Zoolander fans eagerly waited more than a decade for the sequel to the cult classic, but some viewers aren’t nearly as excited about what they’ve seen of the upcoming film so far.
The film may not be getting its theatrical release until February of next year, but the recently released trailer featuring Benedict Cumberbatch is already creating controversy.
In news that will undoubtedly displease Cumberbatch’s devoted fan base, the popular star’s androgynous supermodel persona in Zoolander 2 is being lampooned as highly offensive. So much so, in fact, that an online petition is urging fans to skip seeing the sartorial farce made famous by Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.
The petition states: “In the Zoolander 2 trailer, an androgynous character played by Benedict Cumberbatch is asked by Zoolander and Hansel if he is a ‘male or female model,’ and if they ‘have a hot dog or a bun.’ Additionally, Cumberbatch’s character is clearly portrayed as an over-the-top, cartoonish mockery of androgyne/trans/non-binary individuals. This is the modern equivalent of using blackface to represent a minority.”
It’s getting traction, too. To date, the petition has garnered 6,200 of the 7,000 signatures it is seeking.
The fan fervor over Zoolander 2 has been building since Paris Fashion Week, when Stiller and Wilson crashed the runway as their fashion-forward alter egos, Derek and Hansel. Interest in the follow-up film seemed to pique with the release of the latest trailer, largely due to cameos by Cumberbatch and Blue Steel facial expression guru, Justin Bieber.
Still, judging by Twitter and the steam the online petition is picking up, it’s clear not everyone is happy with the direction the Zoolander franchise is headed.
There's a transphobic joke in the first 40 seconds of the Zoolander 2 trailer, so I'll be taking a hard pass on that movie.
— Sfé ✨⚧✨ Monster (@sfemonster) November 19, 2015
not even a minute into the zoolander 2 trailer and theirs a transphobic joke
— megan☀️ (@ghostmustard) November 18, 2015
Warning: Transphobia in The Zoolander 2 trailer. Basically Benedict Cumberbatch's character is a transphobic joke. pic.twitter.com/pCXst8PjX7
— Fangirl Jeanne (@fangirlJeanne) November 18, 2015
— Sexy Claus 💃🎄 (@guiltyx) November 18, 2015
— Leo Hollen Jr. (@leothemanlion) November 18, 2015
Obviously, transphobia is no laughing matter. The representation of the trans people in TV and film often comes across as a caricature, which marginalizes trans people and perpetuates unrealistic and oftentimes dangerous stereotypes of the LGBTQ community at large.
As Rose points out in the petition, “If the producers and screenwriters of Zoolander wanted to provide social commentary on the presence of trans/androgyne individuals in the fashion industry, they could have approached models like Andreja Pejic to be in the film.”
On the other hand, one could argue that Zoolander deals in hyperbole and that every character is an exaggerated representation of fashion tropes.
Also, Cumberbatch is an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ community — late last year, he told Out magazine in an interview, “People are being beheaded in countries right now because of their beliefs or sexual orientations. It’s terrifying. It’s medieval — a beheading! I’d take up arms against someone who was telling me I had to believe in what they believed or they would kill me. I would fight them. I would fight them to the death.”
Of course, he wouldn’t be the first actor to make an unfortunate misstep. Check out the Zoolander 2 trailer below. Do you think Cumberbatch’s character is offensive?