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To the Re-education Camp! How Dare a Straight Actor Play Transgender?

Media upset at Leto’s role. ‘Dallas Buyers Club.’

Few spectacles are more satisfying than watching the left eat its own. That’s especially true when conscientious liberals find that speech or actions that were common-place weeks or months ago are suddenly taboo among other lefties. Witness what happened when poor, hapless Pierce Morgan recently fawned over a transgender guest but was crucified for not slavishly memorizing the latest acceptable LGBT (Etc.) terminology.

Something similar has happened to Jared Leto. His crime was being a straight actor who sympathetically played a transgender in “Dallas Buyers Club,” which is in the running for Best Picture at the Oscars on Sunday.

When a heckler at a Santa Barbara event accused actor Jared Leto of “trans-misogyny” for “portraying a trans-woman, because you’re a man,” Leto retorted, “Because I'm a man, I don't deserve to play that part?” He continued, “So you would hold a role against someone who happened to be gay or lesbian — they can’t play a straight part?" While his comment won applause from the audience, the usual media suspects conspicuously did not have Leto’s back.

 “Dallas Buyers Club” boasts six Oscar nominations, including “Actor in a Supporting Role” for Jared Leto’s portrayal of Rayon, an HIV-positive transgender woman. “Dallas Buyers Club” tells the story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) who smuggles drugs to help AIDS patients after he himself is diagnosed. 

Susan Rohwer lamented in an L.A. Times piece, “the role should’ve gone to a trans actor.” She charged, “It is no longer acceptable to cast cross-racially, so why is it acceptable to cast someone who is not transgender in a transgender role?” 

While GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) nominated the film for its own media awards, several gay news organizations opposed the film’s choice of Leto. The Advocate said, via Parker Marie Malloy, “the heckler did raise an interesting question: why didn't the role go to a transgender actress?” and argued “In the rare instances where large-scale transgender characters are written into a script, the roles often go to cisgender [that’s non-transgender in out Brave New World-Speak] actors.” 

“Of course, nobody wants to limit trans actors to trans roles,” wrote columnist Matthew Hammett Knott in a piece for Indiwire’s queer blog, Bent, “but in the context of the status quo and general acceptability of handing the role to an actor such as Leto, it would be an undeniably liberating move.” Knott listed “10 Trans Actors Who Could Have Played Jared Leto's Role in 'Dallas Buyers Club'” and admitted, “I was going to start this article by saying that I don't want to take anything away from Jared Leto's performance in ‘Dallas Buyers Club.’ But in a sense, I do.” He explained, “The performance certainly holds up as a piece of art, but as a part of our culture, I believe it needs contextualizing.” 

Gay Star News’ Joe Morgan concluded his piece by citing British trans activist Paris Lees who demanded, “For truly accurate portrayals of trans people, cast trans actors, I say.” 

The Independent published Lees’ full commentary on the topic, where Lees probed, “Why can't we cast trans people in trans roles?” He cried, “What a shame we don’t have more established trans actors, or at least none on which Hollywood would gamble a big-budget film’s success.” 

Freelancer Chelsea Hawkins bewailed, “'Dallas Buyers Club' Fails Trans Actors” in a Policy Mic piece, which lefty site Salon also published. The Guardian also quoted Hawkins – and noted the media push against Leto. Among other things, Hawkins took the stance that, “Given that transgender people are invisible in contemporary media, it becomes problematic that Leto is taking the role of a trans person when there are trans actors out there trying to find roles and work.” 

Ironic, considering transgender news appears the new media frenzy

Leto had his media supporters, of course. The Hollywood Reporter and MTV noting the applause Leto received for his comments to womens’ site Bustle announcing “Jared Leto Heckled by 'Dallas Buyers Club’ Hater & Responds Beautifully.” Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton summarized, “But Jared is so right - if we categorize actors based on their sexual orientation, gender, race, etc., we’ll be moving backwards, not forwards.” 

If reliable libs like those aren’t incensed at “Dallas Buyers Club,” we clearly need massive new federal sensitivity training programs.

— Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media at the Media Research Center. Follow Katie Yoder on Twitter.