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It’s been hard to miss the controversy surrounding the newly revealed Zoolander 2 trailer. The first thing I heard about it was the controversy surrounding it’s supposedly “transphobic” nature.
I then saw that there was even a petition to boycott the film, and has at the time of writing, been signed by 11,219 people.
According to the petition: “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.”
Trans Media Watch also weighed in: “It is difficult to form a clear impression of what Benedict Cumberbatch’s character is like from the trailer alone, but we would have preferred to see a trans person in this role.”
“Not only is it very difficult for non-binary actors to find work, but there is still very limited public understanding of non-binary people. Given the hostility many encounter in their day-to-day lives, we feel it’s particularly important for producers to think carefully about representation.”
Before we begin, I suggest you watch the trailer below before I start.
The original Zoolander is a comedy. It relentlessly takes the p*ss out of everybody, including the cisgender, white, male main characters. Everyone is up for grabs in Zoolander’s world, no one is exempt. The great thing about Zoolander, as silly as it was, is that it made fun of the cliche and made them look very dumb indeed.
It portrayed the male model as selfish and self-centered, and fashion designers as evil. Countless people – gay, lesbian, bisexual, black, hispanic, you name it, have all been mercilessly mocked under the scope of comedy. If this film was all about making fun of transgender people, then yes, I would be 100% with that you that it would be transphobic. But, it isn’t. Everyone is fair game here.
No one has seen Zoolander 2 yet, so we should wait to see the film before judging. However, we can pretty much expect Zoolander 2 to be more of the same. Stupid, over the top, and stacked to the brim with cliches. Just looking at the trailer, it mercilessly mocks the main two characters within the first half, labeling them as “old” and “lame”, plus the thick humour of Derek Zoolander’s various poses that all look the same.
I will agree that, yes, there needs to a greater representation of transgender individuals, as well as more roles offered to transgender actors in Hollywood. You could perhaps argue that this part should have not been given to Benedict Cumberbatch. But that does not inherently make this character All transphobic. It could be argued that this is the first step to seeing more transgender people in Hollywood.
Pretty much everybody in film has had their turn in the sun as the butt of the joke, and this could be seen as the first shakey step towards transgender inclusion. What concerns me, is that if the LGBTQ+ community at large boycotts this film and causes a huge stir over this character, that Hollywood will be too afraid to step onto this ground again.
Expecting a silly, slapstick comedy film to have well portrayed characters of any type is not going to go well for you. Even the two main characters are caricatures of self-absorbed, vain and intellectually dim models. We are supposed to be fighting for equality and acceptance, and that means we are fair game for comedy, too. It doesn’t exempt us, if we want equality – that means taking our comedic licks along with everyone else.