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Some Trans Critics Don't Think This Film About A Trans Teen Deserves A Golden Globe

Some critics are objecting to the Belgian film Girl's portrayal of a transgender teenager.

Posted on January 3, 2019, at 4:16 p.m. ET

Girl β€” the Belgian drama from director Lukas Dhont that was picked up by Netflix for US release β€” is nominated for a Golden Globe and has already won big at Cannes Film Festival. The film tells the story of a young transgender teenager studying at a prestigious ballet school while navigating her transition and gender dysphoria.

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The film follows 15-year-old Lara, played by newcomer Victor Polster, who is a skilled dancer himself. Girl has received a number of favorable reviews β€” it currently holds an 87% rating on Rotten Tomatoes β€” and it's won a number of awards, including the Best International Feature Film award at the Zurich Film Festival, the Camera d’Or for best first feature at Cannes, and more.

But since its release, LGBT film critics and advocates have strongly voiced their disapproval of the film. Some have specifically called out the manner in which the film treats the trans character's storyline. Trans film critic Oliver Whitney went so far to say that Girl is the β€œmost dangerous movie about a trans character in years.”

What has trans and nonbinary critics rankled β€” besides the fact that the film was written and directed by a cisgender director and stars a cisgender actor β€” is a graphic scene toward the end of the film that depicts an act of self-harm. Spoilers ahead.

From left: Actor Victor Polster, filmmaker Lukas Dhont, and actor Arieh Worthalter from the film Girl during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images

From left: Actor Victor Polster, filmmaker Lukas Dhont, and actor Arieh Worthalter from the film Girl during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

The scene in question, which occurs at the end of the film, depicts Lara mutilating herself with a pair of scissors. Although a direct view of the self-mutilation is apparently not shown, the allusion to such graphic self-harm upset many trans viewers of the film.
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The scene in question, which occurs at the end of the film, depicts Lara mutilating herself with a pair of scissors. Although a direct view of the self-mutilation is apparently not shown, the allusion to such graphic self-harm upset many trans viewers of the film.

GLAAD posted a lengthy thread on Twitter breaking down the ways in which the scene is potentially harmful to the trans community.

"The film is bloody and obsessed with trans bodies in a way that reminds us that a cisgender person wrote and directed it," wrote Mathew Rodriguez for Into. "It's trans trauma porn and, as a cisgender person, I'm warning trans people not to watch it and cis people not to fall for it." Cathy Brennan wrote in her review of the film, "The camera’s gaze in Girl belongs to that of a cis person. It fits comfortably into the way cis audiences see people like me. They may smile to my face while wondering what’s between my legs."
Twitter: @glaad

"The film is bloody and obsessed with trans bodies in a way that reminds us that a cisgender person wrote and directed it," wrote Mathew Rodriguez for Into. "It's trans trauma porn and, as a cisgender person, I'm warning trans people not to watch it and cis people not to fall for it."

Cathy Brennan wrote in her review of the film, "The camera’s gaze in Girl belongs to that of a cis person. It fits comfortably into the way cis audiences see people like me. They may smile to my face while wondering what’s between my legs."

β€œThis film is made with a lot of love and with a lot of respect for its character, and in the bigger picture, trans people,” Dhont told NewNowNext in response to the backlash. β€œI think that all the choices that are made in Girl are very deliberate and I stand by them.”

"I spent nearly 10 years with this. So I spent 10 years of my life caring about this film ... caring about Lara, caring about the fact that this film was going out into the world in the best possible way it could. And I’m so proud of the film and of all of us.”In a piece published today, Out's Tre'vell Anderson called out the New York Times and other outlets for referring to LGBT film critics as "activists" in coverage of the "controversy" surrounding Girl's release."Frankly, this is a thinly veiled effort to dismiss, ignore, and invalidate perspectives and critiques that differ from those dominated by newsrooms that are overwhelmingly white, cisgender, heterosexual, and male," wrote Anderson. "Asserting that the pushback the film has received, including not making it to the Oscars foreign language shortlist, is the work of 'activists,' erases the necessary and effective work of journalists and career film critics."
Loic Venance / AFP / Getty Images

"I spent nearly 10 years with this. So I spent 10 years of my life caring about this film ... caring about Lara, caring about the fact that this film was going out into the world in the best possible way it could. And I’m so proud of the film and of all of us.”

In a piece published today, Out's Tre'vell Anderson called out the New York Times and other outlets for referring to LGBT film critics as "activists" in coverage of the "controversy" surrounding Girl's release.

"Frankly, this is a thinly veiled effort to dismiss, ignore, and invalidate perspectives and critiques that differ from those dominated by newsrooms that are overwhelmingly white, cisgender, heterosexual, and male," wrote Anderson. "Asserting that the pushback the film has received, including not making it to the Oscars foreign language shortlist, is the work of 'activists,' erases the necessary and effective work of journalists and career film critics."

One person who is strongly defending the film? The trans woman whose life inspired it, Nora Monsecour. She justified the offending scenes from the film in a guest column last month for the Hollywood Reporter, writing that the movie tells her story "in a way that doesn't lie."

Nora Monsecour, the inspiration for the Belgian film GIRL β€” about a trans girl training to be a ballerina β€” strongly defends the movie in wake of criticism by trans people concerned the film was made by, and stars, cis men. She does not mince words. https://t.co/OmNAtilnrT

Monsecour, who worked closely with Dhont on each step of the film, clarified that the graphic and controversial scene was not actually taken from her real-life experience. "Though my story does not include this final event, it’s a thought that lingered in my mind every day," she wrote.

"Those criticizing Girl are preventing another trans story from being shared in the world, and are also attempting to silence me and my trans identity."

Ann Thomas, the founder of Transgender Talent, a listing service for transgender performers and artists, also defended the film. In a piece for the Advocate, she wrote, "Lukas did lots of research over many years working with Nora, other trans people, and medical professionals to get her story told accurately. He did so brilliantly. Thank you, Lukas, and thank you Netflix for distributing this! I encourage everyone to see Girl!"

According to the New York Times, the film was originally scheduled to land on Netflix on Jan. 16, but the release has now been pushed back, possibly until the spring.

BuzzFeed News has reached out to Netflix for comment.

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