OPINION: Is Eddie Redmayne taking a stand or avoiding cancellation?

Recently, I saw a discussion online involving actor Eddie Redmayne’s recent comments about how he would turn down his Academy Award-nominated role in The Danish Girl if he were to be offered it today. While part of me feels like these comments are genuine, while the other half of me is thinking — Is he just trying to avoid being cancelled?

Let me first preface this by saying that I am in no way saying I don’t agree that some people should be cancelled. But even more so than outright cancellation, I’m more of a proponent of Call Out Culture, which I think is a bit different from Cancel Culture. The reason being is that, in my own personal opinion, calling someone else creates a space for them to acknowledge and address the problematic actio and creates an opportunity to change or fix it, or state how they’ve grown since those comments or actions last took place. 

Call Out culture also creates less of a “Judge, Jury and Executioner” scenario — If I’ve called them out, I’ve done so to call attention to the behavior, give them a chance to improve, thus allowing others and myself the opportunity to make an assessment of whether or not we feel it necessary to not support them anymore. 

Now, back to Eddie Redmayne. As an actor, I’m sometimes torn on the issue of cishet people playing LGBTQ roles. This is for many reasons. Some have questioned why I would accept a non-LGBTQ person playing an LGBTQ role, but wouldn’t accept a white person playing the role of a person of color. The conversation is nuanced — on some level, I feel the plight of the LGBTQ community and communities of color are similar, but in some ways they are not. And those differences, for whatever reason, does not allow me to feel a sense of annoyance with cishet people playing queer roles. I haven’t quite unpacked the “why,” but I’m working through it.

However, the point I want to make is that, as an actor, I’m often torn on this issue; Of course I’m 100% on board with trans people playing trans roles. But also I feel that a good performance is a good performance. For what it’s worth, I also believe that, for certain roles that require a blurring of gender lines and such, there are people such as Eddie Redmayne, Glenn Close and Tilda Swinton who serve us androgyny. This androgyny is a part of their aesthetic as an actor that should also be honoured. There’s so many ways to look at this, but there’s so many ways to experience gender. Gender and sexuality are/can be fluid — It’s not something concrete like race.

But also, I believe that queer and trans actors need and deserve opportunities. I would even go so far as to say that queer and trans actors deserve to play roles that aren’t queer or trans. For example, I believe that Trans actors deserve opportunities to play cis roles as well. There is a part of me that believes only hiring trans actors to play trans roles, or queer actors to play queer roles,  will eventually put them in a box to only be able to play trans roles, which will ultimately defeat the purpose of giving LGBTQ actors opportunities.

I believe that offering LGBTQ actors more roles is more about representation than it is about the types of roles we are being offered. We want queer actors to be offered more roles, period. It doesn’t really matter to me whether or not those roles are queer. But the focus becomes “cishet people shpuldn’t be playing queer roles” because not enough roles — queer or otherwise — are being offered to LGBTQ actors. 

There is also the issue of cishet men (Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl or Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club), or cishet women (Hillary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry or the planned film Rub & Tug, which was to feature none other than Scarlett Johansson in the lead role of a trans male character) playing trans roles, which only supports the idea that trans women are actually just men and that trans men are actually just women. I am definitely in agreement that this isn’t a belief that should be supported, though I am more forgiving when it comes to roles, such as Redmayne’s, which particularly chronicles a trans person’s transition. These roles lend themselves more to a more androgynous figure who could fit aethestically in both sides of that transition. It’s a tough line to straddle, and one that has to be handled delicately with respect and compassion.

Despite the fact that some of these past instances of cishet people playing trans and queer roles is problematic, I also don’t feel like retroactive cancellation is neccesary. As we grow as a society, our ideas around gender and sexuality are evolving. In my opinion, Eddie Redmayne felt the need to make his statement because he feared retroactive cancellation. I mean, I can’t say that this is the absolute truth — it’s just my perception. However, as an actor and a member of the LGBTQ community, I’m less interested in Eddie Redmayne making statements about what he wouldn’t do today, and more interested in how he plans to help fellow actors who are LGBTQ secure roles and opportunities that they deserve. That’s what will make a change. To me, his denouncing of a (great) performance that he’s already given and nominated for an Academy Award for does nothing but save himself from the fire.

Kyle Jackson

Kyle Jackson (He/Him) is Senior Staff Writer at Gray Jones Media, and additionally works as a writer, editor and theatre artist/actor. A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, he studied at Dillard University, received a BA in Theatre from Morgan State University, an MS in Arts Administration from Drexel University, and completed the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer in Oxford Programme in 2017. Having lived in Baltimore, the Washington, DC area, Philadelphia and New York City, he now resides and works in London, United Kingdom.