Everything you need to know about trailblazing actress, model and ‘trans Barbie’ Hari Nef

Hari Nef will star in Greta Gerwig's new film, Barbie.

If you don’t know who Hari Nef is, then there’s a good chance you’ve been living in a cave with no internet access for a year. The trans actress, model and, most recently, Barbie cast member, has been making waves in Hollywood – and beyond.

Nef may not be a household name just yet, but millions of people are keeping their eye on her after she appeared in Barbie as a doctor where she’s first seen helping Ken (Ryan Gosling) heal from a surfing injury.

After a promotional poster featuring Dr. Barbie was released, Nef shared a letter she wrote to writer/director Greta Gerwig about what being cast in Barbie meant to her as a trans woman, writing: “Barbie’s the standard; she’s The Girl; she’s certainly THE doll. Me and my girlfriends–okay, yeah, me and my other transgender girlfriends– we started calling ourselves “the dolls” a couple of years ago…

“Maybe it’s a bid to ratify our femininity, to smile and sneer at the standards we’re held to as women… we call ourselves “the dolls” in the face of everything we know we are, never will be, hope to be. We yell the word because the word matters. And no doll matters more than Barbie.’

Born in Philadelphia, Nef is Jewish and moved to Boston with her mom when she was 5. She said she grew up “a weird, chubby, popular and artsy” Jewish kid who started off as an “overachieving, over-programmed public school student” and later became a “rebellious teenager” who did drugs and snuck off with boys.

Nef’s parents have always been supportive of her and her transition

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Nef made her acting debut in the Amazon series Transparent as Tante Gittel, who was a cross-dresser in Berlin and was eventually murdered during the Holocaust. The show won an Emmy and Nef was nominated for a SAG award for the role.

She also appeared in the Sam Levinson thriller Assassination Nation alongside Suki Waterhouse and had a recurring role as Talia in The Idol, also by Levinson, alongside Lily-Rose Depp and The Weeknd.

Hari Nef was the first trans model signed with IMG

Prior to acting, Nef made history as the first openly transgender woman to sign with the famous modelling agency IMG Worldwide, which has also signed Gigi Hadid, Gisele Bundchen, and Hailey Beiber.

Nef was barely out of university with a degree in theatre – she’s a Columbia grad! – when she first signed with IMG and walked in New York Fashion Week for Ekhaus Latta an dHood by Air.

She also appeared in campaigns for the historic department store Selfridges and handbag designer Mansur Gavriel.

Nef was also the first trans model to appear on the cover of Elle UK in September 2016.

Hari Nef has been outspoken about supporting her community

Hari Nef has said that Barbie will encourage trans women to ‘let go of the checklist’ (Getty Images)

Nef has been speaking out in favour of her community for a long time. Back in 2015, Nef tweeted: “I’m handed opportunities in 2015 as a white trans woman. 9 have been slain in the U.S. in 2015 because they were trans women of colour.”

She has said that she never meant to be an “activist” for trans people but that she also wasn’t going to sit by and be “passive [about] the injustice” that she’s seen.

More recently, after appearing in Barbie, Nef said she hoped that her appearance in the film will be a source of inspiration for trans viewers.

Speaking to Out Magazine, Nef said: “As much as there’s a celebration of femininity and being a girl in this [movie], there’s also an encouragement of letting go of the checklist we ascribe to living and living your life, and being in your body, your way, on your own terms.”

“The best that we can do as women, as trans women, is be there for [one another] and take ourselves at face value, without relying on the green light from anyone else.”

She also shared her desire to see more stories focused on trans people “that aren’t merely redemptive, that aren’t rooted in transition or discovery”.

“I’m excited for trans a*sholes on screen. I’m excited for trans anti-heroes on screen. I’m excited for trans scammers on screen. I’m excited for trans sex on screen. I’m excited for trans nudity on screen. There are a lot of things that we haven’t actually seen yet,” she said.

Hari Nef Barbie Poster
Hari Nef played a doctor in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie. (Warner Bros)

Hari Nef doesn’t want her gender to be ‘a big deal’

Nef is very open about her transition and her life as a trans woman but she also wishes that her gender, or gender in general, wasn’t such a big deal.

“I think that often my work is obscured by my gender identity. I don’t want it to be a big deal … Identity is a dead end. It’s a snoozefest,” she told The Guardian.

“My identity will always inform my experience and shape my perception. But I am an unremarkable person. The more we fixate on it the less we, as a community, [will] feel normal and safe in our day-to-day lives. I just want to grab a meal and, you know, go on a date,” she continued.

Nef’s casting in Barbie had nothing to do with her being trans either, but rather her talent – hence why gender isn’t a big deal for her.

Even so, Nef is proud of being a trans woman and previously told The New York Times that her transition helped to elevate her confidence in acting: “Finding my new voice and my new body and a new set of roles to play… felt so much more authentic. I always joke that I’m a better actress than I am a male actor.”

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