Complainants don’t know what they are talking about.
It has been 14 years since ‘Zoolander’ was released, a zany comedy which mocks the modelling industry, in which Ben Stiller plays Derek Zoolander, a narcissistic and slow-witted male model who becomes the unwitting tool in a plot to kill the Malaysian Prime Minister.
We’ve waited a long time for the sequel, which is due out next year and in which Benerdict Cumberbatch plays the latest top model, called All, who is of a heavily androgynous appearance.
No sooner did the trailer for Zoolander 2 appear than a bunch of keyboard social warriors got all butthurt about the character of All, claiming that it mocks non-binary people and that a genderfluid actor should have played the part, instead of the cisgender Cumberbatch. So up in arms are some commentators, that a petition has been launched to boycott Zoolander 2 and complaining to the makers, Paramount Pictures about their portrayal of All.
So, having found the petition, it appears the person who started it does not know what the hell she is talking about – oh there’s a surprise – or anything at all about gender issues – no surprise their either.
“In the “Zoolander 2″ trailer, an androgynous character played by Benedict Cumberbatch is asked by Zoolander and Hansel if he is a ‘male or female model’, and if they ‘have a hot dog or a bun,” bemoans petitioner Sarah Rose on Care2Petitions, “Additionally, Cumberbatch’s character is clearly portrayed as an over-the-top, cartoonish mockery of androgyne/trans/non-binary individuals. This is the modern equivalent of using blackface to represent a minority.
“If the producers and screenwriters of Zoolander wanted to provide social commentary on the presence of trans/androgyne individuals in the fashion industry, they could have approached models like Andreja Pejic to be in the film. By hiring a cis actor to play a non-binary individual in a clearly negative way, they film endorses harmful and dangerous perceptions of the queer community at large.
“Tell Paramount Pictures, Ben Stiller, and Benedict Cumberbatch that mocking transgender/androgyne/gender fluid individuals is not okay – sign this petition to pledge to boycott the film!”
It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who haunt the internet apparently looking for something to complain about. They remind me of the Socialist Worker’s Party, who are always looking for this week’s ’cause’, and moving onto whatever is topical / popular the following week.
It also never fails to amaze me just how many of these people get their facts wrong, or do not know what they are talking about. So if we are going to mention gender bigotry, I am going to pick Sarah Rose up herself on that very topic.
Notice how in the first paragraph above, she states “Additionally, Cumberbatch’s character is clearly portrayed as an over-the-top, cartoonish mockery of androgyne/trans/non-binary individuals.” In the second paragraph she says “trans/androgyne” and “hiring a cis actor to play a non-binary individual” and in the final paragraph she states “mocking transgender/androgyne/gender fluid individuals is not okay”.
By making these statements, it is clear that Sarah Rose equates all three groups – transgender, genderfluid, and androgynous – to be one and the same. This is so much ignorance, it is vertigo-enducing. And what is the name for making generalisations and assumptions based on uninformed ignorance? Bigotry, that’s what.
Some transgender people appear androgynous, as do many genderqueer people. Many do not. Indeed, I am sure that many of my trans and non-binary friends here shall, like me, be bloody furious about any inference that we are androgynous, especially after the time and money we put into appearing feminine.
Some non-binary people appear male, some appear female, some appear androgynous, and the same pertains to transgender people (I have to admit though, all my trans and genderfluid friends here are drop-dead gorgeous women – luv you all). They are not and never shall be all one and the same thing. Hands up all my trans readers who consider themselves genderqueer. Hands up all my genderfluid readers who consider themselves trans. Hands up all of you who think you are “androgynous”. Nobody? No, thought not.
And of course, by equal measure, there are those who appear androgynous but who are in fact cisgender. My own preference for men is not hunks, but androgynous ‘pretty boys’. For instance, musically I can’t stand that talentless fuck Justin Bieber (who also appears in Zoolander 2), but I would jump him at a moment’s unnotice.
This is an important distinction. There are scenes in the original Zoolander movie where Derek Zoolander and his adversary-come-friend Hansel (Owen Wilson) appear androgynous, while the evil Mugatu (Will Farrell) is of androgynous appearance throughout the movie. Strangely enough David Bowie, whom I can recall being very androgynous in the 1970s, had no problem with having a cameo in that movie.
And this is where the complainants appear to be missing the point of the movie. Many male models do indeed appear androgynous. There is always work in the modelling industry for young pretty boys of ambiguous gender. Don’t tell me there’s not, dears – I’ve seen more than my fair share of them. But because of the shallow nature of modelling, the Zoolander movies aim to parody that shallowness and the narcissism of the modelling industry. Therefore, if Sarah Rose and others think that Benerdict Cumberbatch’s portrayal is a “cartoonish mockery”, I suggest that she go and actually have a look at some (not all – before the keyboard warriors jump on my back) male models who do appear androgynous and some of whom are indeed “cartoonish”. I am reminded of a line from a Crass song “The painted mask of ugly perfection.”
I will go further, it could be said that Sarah Rose is guilty of bigotry by her use of the term “the queer community”. Now, I have read one of my friends here suggesting that instead of the steadily growing abbreviation of LGBTQIA (try making a word out of that in Scrabble), we all just use the term “queer”, and I happen to agree with that. However, for the LGBT+ community to refer to themselves thus is not in common usage, and it could be argued that to use the term ‘queer’ in this way still carries negative connotations. Unless of course, she was meaning the shortened version for genderqueer, which again would be wrongly conflating transgender and androgynous with genderfluid.
So, why not have a genderfluid actor play the part? Would Sarah Rose and her supporters be happy with that? Yes? Really? Strange that, because at first she complains of the comments directed at All, “if he is a ‘male or female model’, and if they ‘have a hot dog or a bun'”, then states that the role should not have been played by a cisgender actor. So, if the role was played by a non-binary actor, would that have made the comments okay? Actually, it could be argued that some non-binary actors would not play the role because of comments which could be construed as derogatory.
Incidentally, as a genderqueer pansexual crossdresser, I don’t have any problems whatsoever with those comments and take them in the humorous context they are intended. But then I’m grown up enough not to throw a hissy fit over the slightest little comment.
Interesting also that she suggests model Andreja Pejic as a replacement for Cumberbatch. Why not? Because Pejic is a model, not a fucking actor. Strutting on a catwalk and posing for cameras is no guarantee of acting ability, and there are plenty of models-turned-actors who have proven that. Can we take it that Sarah Rose could not think of any genderfluid actors? Has she never heard of Eddie Izzard? Laverne Cox? Ruby Rose? Jaden Smith (Will Smith’s son has recently been very active in challenging the gender binary)? I could mention many more, but then, unlike the Butthurt Brigade, I’m interested in cinema.
Zoolander is one of my favourite comedy movies purely because of it’s zany, wicked and at times cruel humour. As a genderqueer person, I have absolutely no problems with Zoolander 2, which no doubt will have me as much in tears of laughter as the original, and I can’t wait for it to come out. And I have no doubt a great many other non-binary people feel the same way.
When cisgender actor Eddie Redmayne played trans woman Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl, that was a legitimate cause for complaint, as was Elle Fanning playing the lead of a trans man in About Ray. Both of these were serious movies concerning the struggles which transgender people face, and quite rightly should have been played by transgender actors. Zoolander does not fall into the same category. Benerdict Cumberbatch is not playing a lead role, but a supporting one, in a comedy. The movie does not seek to “provide social commentary on the presence of trans/androgyne individuals in the fashion industry” but rather to parody and send up one of the most absurd industries on the face of the planet.
And if the social justice warriors cannot realise that, and cannot differentiate between transgender, genderqueer, and androgynous, then I suggest they attend a course at the Derek Zoolander School for Kids Who Can’t Read Good (and Want to Do Other Stuff Good Too).
Zoolander 2 Trailer:
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