NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE A ctress Halle Berry has apologized for having the audacity to tell her hairstylist on Instagram Live that she was considering taking on the role of a transgender character. Berry, the Los Angeles Times reports, “revealed that she would probably lop off her hair to play the character in her next project and repeatedly misgendered the character during the interview.” Berry said that in playing “a woman that transitions to a man,” she would better “experience” and “understand” the transgender world. “Who this woman was is so interesting to me,” she said. “It’s really important to me to tell stories.” And even though the character is a transgender man, she added, “And that’s a woman. That’s a female story. A woman who transitions into a man, but I want to know the why and how of that.”
Inadvertently (and with the wokest of intentions) Berry committed two cardinal sins of transgender orthodoxy. First, she saw the character as essentially female, despite transitioning. Second, and more ridiculously, she was accused of appropriating the trans experience as well as depriving trans actors of the chance to play themselves. Efforts to reeducate Berry began immediately. “Trans people are so very tired of cis actors taking up roles that so many trans people would give anything to play,” one commentator wrote. “Your language is damaging. A woman doesn’t transition into a man. He is and always was a man.” But if he was always a man, what did he transition from and to? Another actor, Jordan Gonzalez wrote: “There are plenty of us trans actors who are more than capable of telling our stories, myself included.”
Then, in what was a surprise to precisely no one, Berry instantly recanted. “As a cisgender woman, I now understand I should not have considered this role, and that the transgender community should undeniably have the opportunity to tell their own stories.” But who, pray, is stopping trans people from “telling their stories”? Certainly not any mainstream tech companies, news outlets, publishers, or film and TV companies that I can think of.
The Berry episode recalls a similar A list actress’s run-in with the transgender film police. Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a piece for National Review entitled “The Mob Comes for Scarlett Johansson Again — and Wins Again.” As I wrote last year:
Where does it end? Must all Jewish characters be played by Jews? Must one-legged Spanish kings be played by one-legged Spanish kings? And in the context of the trans debate, are trans people to be excluded from playing “cis” people?
What’s more, I can’t help but notice that both Berry and Johansson were excluded from playing transgender men, whereas Eddie Redmayne was not only permitted to play a transgender woman in The Danish Girl, in 2015, but he received an Oscar nomination for it. By the standards of appropriation, Redmayne said and did some fairly offensive things in promoting that role. For instance, he said that putting on a red wig and lipstick made him appreciate the “male gaze.” He also had to backtrack after implying that The Danish Girl (as opposed to trans people themselves) was responsible for the mainstreaming of trans issues. When an interviewer for Indiewire asked whether he felt that, as a “cisgender actor,” he oughtn’t to play the character, he smugly replied: “I hope — as an actor one hopes — that one should be able to play any sort of part if one plays it with a sense of integrity and responsibility.”
Oh yes, one can only hope, Eddie. While we’re at it, what about Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie? He broke down in tears in one interview saying that the movie made him realize how much tougher life is as a woman. (For the record, whether one is “trans” or “cis,” putting on a dress and a higher voice does not equate with “the female experience.”) In any case, and disregarding her pathetic mea culpa, Halle Berry was right in this instance. The story of a transgender man is the story of a woman. The skyrocketing numbers of female-to-male transitions, especially in adolescent and young-adult women, are well worth pondering, at length. We should try to understand this recent and alarming phenomenon. But you won’t find help with that in Hollywood.