The scene is etched in the memory of trans kids, teens and tweens who grew up in the 90s. And a posteriori, it is very violent for those who remember it. As he kisses the head of the Miami police, played by Sean Young, Ace Ventura, animal detective played by Jim Carrey in the film of the same name, discovers that the commissioner, whom he flirt with as a heavy-handed seducer, is in reality a trans woman (for him, a transvestite man since she has a penis). Horror! Panicked, the rescuer of the lost animals tries to wash his heterosexuality tainted by exaggerated vomiting, by brushing his teeth until emptying the tube of toothpaste then by burning the contaminated linen. Next comes the outcome “À la Scooby-doo”, where – spoiler – Ace Ventura reveals the real identity of the bad guy by forcibly undressing her in front of the amazed looks of the other police officers: the culprit of the disappearance of the mascot of the American football team from Miami was therefore a former revenge player ! Let’s go to the final twist of the film, but this is indeed the kind of humiliating representations of transidentity that have long been favored by the cameras, what pins Disclosure, new Netflix production (broadcast in the middle of a month of pride) on the place of trans people on television and in American cinema.
In the way of The Celluloid Closet (1995), film by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman on the placarding of homosexuality by Hollywood, this documentary, also produced by the transgender actress Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black), traces a century of representations of trans identities on American screens. And everything goes there: cross-dressing, associated with blackface, as props of dehumanization in the silent cinema of segregationist America (Judith of Bethulia from DWGriffith and A Florida Enchantment Sidney Drew, both released in 1914); the total obliteration of trans subjects except as receptacles for psychopathologies (psychosis, The Silence of the Lambs, etc); the confinement of a few trans actresses in the roles of stereotypical victims (in particular the recurrent “transexual” prostitute murdered in the police series); to the first impactful but very perfectible characters (Tom in the lesbian monument The L word) and the beginning of visibility of transgender actors in roles like them (mainstream series Sense8, Transparent and Pose ; the Oscar winning Chilean film A fantastic woman) these last years.
Jeffrey Michael Tambor (left) as Maura Pfefferman, in the series Transparent. (Amazon)
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Does the film live up to its ambitions? Yes, even if we can regret almost two hours of exclusively American-centered images. However, the acuteness of the selected extracts and the often touching testimonies of some twenty concerned (the actresses Jamie Clayton, Candis Cayne, Mj Rodriguez; the performers Chaz Bono and Eliott Fletcher or the filmmakers Lilly Wachowski and Yance Ford ) give the documentary the desired critical and emancipatory power. With this message carried in choir by the casting: the change of mentality, the recognition and the respect of all transidentities also passes by fictional representations as just as varied, far from the fantasies which feed conversely hatred and rejection. What trans people, like gay people, have every right to demand from contemporary cinema. To the point of shaping, by their increasing participation in the chain of American cinematographic and audiovisual production, the factory of the imaginary itself.
“Disclosure” (Trans identities: beyond the image), American documentary by Sam Feder (1h47), on Netflix