In the past several years, we have been blessed with increased trans representation on screen, quite frequently through original streaming series. It is therefore fitting that Disclosure, which explores Hollywood depictions of queer and trans folx, is now streaming on Netflix. A trans companion to the gay and lesbian-focused The Celluloid Closet (1995), Disclosure is an insightful, essential documentary, which explores its subject matter with nuance and respect.
Watching the film is like having a conversation with some of the most influential trans minds in Hollywood. The film intercuts interviews with trans artists and scholars, from Chaz Bono to Angelica Ross, with scenes and snippets from film and television featuring trans characters. As depicted in the film, queer characters date back to the beginning of cinema and have existed on the screen ever since. The film explores how these depictions have changed over time, what significance they hold, and what they mean for the trans community.
I know a lot of media colleagues who hate talking heads. I love talking heads! It’s why my YouTube rabbit holes are generally guided by celebrity interviews and actor round tables. The reason this device works so well for me in this film is that every time I took a note that started with, “what about,” a new trans entertainer popped up on the screen and answered my question. Disclosure smartly uses the expertise of its roster of subject experts to examine a vast range of important social issues, including trans intersectionality, the relationship between transmen and feminism, and, of course, the concept of disclosure. For that reason, there are some subjects that are only mentioned and not given the depth of examination they are due. Even so, starting these conversations is urgent and the film serves as a catalyst for continued discourse.
One of the most interesting questions posed in the film is where the line lies for crossing over into mainstream success. Without a doubt, there is more positive trans representation in media now than ever before. But, interestingly, these roles seem to be played by the same group of trans actors. No matter the contemporary film or television clip, we seem to see the same faces repeatedly. In one of her interviews, Laverne Cox astutely recognizes that her role as a prominent face of the trans rights movement both creates visibility and also the false impression of a post-transphobic world.
Near the end of the film, scholar Susan Stryker says positive trans representation is the means to an end, not the goal. The goal here is to dismantle the cisnormative system that actively works to suppress and oppress those who identify as queer and trans. Unlike the gay and lesbian figures of the new queer cinema movement—which frequently rejected positive imagery—trans representation still is in dire need of, simply put, more. More characters. More roles. More positivity to counter the decades of fearmongering performed by the Hollywood system.
- I loved that the film allowed for the trans artists to asynchronously debate certain depictions (i.e. The Silence of the Lambs) – all marginalized individuals understand the struggle of enjoying something even if it serves to demean you
- Who do I contact to convince Netflix to do a follow-up docu-series? I’m very influential. Just ask my fish.
The Final Tea
Through its assemblage of film and television images of trans folx on screen, Disclosure calls attention to the media’s role as a microaggressor.