Why EastEnders should cast a transgender actor
Following the great "Who Killed Lucy?" storyline, EastEnders producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins is thinking about how to get people talking again. Could a transgender character be on the cards?
It looks like it after he told a group at National Student Pride last weekend that the EastEnders team "are looking at a trans storyline."
"I would want to cast a trans actor," Treadwell-Collins added. "You have to cast a trans actor, but you also don't want to mess up the story because it reaches so many people and a lot of our audience are quite traditional. The power of EastEnders is that we can change the world a little. You can change it gently and influence people who may be quite bigoted."
Writing for The Metro on Treadwell-Collins' revelation, Lee Hurley admitted he had initial concerns: "It’s always a transgender woman [who appears on screen] and even though the show haven’t yet decided on the character, trans guys like me simply do not exist on people’s radars, even less so than trans women."
However he added, "Then I stopped being selfish and throwing a tantrum and thought to myself 'at least they’re considering hiring a transgender actor to play the role rather than finding some random man and sticking a wig on him and hoping for the best'. That's some manner of progress at least."
And this is the point, right? It's all very well portraying transgender characters in TV shows and films but more often than not they're played by cisgender actors. Sure Coronation Street may have broken new ground with Hayley Cropper but she was played by cisgender actress Julie Hesmondhalgh. Nobody can deny how good Jared Leto was as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club — the role won him the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award — but it didn't stop people asking why a trans actor wasn't hired to play the part.
Fellow Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne has recently revealed that he is to play transgender woman Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl, a film about the life of Einar Wegener, who was one of the first transgender women to successfully undergo sex-reassignment surgery. Again the transgender community are questioning why a straight cisgender man has been hired to play the part. Not because Redmayne isn't a fine actor but because surely a transgender woman could bring great authenticity and sensitivity to the role.
"I think [what] casting non-trans actors in trans roles perpetuates is the sense that the trans person always kind of looks like their other-birth-assigned sex, and it doesn’t really account for what hormones do, what surgery does, what it’s like to live in a social gender long term," transgender historian and filmmaker Susan Styker told ThinkProgress. "It has the effect of making all trans people appear to be early-transitioning people.”
Still over the last few years we've had Laverne Cox in award-winning Netflix series Orange Is The New Black, Harmony Santana in Gun Hill Road and now Bethany Black in Channel 4's Cucumber. If a show with the reach and influence of EastEnders was to follow suit it would be a very big deal for the transgender community indeed.
"[It could] bring acceptance and tolerance and all the things we struggle with in a society that amplifies differences, often with disastrous consequences," said Hurley. "More than anything, it’s a chance to see someone on our TV screens who is like us. It might remove some of the loneliness and isolation felt by those disowned by their families because of something they can't comprehend. Done right, it could save lives."
He's not exaggerating. In November a study revealed the hidden extent of suicide attempts among young transgender people, with almost half of trans people under 26 saying they had attempted suicide. That's a hell of a lot of young people whose lives need saving.