Suffragette Cinema

a feminist look at films and the media surrounding them

Whose story is it, anyway?


Over the past few months, there have been two movies that have gotten considerable hype for having a white cis-gendered male play a character from a different subordinated group. In this case, I am referring to Jared Leto who plays Rayon, a transgender woman, in Dallas Buyers Club and Johnny Depp who plays Tonto, a Native American from the Comanche tribe, in Disney’s The Lone Ranger. Both men have been the center of many debates questioning the reasoning behind their being cast in those roles. deppAs I have discussed in previous posts, there is absolutely an overrepresentation of whiteness in the media, particularly of white men. Many people are thus outraged that these two roles, designed to honor and bring forward stories that are not typically seen in Hollywood, were given to the very men that we as a society are used to seeing.

Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger.

Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger.

I do not think it is fair to place all of the blame on these two actors, Depp and Leto have proved themselves to be successful at what they do. However, it does call into question why actors and actresses who do represent these subordinated identities are not being asked to play a specific role, why they are not being sought out and being chosen by casting directors.

dallas buyers
This can similarly be seen within television shows and movies at large within the disabled communities- Degrassi’s Jimmy, Glee’s Artie. By having this character be played by communities who do not share the same identities, it is lowering representation.

Overall, there continues to be arguments for both sides in all of these cases. For instance, Comanche Chairman Wallace Coffey, an elected official for the Comache people, while said that he would love to see someone who identities as Native on the big screen, also stated, “This is just the beginning, is my thinking. It opens the doors for more creative visions with regard to Native Americans in the future….” However, others, including Adrienne Keene, author of the blog Native Appropriations, stated, “You guys, I’m pissed off. Like for real. I had a teensy-tiny bit of hope that this wouldn’t be another othering-stereotype-filled-horror, but clearly I was so wrong.”


The cast of television show, Glee.


I believe that there are many things to say in terms of representation in the media, and while I believe that those actors who were chosen to play Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club, Tonto in The Lone Ranger, Jimmy in Degrassi, Artie in Glee, and still dozens more of characters did not do a bad job in their portrayals, I do not know if I believe they fully play up those characters to their justice. I believe that it would make much more of an impact to have a woman who identifies as trans* play the role or Rayon on the trans* community, to have someone Native play Tonto, etc., As I said, it isn’t as though those selected weren’t good, but it’s yet another way of hiding a subordinated group and not allowing those who identify on a daily basis to be visible. We are, in part, erasing the true stories and struggles that the characters are meant to portray.



4 thoughts on “Whose story is it, anyway?

  1. Great post. I agree that blame shouldn’t be placed on the actors and I think that part of acting is taking on the role of an identity that is not your own. Still, if would be nice to have more representation of diverse actors and actresses.


  2. I completely agree with what you’ve said here. It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand it’s good that representation is increasing and that these groups are being seen, but on the other it’s not okay that they are being represented by people who are not members of those groups. I would say that it also depends on how the actors play these parts. For example, I thought Jared Leto did a fantastic job as Rayon, but that Johnny Depp’s portrayal could very easily be seen as offensive. So, I think it’s also about context and how the character is played by the actors.


  3. I completely agree with you! Sadly, this is not a new concern. Many older movies have the same issue. Old Western films show huge populations of Native Americans being portrayed by white men and women, despite the fact that there were many true Native actors who would have loved the role. Even when true Native actors got the role, they were forced to play it in stereotypical ways that were awful representations of their cultures. Hollywood seems to have made huge strides, but movies like those that you mentioned make me question that idea.


  4. Pingback: Whose story is it, anyway? | Tinseltown Times

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