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TV: Sam Feder, Laverne Cox discuss trans documentary 'Disclosure'
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2020-06-20

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Disclosure is a new original documentary debuting on Netflix in time for Pride season. Through a series of movie and television clips plus personal interviews, Disclosure gives a history of the depiction of the transgender community in the media over the years.

Some of the trans artists featured in Disclosure are Laverne Cox, Lilly Wachowski, Yance Ford and Chaz Bono. A few the films covered in the doc include The Crying Game, Boys Don't Cry as well as television shows The Jefferson and The L-Word, to name a few.

During a brief call with director Sam Feder and activist/executive producer Laverne Cox, Windy City Times began with asking about the origins of the title Disclosure.

Feder explained, "There's an idea that it's the responsibility of the trans person to disclose their identity. It's a violent assumption that anyone owes someone else an explanation of their history. It's framed in a way that someone has done something wrong if they don't disclose. I think most trans people can relate to that tension and understanding. A lot of us have internalized that as well. We have an anxiety that we need to tell someone first and foremost."

He added, "The title came from the idea that all the images we see rely on the fact that we are not real. People say we are not who we say we are and disavow that trans people actually exist. That is all predicated on a need to disclose. To disclose is to say something other than who you appear."

Cox expanded by telling a story: "After I did a reality show in 2008 called I Want to Work for Diddy, I remember meeting a guy and we went out for drinks. I sat down and stated I was trans to him. He had dated trans women before but they weren't that comfortable to disclose. I felt empowered to disclose who I am. Now I just say google me!"

When asked about the creation of Disclosure, Feder said, "Two documentaries really changed my life. One was The Celluloid Closet, about gay and lesbian representation in Hollywood, and the other was Ethnic Notions, by Marlon Riggs, about Black representation in film. I always wanted to see that history for trans people. Fast forward to 2014 when trans visibility was increasing and mainstream society was talking about us more than before.

"I wanted to get trans and non-trans people's context about this in our culture and how we got to this point in visibility. It was important to not lose sight that visibility in itself is not a goal. It is the means to an end. I felt like there is more to the story than what the public was seeing and talking about. I wanted to tell that story with Disclosure."

Feder talked about securing the clips for Disclosure: "All of the clips in the film came from personal stories. I did about 80 interviews with trans people who have worked on one side of the camera or the other. I wanted to gather their memories of trans representation."

"When we crafted this story, it was created in such a way to show the individual arguments with the footage. With a certain context, we had fair use over the material."

MJ Rodriguez, who is in Disclosure and the FX show Pose, expressed playing roles outside of a trans narrative in a previous Windy City Times interview. Cox said it would take a casting agent, showrunner, director and producer to make that continue to happen, stating, "I am in a Netflix show called Inventing Anna, that is on hiatus from shooting because of COVID-19. I play a woman named Kacy Duke, who is not trans. I was cast because Shonda Rhimes and her team thought I was the best person for the job."

"There are other instances, like Candis Cayne in the Syfy series The Magicians, playing a non-trans character. Hari Nef is playing a character on You that is not trans. It is really about the showrunner, director and casting director having a vision."

"Kacy is a real person, so we can say she's not trans, but with fictional characters, they could indeed be trans. Does it matter or not? I used to have a joke. If the character doesn't involve periods or pregnancies I can play it!"

The film The Danish Girl was included in a segment in Disclosure, and while director Tom Hooper consulted with artists in the trans community, something apparently went wrong. Cox said, "I met Tom at a screening of The Danish Girl and my understanding was consultants were brought in after casting and after most of it was shot. They were not consulting on the script, but instead came in after the fact. When I spoke to the producers they told me they licensed the book. Lilli Elbe's diaries are so much more expansive around the relationship to herself and her wife.

"Instead of relying on the diaries, they relied on the novel The Danish Girl and is my take on what may have gone wrong there. I thought Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander gave stunning performances, but it was a missed opportunity historically."

Feder added, "There's a history of using consulting just to have that calling card. Susan Stryker, who was the leading historian for trans people, said all of her notes were disregarded for The Danish Girl. Just having consultants should not be the end of the conversation."

Cox clarified that she doesn't want to demonize anyone, but "now we know better and can do better. This is about having moments of learning and awakening our critical consciousness."

As far as cisgender actors playing transgender roles in the future, Cox commented, "I hope that after Disclosure and the consciousness that is raised, we will see if that happens again. I hope we will have a much more educated audience in the industry when that is the case."

Disclosure already did well at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and the creatives involved hope the film continues the conversation of trans representation in the future.

Disclosure is currently out on Netflix.


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