This Doc Is A Wakeup Call About Transgender Representation in Hollywood

Welcome to “What’s Good,” a weekly column where we break down what’s soothing, distracting, or just plain good in the streaming world.
Photo: Courtesy of Ava Benjamin Shorr/Netflix.
What’s Good? Disclosure on Netflix
Who It’s Good For: I know that it’s cliché to say something is “required viewing,” but that’s the best way to sum up Disclosure. This documentary tracks Hollywood’s failure to accurately represent transgender people dating back to the beginning of cinema with racist and transphobic filmmaker D.W. Griffith all the way up to present day’s celebration of transgender and non-binary characters like Jules in Euphoria, Taylor on Billions, and the wonderful cast of Pose.
It dismantles decades of transgender representation on screen and features notable transgender people (like Orange Is The New Black star Laverne Cox and Pose’s MJ Rodriguez) exploring the affects these damaging pop culture depictions have had on their community. Add Disclosure to the canon of must-see films like Paris Is Burning or The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson that challenge everything we’ve been conditioned to believe about transgender people, especially transgender people of colour, and celebrates their existence instead of diminishing it. This is for people who love documentaries and anyone who wants to be more educated on how the images we consume inform our world view. 
How Good Is It? There’s a moment in Disclosure when Laverne Cox becomes visibly shaken recalling the depiction of a transgender woman in Nip/Tuck. She’s on the verge of tears as she remembers the show’s big reveal that a character named Ava, played by Famke Janssen, is a transgender woman. The show’s lead, Christian Troy, runs out of a sexual encounter with Ava and says, “Ava is a man” in disgust to his colleague. “I want to cry talking about this narrative… this is what happens to us when we watch,” Cox says. “I wonder if anyone, when they were constructing these storylines, thought about the trans people watching.” Cox is hitting on one of the biggest stains on TV and film history. It’s clear that too many filmmakers and screenwriters were not thinking of the trans kids watching their humanity being stripped away, character by character, and joke by joke.
The Laverne Cox scene is followed by a montage of men vomiting on screen in response to trans women. Movies that we grew up with and were widely revered, like The Hangover: Part II and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, perpetuate the violent and horrific notion that trans bodies are to be met with revulsion. Watching these clips now and in the context of this film, it’s hard to believe there was ever a time (and not that long ago) that it was acceptable to portray trans people in these dehumanizing, one-dimensional ways. Disclosure holds up a mirror to the awful trans stereotypes that Hollywood has created and asks us all to re-examine and unlearn the stories we were taught. 
The doc also speaks to how the erasure of trans men except for in traumatizing stories (Boys Don’t Cry) can still be damaging even when a film is powerful or handled delicately. Disclosure also examines how harmful it is when cis men play trans women (Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyer’s Club) and when talk-show hosts give insensitive interviews (Oprah is featured asking a trans model about her genitals in a clip from The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2011).
If this current moment of resistance and reckoning has taught us anything, it’s that anti-Black racism and transphobia cost people their lives (justice for Tony McDade and Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells) and that confronting these realities may not be comfortable, but it’s urgent and necessary. “I never thought I’d live in a world where trans people would be celebrated on or off the screen,” Cox says. It’s powerful to see Hollywood’s progression (Ryan Murphy is responsible for that gross Nip/Tuck portrayal but is now giving us Pose) but there’s also still so much work and unlearning to be done. Disclosure is a stunning film that holds Hollywood accountable to keep doing just that. 
Things that are also good:
• Having a good, cathartic, and heartwarming cry to A Secret Love, another documentary on Netflix, that follows a 60-year long love story between two women
• Rewatching Moonlight
• Realizing that it’s now too hot to wear all of those sweatsuits you bought during quarantine so just refusing to wear pants altogether. Just me?
• Beyoncé’s Black is King trailer
• The fact that Canada's Drag Race premieres this Thursday
Defunding the police

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