When Bugs Bunny appeared as Brunhilda, looking hot AF in a bikini on the back of a rainbow unicorn, Elmer Fudd fell in wuv. But when he found out his Hilda was instead the very "him" he'd been hunting, Fudd reacted with anger, turning bedeviled red with renewed threats of murder.
That Warner Bros. cartoon episode What Opera, Doc? aired in 1950 and repeated the trope of transwomen as a target of violence that was already ingrained in television and movies. More than four decades later, at the end of Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, the audience is supposed to leave in stitches as everyone on screen vomits at the sight of a penis tucked into a pair of the villain's underwear.
From the earliest silent films, through the cross-dressing Norman Bates in Psycho and the Showtime lesbian-focused miniseries The L Word, (whose transman Max marked the first of his kind on television), the documentary Disclosure revisits the medium through the eyes of contemporary trans actors and writers. Their personal reflections land on the nuanced joy of understanding transness through the depiction in the television and films as well as the terror of the perpetuation of stereotype and sanctioned cruelty.
We would watch anything co-producer Laverne Cox puts her name to, but hearing her talk about what it felt like to see a trans character on The Jeffersons or watch the "disclosure" episode of Nip/Tuck, for example, took that admiration to a new level. So too, did words from the likes of Jazzmun, Bianca Leigh and Jen Richards.
Director Sam Feder should be commended for the approach: not just critique of the mainstream, but also a window into defiant and celebratory depictions of trans characters. Ever heard of the 1968 documentary The Queen? How about 1990s Paris is Burning, or better yet 2018's Pose, which center the story of trans women of color?
There's so much more to tell—and better ways to tell it—than The Crying Game.
+Learn from inside critique
-We'd have watched twice as much of it
Directed by Feder, with Cox, Jazzmun, Leigh and Richards
Netflix, TV-MA, 100 min.