The Danish Girl, which stars Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe, the first known transgender woman to undergo gender reassignment surgery, has come under fire over a particular scene.
The film, which premiered at the Cannes film festival, depicts the couple’s wedding and the arguments that followed Redmayne’s character approaching Elbe to ask her to change her name and pronoun from Nora to Einar. But at a screening on Thursday night, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) slammed the scene, which several trans activists thought was insensitive.
The LGBTQ Council in South Carolina also issued a statement saying “the depiction of the transition of Lili Elbe as a ‘woman’ in an all-male setting is at once offensive and misleading. To portray her as female is a kind of reverse transgender surgery. In one scene, Einar asks Lili to become a woman. They find each other and fall in love. Instead of entering their lives and making them feel even more distinct and even more joyous, the film manufactures drama for its own sake. We feel that Einar should have been a woman.”
But Redmayne defended the role and the portrayal of Lili in an interview with the Guardian, saying that he felt he failed to understand Lili’s transition when he first learnt about it. “I find myself wondering how the people who created Lili Elbe and her transition could not have imagined that they would play their own decisions as brave and important,” he said. “I should have understood and respected their decision more deeply.”
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He added: “It would be different had the film been made by someone from within the trans community, and based on their own understandings of how this story should and should not be told. In a movie about a love story, about a relationship that transcends all borders, feelings of exclusivity and internalised bias, I think there can be far too much discussion of minority experience.”
HRC CEO Chad Griffin suggested that moviegoers needed to be given an opportunity to see the movie before condemning it. “The Danish Girl did not portray the lives of transgender people in a flattering or sympathetic light. But unless the film’s intent is to write Lili out of our history books, filmgoers are entitled to see the film before making definitive judgments on it.”