Elliot Page: I am transgender, says Juno star

Trailblazer: Page announced the news to fans in a heartfelt message on social media. © Reuters

Could this be a turning point for the film industry? A Hollywood icon has embraced his gender identity. Some say it is a landmark not only for him, but for the trans actors of tomorrow.

“I can’t begin to express how remarkable it feels to finally love who I am enough to pursue my authentic self.”

With these courageous words, Elliot Page shared his truth with the world. On Tuesday, the Oscar nominated actor took to social media to announce to his fans that he is transgender, and that his new pronouns are “he” and “they”.

For Page, it was a joyous moment: “I love that I am trans. And I love that I am queer. And the more I hold myself close and fully embrace who I am, the more I dream, the more my heart grows and the more I thrive.”

Page, 33, is best-known worldwide as the star of the 2007 film Juno, a hit comedy about a teenager who decides to proceed with an unwanted pregnancy and find adoptive parents for her child.

More recently, however, the actor has reached a new audience as Vanya Hargreeves, one of the main characters in the Netflix superhero series The Umbrella Academy.

As the news spread on Tuesday, the streaming giant hurried to change Page’s credits on the films in their catalogue. However, Netflix also confirmed that Hargreeves, a cisgender lesbian, will not change gender in future episodes.

In recent years, cisgender actors have faced huge backlashes for playing trans characters. In 2018, actress Scarlett Johansson withdrew from an American gangster film after her casting as a trans man caused controversy amongst fans.

But most commentators agree that Page’s situation is different. First, he already plays Hargreeves. And second, the drive for trans actors to play trans characters exists because, traditionally, Hollywood has failed to cast any transgender actors at all.

This is a reality that casting directors around the world are striving to change. In London, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre debuted its first gender-blind, race-blind and disability-blind cast in a 2018 production of Hamlet. Even so, it is an undeniable truth that transgender actors still face discrimination – especially in Hollywood.

“As far as Hollywood being liberal, that’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard,” said director Adam McKay in 2016. “Look, who owns the studios? Viacom, Comcast, Disney. They want to make money.”

Indeed, a study by GLAAD found that transgender characters were absent from major studio releases for the third year in a row in 2019.

Page, who came out as gay in 2014, has faced homophobic bullying on film sets in the past. Early on in his career, industry insiders pressured him to wear dresses and high heels.

In his letter to his fans, Elliot Page admitted that he is afraid. “The truth is, I am scared. I’m scared of the invasiveness, the ‘jokes’ and the violence.”

Could this be a turning point for the film industry?

Pivotal moment

No, say some. One person cannot change an entire industry. Hollywood’s problems are not just at surface level – lasting, structural change is needed if the film industry is ever to achieve equal opportunity for all. It may have a liberal veneer, but in many ways, Hollywood is behind the times – it is only three years since the #MeToo movement exposed the rampant sexism within the industry.

Yes, say others. Elliot Page is a trailblazer for transgender rights in the film industry. His announcement has paved the way for other transgender actors to find success in what can be a brutal industry. And Hollywood may be ruled by business interests, but it has also shown that it is willing to change. Last year saw record representation of LGBTQ characters overall in films by major studios.

You Decide

  1. Can Hollywood help to make the world a more accepting place?
  2. Is gender a social construct?

Activities

  1. In pairs, create a poster raising awareness of the issues faced by transgender people today.
  2. Write a short story about a fictional transgender character who lives in your home town or city.

Some People Say...

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”

Gloria Steinem (1934 - ), American feminist, journalist and social activist.

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that LGBTQ people are underrepresented in the media, and especially in the film industry. A study by GLAAD found that 18.6% of films released by major Hollywood studios last year had LGBTQ characters. While this represents a record high, only nine of the films included a LGBTQ character who had more than 10 minutes of screen time – and 21 out of a total of 50 characters appeared for less than a minute.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate surrounds whether representation in the film industry is really one of the most important steps towards equality for minority groups. Some believe that representation in TV and film is a vital part of empowering marginalised peoples. Others, like lifestyle reporter Faima Bakar, say that representation in leadership roles, education and politics is the only way to achieve real change.

Word Watch

Juno
The 2007 coming-of-age film received four Oscar nominations. The screenwriter, Diablo Cody, won the award for Best Original Screenplay.
Cisgender
A person whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth. The term was first used in academic articles in the 1990s.
Adam McKay
An Oscar nominated American film and television writer, director and producer. McKay said that while many actors have liberal ideas, film bosses will make any movie they think will make a profit, regardless of content.
GLAAD
An American non-governmental media monitoring organisation founded by LGBTQ people in the media. Its initials originally stood for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, but they dropped that name in 2013.
Veneer
Something that hides an unpleasant truth. For example, Harvey Weinstein pretended to be a respectable producer, but many were aware that he had assaulted young actresses.
#MeToo movement
A campaign which gained prominence in 2017 after the downfall of film producer Harvey Weinstein. It encouraged people around the world to share their stories of harassment or abuse.

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