Brokeback Mountain reimagined with all-trans cast and it’s 90 full minutes of unashamed queer excellence

A still from the 2005 film Brokeback Mountain showing actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger dressed in their cowboy outfits with Ledger standing close to Gyllenhaal with his arm around him

A virtual table reading of iconic gay romance Brokeback Mountain has been held by an all-transgender cast.

Brian Michael Smith, Jen Richards, Leo Sheng, Alexandra Grey and Theo Germaine were among the trans and non-binary actors to perform a 90-minute version of the Brokeback Mountain screenplay for New York’s annual LGBT+ film festival.

The Oscar-winning cowboy movie originally starred Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in the leads. Despite centering on a gay romance, none of the original film’s cast was LGBT+.

Released in 2005, the stars of Brokeback Mountain experienced some of the homophobic jokes told about LGBT+ people at the time – something that Jake Gyllenhaal later revealed that Heath Ledger would shut down, telling people that the homosexual storyline “wasn’t a joke to me”.

The all-trans reading was produced by Gaby Dunn, who’s spent the coronavirus lockdown making classic movies – The Breakfast Club, Clue, Oceans 11 – gayer.

“‘Brokeback’ to me is so much about masculinity. I thought the only way we could do it is to make it specifically trans,” said Dunn, who produced the live reading with Karl Saint Lucy. “These characters are so trapped by the gender roles.”

“I’m such a fan of film, but often when I watch the big budget stuff, like the Marvel movies, there’s no one gay,” she told NBC News. “I wanted to find a way to give people a chance to excel in roles they’d never be given the chance to do.”

Brokeback Mountain table read casts iconic trans actors to prove there’s no limit to queer talent.

Trans men Leo Sheng (The L Word) and Brian Michael Smith (Queen Sugar) play the lead roles of Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, respectively. Jen Richards, the actor and critic whose cutting soundbites about trans representation in Hollywood in the Netflix documentary Disclosure sparked a thousand memes, plays Alma Beers, Ennis’ wife.

“I get frustrated when people say: ‘Oh, we can’t find a trans actor to cast.’ Here they are — here’s an entire screen full of them,” Dunn added. “They can be in these big, Oscar-bait movies, too. Or in genre movies — or comedies. Where is my trans ‘The Hangover’, my trans ‘Gravity’? There’s so much missed opportunity.”

Jen Richards said: “Ninety-nine per cent of everything that comes my way is about being trans. And that’s fine. But it’s thrilling to play characters that have nothing to do with it.

“Beyond being a gay film, it’s very much a male movie. It’s all about masculinity and the trap it was for Ennis and Jack

“When you see it performed by trans men, the gender performance is so obvious. It’s definitely implied in the film, but we’re kind of bringing that element out more into the light.”

The virtual table reading took the 134-minute movie down to 90 minutes, and was screened at New York’s LGBT+ film festival, NewFest, on Sunday (October 18).