Famous gender-bender films


Beautiful Boxer (2004)

Director: Ekachai Uekrongtham

Transgender character: Parinya Charoenphol

Played by: Asanee Suwan

What: Based on true events, this follows the story of Thai transgender woman Charoenphol (nicknamed Nong Toom), who pursues muay thai and becomes a champion kickboxer to pay for sex reassignment surgery.

The film ran the film festival circuit around the world and played to critical acclaim, scoring real-life male boxing champ Suwan the Best Actor nod at the Supannahong Awards, Thailand's equivalent of the Oscars.

Boys Don't Cry (1999)

Director: Kimberly Peirce

Transgender character: Brandon Teena

Played by: Hilary Swank

What: Inspired by real-life events, this film centres on transgender man Teena, who was born Teena Brandon. After receiving threats over his sexuality, he moves to a new town and befriends ex-convicts John (Peter Sarsgaard) and Tom (Brandon Sexton III) and their female friends, keeping his transgender identity a secret. He falls in love with one of the girls, Lana (Chloe Sevigny), who accepts him for who he is after finding out the truth. But when John and Tom discover his secret, they beat and rape him. Teena escapes, but they find him, fatally shooting and stabbing him. The real-life case, brought to mainstream media attention thanks to this film, is said to have led to increased lobbying for hate crime laws in the United States. Swank won an Academy Award for Best Actress for the role.

The Crying Game (1992)

Director: Neil Jordan

Transgender character: Dil

Played by: Jaye Davidson

What: In this drama thriller, Irish Republican Army member Fergus (Stephen Rea) develops a special bond with kidnapped British soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker) and promises to protect his girlfriend Dil should anything happen to him. Fergus seeks out Dil and falls in love with her, only to discover to his shock that she is transgender when they get intimate. Despite this, he is unable to resist her charms and continues to woo her.

The then-unknown Davidson was so convincing as Dil that audiences believed the character was played by a woman. He nabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but eventually switched to modelling.

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Transgender character: Rayon

Played by: Jared Leto

What: The film is based on the real-life story of Aids patient Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), who smuggled and distributed unapproved Aids treatment drugs to fellow patients through a membership programme he termed the Dallas Buyers Club. In the film, he manages the business with HIV-positive transgender woman Rayon, a character the film-maker created based on interviews with transgender Aids patients.

Leto was unrecognisable in the role and scored an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his sensitive performance. Although some members of the transgender community were critical of the fact that the film had not cast an actual transgender actress in the role instead, the character of Rayon nonetheless is said to have given a voice to transgender Aids patients.

Normal (2003)

Director: Jane Anderson

Transgender character: Ruth Applewood

Played by: Tom Wilkinson

What: After living as a married man for 25 years, Roy Applewood (Wilkinson) shocks his wife (Jessica Lange) by announcing that he wishes to undergo sex reassignment surgery. It is a decision that tears his family apart over conflicting reactions - his daughter Patty Ann (Hayden Panettiere) accepts the decision, but his son Wayne (Joe Sikora) is incensed.

Given that Ruth was middle-aged and living in conservative middle America, it has been lauded for giving a voice to an under-represented type of character onscreen. Wilkinson was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor for the role.

Transamerica (2005)

Director: Duncan Tucker

Transgender character: Bree Osbourne

Played by: Felicity Huffman

What: Transgender woman Bree Osbourne, who was born a male, gets a call from a jailed 17-year-old who claims to be her son. She flies from Los Angeles to New York to bail him out and goes on a road trip with him back to the West Coast.

Again, the transgender community were unhappy over the fact that the film had not cast a transgender actress in the role of Osbourne. The debate continues over whether Hollywood should provide roles to the best actor available, or to be more sensitive in looking within minority groups during casting.

Regardless of that, Huffman won a Golden Globe for Best Actress In A Drama in the role and scored an Oscar nomination in the same category.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2016, with the headline Famous gender-bender films. Subscribe