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'A Good Man' Faces Backlash for Casting Cis Woman in Lead Trans Role

TIFF 2020: Film is being screened as part of Toronto festival’s Industry Selects section


“A Good Man,” the latest film from French filmmaker Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar, is facing backlash at the Toronto International Film Festival for casting a cis actor in a transgender role.

Based on true events, “A Good Man” stars Noemie Merlant as Benjamin, a trans man in the midst of his transition while working as a hospital nurse. He and his wife, Aude, want to have a child, but Aude is barren. Despite having already completed his name change and struggling for acceptance among his family and friends, Benjamin decides to bear the child himself through in vitro fertilization, making his road to discovering his new identity even more turbulent.

While critics have praised the film for its empathetic approach, it has come under fire in LGBT circles as the latest example of the film industry not casting trans actors for trans roles. While there have been some notable exceptions, such as Daniela Vega in the Oscar-winning “A Fantastic Woman,” Hollywood stars like Eddie Redmayne, Jared Leto, Scarlett Johansson and most recently Halle Berry have been criticized for taking trans roles.

In defense of Merlant’s casting, Mention-Scharr said in the program notes for “A Good Man” at the Cannes Film Festival that there are few trans male actors in France and that she did cast Jonas Ben Ahmed, a trans actor, to play a cis male role in the film. She also argued that cis actors can provide strong depictions of the trans experience, pointing to Hilary Swank’s Oscar-winning performance in the 1999 film “Boys Don’t Cry.”

“For me, it would be stupid, unfair and counter-productive to only give trans roles to trans actors and cis roles to cis actors,” Mention-Schaar said. “Before his gender, his sexual identity, his skin color, an actor or an actress is above all an actor or actress. And I believe the character that he or she embodies needs his technique and his talent.”

But trans film critic Danielle Solzman rejected this argument, telling TheWrap that she finds it “tiring and exhausting” to hear that there are not enough trans actors to cast in a film about the trans experience. She also lamented that it was Merlant who took the role of Benjamin, as she was praised last year for her work in the LGBT period romance “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” She encouraged Mention-Schaar to watch “Disclosure,” a Netflix documentary on the history of trans depiction in pop culture whose filmmakers urged Berry to drop her plans to take a trans role.

“I’ll say the same thing now that I said in 2018 when ‘The Danish Girl’ was getting all the outrage: if you cannot find a transgender actor for the project, maybe you shouldn’t be going ahead!” Solzman said. “I was watching ‘No Ordinary Man’ during my TIFF coverage and this film featured a beautiful display of trans-masculinity on screen. The idea that filmmakers can’t find trans-masculine actors is complete BS. It just proves to show that they aren’t looking hard enough.”

Bryan Glick, producer at The Film Collective, also criticized TIFF for including the film on its program.

“They cannot claim to support my community while actively working to erase our own voice. Worse, they exploit my community in pursuit of prestige. Transface only serves to reinforce the idea that I and other trans and non-binary people are pretending,” he wrote on Facebook. “TIFF cannot claim to support inclusion when year after year they push transface from transphobic talent.”
What the Cannes virtual marketplace proved earlier this year is that even without the in-person meetings, the red carpet galas and all the press hype, there's still room for a lucrative sales market surrounding these virtual events. While that's true of this year's Toronto International Film Festival, the hybrid physical and virtual fest is operating on a slimmed-down lineup of movies. And with Oscar eligibility requirements pushed back to 2021, there isn't the same need for all of these movies to make a splash. That said, we are looking forward to quite a bit at this year's TIFF, and so are buyers.
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"I Care a Lot" 
Rosamund Pike, Eiza González, Dianne West and Peter Dinklage star in this thriller about two women who use loopholes in the legal system to defraud elderly retirees of their family fortunes, only for them to end up angering a crime lord with their latest mark. J Blakeson wrote and directed the film.
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This documentary from Oscar nominee Sam Pollard is based on recently unclassified FBI documents and examines the surveillance and harassment the FBI used against Martin Luther King Jr. over years, including how J. Edgar Hoover hoped to discredit him and break his spirit. The film includes a discussion of how filmmaking and historians should use official materials from the FBI and other sources and how those sources color history.
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"Penguin Bloom" 
Naomi Watts is said to give a stellar performance in this true story based on the life of Sam Bloom, a woman who suffered a traumatic accident who finds an inspiring road to recovery after befriending a magpie bird as her companion. Glendyn Ivin directs the film that also stars Andrew Lincoln, Jacki Weaver and Rachel House.
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Photo Credit Karen Ballard
There are still some other movies playing as part of the festival that already have homes, including Chloé Zhao's "Nomadland" at Searchlight, Regina King's "One Night in Miami" at Amazon, the Kate Winslet-Saoirse Ronan drama "Ammonite" (pictured) at Neon, and Dawn Porter's documentary "The Way I See It" at Focus Features. Amazon Studios also recently acquired director Matthew Heineman's "The Boy From Medellín" about musician J Balvin.Neon
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