Hollywood giants back calls for ‘authentic’ transgender representation after Scarlett Johansson row

A number of major Hollywood companies have backed an effort to ensure genuine transgender representation in Hollywood.

An open letter signed by a string of major production companies and talent agencies calls for a new approach to trans inclusion – after a number of projects with cisgender actors playing trans roles caused controversy.

The letter, headed by transgender people in the industry, calls on people to “Hollywood to use its power to improve the lives of trans people” by telling trans stories “authentically” with trans actors and creatives.

The letter was organised by GLAAD and the 5050by2020 equal representation initiative, and is backed by major talent agencies CAA, UTA, and WME and signed by the production companies of big-name creators including Ryan Murphy, Judd Apatow, Shonda Rhimes, Greg Berlanti, Jill Soloway and JJ Abrams.

It says: “Hollywood tells the stories that help people understand how to feel about themselves and how to feel about people around them who are different. As Roger Ebert said, film is an empathy machine.

“We know projects like Ellen, Will & Grace, Brokeback Mountain, Milk, and Moonlight helped destroy stereotypes about gay and lesbian people, and the timeline for marriage equality would have been remarkably different without them.

“Recently, women and people of color have made it clear they want more authentic stories about their lives in films and on TV. Trans people feel the same way.”

It adds: “We are grateful that Hollywood is starting to embrace these myriad points of view. We also know that some people feel we are being overly sensitive about exactly how these trans stories are developed and told.

“As trans people, we have grown up watching stories told about us by people who haven’t done their homework when it comes to the trans community. We have been portrayed almost exclusively as tragic victims, psychotic killers, and one-dimensional stereotypes.

“We have been confused with drag queens, seen our history erased in historical films, and been ridiculed for gender expressions that don’t conform to social norms.”

The letter adds: “We believe that we are at an unprecedented cultural moment – a moment when we can ask Hollywood to use its power to improve the lives of trans people by changing America’s understanding about who trans people are. We want to help you tell our stories – and we need your help to do it.

“This is about more than diversity and inclusion. It’s about empowering trans people and sharing with us the tools and access that have been offered to you throughout your career.

“It’s about offering people who are different from you the confidence and the sense of belonging that inspires the very best art.

“We know Hollywood is a business, as well as a creative community. We are not asking you to stop making money.

“We are asking to be brought to the table, so that our knowledge, talent, and stories can help improve your work and increase its value.”

Scarlett Johansson (Noam Galai/Getty for New York Magazine)

GLAAD and 5050by2020 have produced a TRANSform Hollywood guidebook for creatives that gives “information about how to find trans actors and cast trans roles authentically, advice on engaging with trained and experienced trans creators as you develop your work, suggestions on where to find projects created by trans people that you can develop for film and television [and] tips on how to make all of your work more trans-inclusive.”

The guide cautions against casting major cisgender stars as trans people in projects.

It says: “The world is evolving, and today it is a mistake, especially if you are cross-sex casting (a cis man to play a trans woman, or a cis woman to play a trans man.) It simply isn’t cost effective to take this risk; recent projects which cast cis actors to play trans roles have felt the tide of public opinion turn against them and have taken a hit at the box office.