Monday, March 03, 2014

Gender Wars

     Jared Leto is only the second person in Oscar history to win the Academy Award for playing a person of the opposite sex. But why isn't everyone applauding him as such? The first person to do so was Linda Hunt in 1982 for Peter Weir's The Year of Living Dangerously, who won Best Supporting Actress for her vivid portrayal of not only a male dwarf, but a Chinese-Australian one. For the record, Hunt is neither a man, an Australian nor Chinese.

The 4' 9" Caucasian actress (who was diagnosed with a form of dwarfism when she was a child) was born in New Jersey and raised in Connecticut. The transgender community has railed against Leto's win of the same prestigious acting award for his role in last year's Dallas Buyers Club. Mainly because he is not a transgender woman in real life. He is simply a male actor playing a fictional character who was once a man, but decided to become a woman, who is also living with AIDS.

What kinda ticks me off, is the fact that not many in the media have really had the balls to come out and openly embrace the fact that Leto's character is in effect: FEMALE -- the way they did when Hunt won for playing a man. His character is not a homosexual, a cross-dresser nor an effeminate man in drag. He plays someone who began life as a man but chose to become a woman. That's kind of a big deal, especially on Oscar night. What's stopping anyone from completely playing a person of the opposite sex in a major film who isn't already transgender, living with AIDS or a half-Chinese dwarf? Okay, so it isn't the 1600s and we're not attending a theatre performance on the banks of the River Thames.

Generally speaking, Hollywood doesn't take those types of gender swap risks on a regular basis (Hunt won her Academy Award over thirty years ago); actress Felicity Huffman was nominated for Best Actress playing a transgender woman in Transamerica (2005); Hilary Swank won for playing a female to male transgender person in Boys Don't Cry (1999). No one got upset then. Then again, those performers didn't actually have ding dongs. Personally, the trans community are entitled to feel however they want about it, justified or not. But if they had things their way, it sounds as if instead of Dustin Hoffman playing a man with autism in Rain Man (1988), the part should have been played by an actual autistic actor.

Or instead of Hoffman as an out-of-work actor who impersonates a woman in order to find work in Tootsie (1982), the part should have been played by Meryl Streep, playing a man impersonating a woman who then falls in love with one of her female costars. Hell, at least she might have actually deserved an Oscar for that, instead of for playing one of those weird Spitting Image puppets pretending to be Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (2011).

The sad truth is, Hollywood is still largely just a pack of pathological millionaires, who may have been regular people at one point but have long since had their souls drained from all those paparazzi flashbulbs and gluten-free California health plates. Does it really matter who plays what sex and who wins a superlative for it? Ultimately the only thing that matters for an actor is how well they are able to translate the human condition. Were Hunt and Leto able to convey this effectively? The Academy seemed to think so. I guess you'll have to judge for yourself.

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