Have you heard of Girl, the Belgian film about a trans girl who wants to be a ballerina? While not very well known in the U.S., it has received critical acclaim in Europe. (It won the Caméra d’Or for best first feature film at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival along with the Queer Palm for best LGBT-related film and might get nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at next year’s Oscars.) And like most critically acclaimed movies about trans women, it stars a man.
Director Lukas Dhont described his search for the right person to play the lead role of Lara in a new interview with The Wrap’s Omar Sanchez, published Monday. He said he auditioned approximately 500 actors and dancers before settling on Victor Polster, a trained dancer who Dhont says conveys a lot of “empathy” in his performance.
I feel like I should be really mad about him casting Polster because it’s like the millionth time this has happened and having cis men play trans women or vice-versa (Scarlett Johansson, Matt Bomer, Elle Fanning, Jeffrey Tambor…) implies that we’ll always be our birth gender no matter what we say or do, an idea that even the Trump administration has seemingly endorsed in recent weeks, yadda yadda yadda. But mostly I’m just curious about what drew the director to the project in the first place.
Dhont told The Wrap that the film’s narrative was inspired by an actual trans ballerina he read about in a newspaper article when he was 18. “I had an immediate admiration for her as a person,” he said. “She, to me, was an example of someone who really was able to choose the truest version of herself, and I found that there was such a nice message in that.” So if authenticity is what drew him to her story, why not cast the role as authentically as possible? Why the fascination with our authenticity at all—or, rather, an imagined authenticity that male filmmakers and Jill Soloway project onto us? I, for one, am fake as hell, and surely I am not alone. Do they feel trapped in a patriarchal cage of their own making? Don’t they know they can get out? Are men OK? Do they need help? So many questions I have. Zero answers.