An actor is an actor, right? So who cares if a cis man or a cis woman plays the role of a trans person as long as they do their best? Well, in theory, a cis person playing a trans role shouldn’t matter, but in reality, it does.
In a new video, Screen Crush makes an excellent argument of why honest representation matters: the ulterior message that a cis person playing a trans person implies, that a trans person is but a man or a woman in drag. You may be transported by Meryl Streep’s fantastic performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady or by her interpretation of manipulative Madeline Ashton in Death Becomes Her, but you don’t forget that you’re watching Meryl Streep. Likewise, when you see David Duchovny playing Denise Byron in Twin Peaks, you don’t forget that you’re watching the dude from X-Files in a dress. Trans people are not wearing drag. Maybe they are on Halloween, like almost everyone else, but not when they go to the office on Monday, not when they ride the bus, not when they go to the supermarket or to the movies, and not in the privacy of their own homes.
One could come up with plenty of excuses for why a cis person got the role a trans person deserved the role: the studio wanted a bigger name, lack of talent, but as a content producer one has a moral responsibility. More importantly, thanks to the explosion of content platforms in the last decade, the public has become increasingly sophisticated and demands verisimilitude. If we support transgender rights, we should demand the real thing and start voting with our wallet.