One Equal World

Privilege, Media, and the Academy Awards: What does Jared Leto’s Big Win Mean for the Trans Community?

Posted on: March 11, 2014




What did you think of Jared Leto’s portrayal of Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club?
Image: Shutterstock

Jared Leto was pegged early on as the frontrunner for the honor of “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” at the 2014 Academy Awards, so it was no surprise that he took home that very title on Sunday night. A seasoned actor, there is no doubt that Leto played the part of Rayon, a drug-addicted transgender woman in Dallas Buyers Club, to the best of his ability. But despite the applause that he has received from some critics, many others have deemed his performance an inauthentic portrayal of a transgender woman that lacks depth and is riddled with stereotypes.

On the one hand, Leto’s Rayon brings issues pertaining to transgender people to the mainstream by lending visibility to this kind of identity. Dallas Buyers Club did incredibly well in the box office and at the Oscars, and all eyes were on Leto as he accepted his Academy Award. But did he do enough outreach to the transgender community in taking on this role? Did he acknowledge that he, as a straight, cisgendered, and able-bodied man was able to put on a costume and assume someone else’s experience, only to go back to being Jared Leto when the cameras stopped rolling? Transgender people do not have the ability to assimilate to gender norms, and they are persecuted for it every single day.

On a broader level, what does it say about our society that we praise a straight, cisgender man for portraying a sick, fictional transgender woman, and yet we deny transgender individuals rights, dignity, and equal access in real life? What does it say about the entertainment industry that a straight, cisgender man was chosen to play a transgender woman, instead of say, an actual transgender woman? When a straight, cisgender male – an identity that has been historically secured at the top of the social hierarchy – plays the role of a marginalized human being, this provides the actor with the ability to portray them in the way they see fit. Even more alarming is that it prevents actual transgender people from creating their own narratives.

Jared Leto was just awarded one of the highest honors an actor can receive in their career. It’s important to remember that it wasn’t necessarily a win for the transgender community; it was a win for Jared Leto. Yes, Dallas Buyers Club did provide visibility for transgender people, and as well as a lens into the AIDS crisis, but the entertainment industry needs to allow transgender people to write their own stories, to play themselves. Only then will mainstream media (and perhaps society) begin to embrace all genders and orientations equally.

What do you think of Jared Leto’s portrayal of Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club? 


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