Michelle Rodriguez Faces Backlash Over Transgender Assassin Role, Offers Troubling Defense
Following the controversial news that non-trans actor Matt Bomer will play a transgender sex worker in the film adaptation of Always, many in the LGBTQ+ community are upset over the impending release of a forthcoming action-thriller in which Michelle Rodriguez also plays a transgender woman.
In (Re)Assignment, Rodriquez plays a male assassin who is forced to undergo gender reassignment surgery by a "rogue surgeon" played by Sigourney Weaver. After waking up, she seeks revenge on the doctor who performed the operation, for turning her into a woman.
In the film, formerly titled Tomboy: A Revenger's Tale, Rodriguez's character is forced to participate in the surgery, creating a violent message that some feel is transphobic: That being transgender is a punishment [and could forcibly be imposed on an unwilling person].
The casting of Rodriguez, who is cisgender female ("cisgender" refers to individuals who self-identify with the gender that corresponds to their sex at birth), also raises many other issues — including the notion that by continually casting non-trans actors in trans roles, the experience of transgender people becomes performance art rather than the reflection of actual lived experiences. It also takes away job opportunities for actors who are actually transgender.
Rodriguez also seems to lack a nuanced understanding of the trans experience and the hardships faced by that community, which includes a lack of physical safety and job discrimination.
When asked by a TMZ cameraman about her thoughts on the backlash to the film, the actress replied, "If anything, it's freakin' promoting it."
"No press is bad press, baby! You know what I mean?" Rodriguez added. "I remember a day when white people were playing black people. So it's just about the evolution."
She then insensitively misgendered and mistook Caitlyn Jenner's name, before reducing being transgender to a "popular subject matter."
"Thank Kris Jenner for becoming who he became," Rodriguez said. "And now you have a popular subject matter that nobody wanted to make a movie about, and now everybody's on it."
In footage captured on the set of the film, Rodriguez can be seen stumbling out of a sketchy-looking building after waking up from the procedure. Wearing nothing but a blood-spattered white robe, the disheveled and distressed character paints a particularly grisly and brutal image of what it means to be a trans woman.
When the movie was first announced back in 2015, GLAAD spokesperson Nick Adams condemned the film.
"We haven’t read the script, but it’s disappointing to see film-makers turning what is a life-saving medical procedure for transgender people into a sensationalist plot device," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "We are at a crucial moment in the public’s understanding of transgender issues, and stories like these have the potential to undermine the progress we’ve worked so hard to achieve."
Now, the transgender community is asking the public to boycott the film in an effort to send the message that this type of misrepresentation is not okay—as well as to tell Hollywood in general, "Do better."
(Re)Assignment will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
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