Released: 19th June
Seen: 21st June
In a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court, it is now illegal in the United States to fire someone for being gay or transgender. This has naturally made a lot of trans and gay people very happy while having the added benefit of making bigots cry because they can’t be bigots without consequence anymore. It’s fitting that this ruling came down during Pride month, especially a pride month where we’ve kind of had to shelve everything because of a pandemic. Sadly it’s not all good news, just as a positive ruling comes from the court the administration changes another rule that will allow discrimination in the healthcare system (because that’s the exact thing that needs to be done during a goddamn pandemic). Trans issues are a huge topic right now and Netflix recently released a film that focusses on just one small issue, trans representation in the media, and uses it as a springboard to remind us all about the importance of representation and just what that can do for a community.
Disclosure tells us a history of trans representation throughout the history of cinema and television and how it’s slowly evolved as more and more trans people have been able to tell their stories. Over the course of an hour and 40 minutes, we go from the silent era and images of men presenting feminine as the entirety of a joke through a lengthy history of cis men playing trans women all the way to recent revelatory series like Pose and Transparent, all the while interviewing trans women and trans men and getting their honest perspectives of every step along this long journey… a long journey that they manage to compress to an hour and a half in documentary form.
This film is, put simply, the best history lesson on the trans experience on film and TV that one could hope for. It doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable moments in history and actually shines a bright light on just how painful some moments were. These moments in film history that a cis person might look on as being no big deal are given weight when you see a trans person calling out what we’re actually seeing and its effects on the community. Take the ending of Psycho as one example they touch on, it led to an onslaught of movies where gender non-conforming men were perceived as dangerous sociopaths which is categorically false, but still led to a lot of violence and dismissal of trans women. This is a recurring topic, how the portrayals of trans women on screen leads to their treatment in the real world, not just with associations like that of Norman Bates but also the myriad of cis men playing trans women which leads to the false belief that trans women are men in wigs and dresses. All of this is brought up in the documentary and it’s eye-opening.
I like to think of myself as an ally to the trans community, in general, I believe all members of the LGBTQIA community should be there for each other in some fashion but watching this documentary makes you realise the ways that you may have inadvertently harmed people in the trans community, things you may have laughed at that may have put a trans person in a painful position. One example from the documentary is I Am Cait. I, like many, dunked on I Am Cait without even seeing it because Caitlyn Jenner is a person who… let’s just say she’s not exactly a role model, but this documentary points out how important that show was due to it allowing a large number of other trans women to tell their stories on a show that would undoubtedly be watched by a lot of people. In the end that’s what this documentary is about, the need for trans people to have the opportunity to tell their stories and how it can lead to some great things if we make that change.
If you’re curious about the history of trans representation in cinema then Disclosure is absolutely a must-see. Hell, it’s a must-see just because it’s a genuinely fascinating documentary that details an important section of the entertainment industry that we should be supporting. Seeing so many trans performers and writers and directors talking about how certain kinds of representation (both positive and negative) impacted their lives is important because it allows us to know how to be better about this topic. Just watch this documentary, I guarantee it will get you thinking and hopefully lead to more trans visibility than ever before.
TL;DR – Black trans lives matter, protect trans women and men at all costs and go watch this goddamn documentary