Comedian Rebel Wilson has recently been under fire for jokes she told during the 2016 British Academy Film Awards on Feb. 14, which some viewers have perceived as transphobic.
While presenting the award for “Best Supporting Actor,” Wilson addressed the diversity controversy plaguing this year’s Oscars ceremony with a slew of jokes mocking the situation.
“I’ve never been invited to the Oscars before because, as you know, they are racists,” Wilson said. “But the [British Academy of Film and Television Arts] has diverse members, and that’s what we all want to see in life, isn’t it?”
Wilson then expressed her hopes of winning a BAFTA some day, saying that she’s been practicing her “transgendered face,” before delivering a sultry facial expression to the camera.
People quickly took to Twitter and similar outlets to express frustrations with the jokes, including famed media personality Tyler Ford, who identifies as queer transgender and tweeted at the comedian, “How convenient […] I’ve been practicing my cisgender face [too] so I don’t get harassed [and] assaulted in public!”
Viewers are justified in initially taking offense to Wilson’s joke. The lighthearted quip showed a lack of awareness of the true hardships endured by transgender people. Additionally, the term “trans face” is highly insensitive, and “transgendered” is an outdated term that shows a lack of knowledge about the transgender community.
However, it seems unlikely Wilson intended to make the joke at the expense of transgender people. Rather, it seemed to be a jab at the cisgender actor Eddie Redmayne’s nomination for his portrayal of a transgender character in “The Danish Girl.” Cisgender actors often receive high praise for their portrayals of transgender characters while transgender actors rarely receive recognition or are cast for these roles.
Jared Leto’s portrayal of a transgender character in “Dallas Buyers Club” won him an Oscar. Jeffrey Tambor’s portrayal of a transgender character in TV show “Transparent” has also been met with critical acclaim. Yet the transgender cast members of “Tangerine,” an indie film that dominated critics’ year-end lists of 2015 and had a heavy promotional campaign aimed at earning nominations for the transgender actors, failed to receive the same attention at award ceremonies.
Wilson’s use of the terms “transgendered” and “trans face” seemed to parody the ignorance that most people have about what it means to be transgender and what the transgender experience is.
It seems that Wilson was instead trying to support transgender people by highlighting a systemic issue in the entertainment industry that affects transgender actors, but her delivery and her cisgender status may have caused people to be offended by what she said and instead distracted viewers from the comedian’s true intention.
Despite a rocky delivery, bringing attention to this issue is beneficial to the transgender community and to those less educated on the transgender experience by bringing the conversation to the forefront of such a widely publicized award show.