragic love story. It just so happens that one of the two is transgender. And ultimately, that small fact is the downfall of Barry.
7. Transamerica (2005)
Stanley Chupak is a pre-operation male to female transsexual living as Bree Chupak. When Bree finds out that she has been approved for her gender re-assignment surgery, her therapist forces her to deal with one aspect of her past that has come back to haunt her. Bree fathered a son. Now 17, Toby resides in a New York jail and wants to find out who his natural Dad is. Under the guise of a caring social worker, Bree bails Toby out and they then embark on a journey to Los Angeles where Toby hopes to become a star. What follows is a journey of discovery for both of them.
Transamerica is a film about parental disapproval as well as the internal struggle faced by many in terms of ‘coming out’ and keeping a secret. The film looks at issues surrounding how transgender people may feel about telling people who they really are and the stigma they face.
6. Normal (2003)
Jane Anderson directs a much underrated film about a man who wishes to become a woman. Irma and Roy Applewood are a happily married couple living in midwestern America. Roy upsets the apple cart after 25 years of marriage by declaring that he is a woman trapped inside a man’s body and wishes to go through gender re-assignment surgery and live his life as a woman.
Normal explores the issues surrounding gender, relationships and acceptance. Ruth (previously Roy) faces prejudice at work as well as friction at home. Very emotionally turbulent and real issues are dealt with in a sensitive, yet light way that makes them accessible whilst also poignant. It deals with both positive and negative reactions to Ruth’s transition and highlights the heartbreak and mockery that can come from a brave decision.
5. Wild Side (2004)
Stephanie is a transsexual prostitute living in Paris. When her mother becomes ill, Stephanie travels to the small French village where her mother lives to care for her. Her two lovers go along for the ride and what follows is an exploration of her life to date: how she went from a small boy named Pierre to an adult female prostitute named Stephanie. This brings with it a host of dramas and memories as Stephanie’s mother can only see her little boy rather than the woman he developed into.
Wild side looks at a person’s struggles with identity. The film depicts the main character’s journey, from little boy to adult female.
4. Different For Girls (1996)
Back in high school in the 1970s, Karl and Paul were best friends. They meet again in London two decades later, however things have changed somewhat. For a start, Karl is now called Kim having gone through gender reassignment surgery. Gradually, these two become reacquainted despite being very different. As feelings between the two begin to develop after a few dates, Paul freaks out at the prospect of a burgeoning relationship with a transsexual and causes a scene outside Kim’s home. They then face more obstacles and dramas, not least of all Paul selling their story to a tabloid for a quick buck.
Different for Girls looks at the difficulties faced when entering into a transgender relationship. What is refreshing is that Kim is completely comfortable as herself. This film focuses on other people’s issues coming to terms with it, rather than her own.
3. The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert (1994)
The Adventures of Priscilla is the story of three Australian friends, two male drag queens known as Mitzi and Felicia and a transgender woman named Bernadette. The three decide to travel across Australia to perform their drag-fabulous cabaret show at a resort in Alice Springs. A multitude of misadventures befall them as they make their way across the country in a bus painted pink. The film is a fun frolic across the outback but one that highlights the persecution of both the drag queen community and the trans-gendered community. Bernadette highlights the importance of staying strong, and how to drink spirits!
2. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
Born in East Berlin, a young man named Hedwig undergoes a cheap, “back-alley” gender reassignment operation in order to marry the US soldier he loves and leave Germany. Not surprisingly, the operation did not go according to plan and Hedwig was left with a one inch mound of flesh, affectionately known as the ‘Angry Inch’. Rejected by his military lover a few weeks later, Hedwig falls for a young, all-american Christian boy named Tommy. Hedwig becomes his mentor and they fall in love and write music together. Or so Hedwig thinks. Tommy runs away with Hedwigs lyrics and songs and becomes a world famous rockstar whilst Hedwig and his band ‘The Angry Inch’ are internationally ignored. The film follows Hedwig and the Angry Inch as they follow Tommy on his tour whilst Hedwig tries to file a law suit and tells her life story to anyone in the crowds of their small coffee shop gigs that will listen.
Hedwig is an angry extravaganza of upfront inappropriateness with a rock music soundtrack, which only accentuates the anger. Hedwig sings a tale of love, betrayal, gender and identity confusion and, of course, an Angry Inch.
1. Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
By far Hilary Swank’s best performance, Boys Don’t Cry is a brave and powerful look at sexuality, gender, identity and mental health. Swank plays Teena Brandon, who is living life as male Brandon Teena. As Brandon gets into repeated trouble where he is currently living, he decides to cut his losses and leave. He ends up in back-end-of-nowhere, Nebraska. Here he falls in with a group of law-breaking misfits and falls for blonde free spirit Lana. When the guys in the group discover Brandon’s secrets, the repercussions are dramatic and not easy to watch.
The film takes unapologetic and honest view on gender identity that does not shy away from the ugly truths that come with it. Director Kimberley Pierce highlights the view of gender identity as an illness and the effects that can have on a person’s mental well-being as well as looking at the idea of love transcending gender.
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