Jared Leto Won an Oscar and I’m OK with That

As a trans* theatre professional, I feel conflicted about the brouhaha being raised over Jared Leto’s Best Supporting Actor win for playing a transwoman in Dallas Buyers Club.

jared leto holding his 2014 oscar

I’m bothered by the idea that a straight actor shouldn’t be cast to play a gay character, and a cis actor shouldn’t be cast to play a trans* role. If the reverse were held, then trans* actors would only ever be cast to play trans* characters – the roles for which are few and far between compared to cis roles. And gay actors would never be cast to play straight roles, which would rob us of many of our cinematic greats.

I support trans* actors being cast to play trans* roles, but not every actor is the right fit for every role. I wasn’t present for casting, so I don’t know whether they auditioned any transwomen, but it’s possible that of the actors they heard, Jared Leto was the best fit for the role in ways that trumped his sexual orientation and gender identity. Perhaps he had the best range, the best chemistry with the other actors already cast, the best rapport with the director, the most availability in terms of shooting schedule, or just gave the director the closest to what they were looking for to bring the part to life.

Jared Leto as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club

Should he have acknowledged the trans* community in his acceptance speech? Yes, that would have been the right thing to do. But the job of an actor is to act. To portray a character who might be radically different from who the actor is as a person. If he did his research, portrayed the character with sensitivity and skill, and brought a trans* character to life on screen with finesse, then he rightly deserves praise for his work, not opprobrium.

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~ by Nezu on 7 March 2014.

3 Responses to “Jared Leto Won an Oscar and I’m OK with That”

  1. I think that the issues is less of ‘he’s the best actor’ and more ‘were other trans actors given the chance?’ sort of thing. Since trans roles are already so far and few between, and trans actors are at a serious disadvantage in terms of the roles they CAN get, then I guess the brouhahaha does makes sense?

    After all, when the default for almost all Western-made films are white, cis, male, with the casting having to make an actual effort for the roles to be for NOT just the default, and an effort has to be made for diversity, I think that it is an important thing to think about, or be concerned with.

    • I don’t disagree with there being vocal protest over the lack of trans* roles, and over trans* actors not being considered for cis parts. I just think it’s barking up the wrong tree to be angry at this actor for his win. It may even be that the actor in question here is a bag of cis-privileged white male dicks, but he didn’t make the casting decision. And it’s even more wrong headed to declare that cis and straight actors shouldn’t be allowed to play trans* and gay roles.

      As I understand it, the real issue lies not with the actor, but with the casting director. I’ve been told that the director refused to audition any trans* actors (have not been able to confirm that), which is certainly damning if true.

      I’ve also head that the role in question, according to at least one source, was originally written to be a cross-dressing male who was not trans*, which might explain choosing not to audition trans* women for the part. If that was the case, and the role was changed to be a trans* character after casting was complete and the contracts were signed, that might also explain the casting choice here, although it’s not a pretty picture.

      Here’s what I believe: Casting directors need to audition more trans* actors, both for trans* and cis* roles. Screenwriters need to create more trans* parts. But more importantly, queer and trans* actors need to be called to auditions for cis and straight parts.

  2. […] (the inherent misogyny of beauty pageants notwithstanding.) Laverne Cox was on the cover of Time. Jared Leto won an Oscar for portraying a transwoman. There are books for parents of transgender children and sympathetic […]

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