Several people have asked me what I thought of Jared Letos’ transgender character, Rayon, in “Dallas Buyers Club.” I finally saw the movie, now that it’s out on DVD. Overall, I was thrilled to see a transgender character who the audience loved. It’s that simple to me.
Here’s what Steve Friess wrote in Time magazine: “Dallas Buyers Club’ has garnered praise for the actor’s supposedly brave portrayal of a transgender woman. Don’t expect anyone to find it admirable 20 years from now.” He compared Rayon to Mammy in “Gone with the Wind,” saying, “Back in 1940, when Hattie McDaniel took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Mammy in “Gone With The Wind,” Hollywood was incessantly proud of itself. … In the light of more than seven decades, that moment and performance are tainted by our collective understanding of how hypocritical and patronizing it was.”
I totally see his point. But back then, in 1940, it WAS brave of the Academy to give her an Oscar.
He continues: “Not long from now — it surely won’t take decades, given the brisk pace of progress on matters of identity and sexuality these days — Leto’s award-winning performance as the sassy, tragic-yet-silly Rayon will belong in the dishonorable pantheon along with McDaniel’s Mammy.”
I’m not sure I agree, but to me, that’s not the point. In the here and now, Rayon is more a good thing than a not-good thing. I think that as people, like Friess, get deeper into subcultures – and I’m talking any subculture, including animal rescue, bicycle advocacy, adoption, craft beer, and, yes, LGBT issues — they lose sight of where the public is vs. where they are. I’ve taken this position in all the above subcultures I’ve been a part of. I’m in the moderate camp, but I really appreciate the more left-of-center view too. There’s room for all of us. (When Lina sees the movie, I’ll add her thoughts.)
I don’t think Rayon will advance the transgender cause all that much, but I don’t think she’ll hurt it. And to me, that’s hopeful.