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24 Nov 2015 10:09
Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson star Zoolander 2. (Getty images)
Trans rights activists have criticised the portrayal of a androgynous model played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the fashion caper Zoolander
2, which sees Owen Wilson ask the star’s character if he has a “hotdog or
More than 9 000 people have now signed the Care2 petition
saying they will boycott the film on the basis of the trailer’s portrayal of
Cumberbatch’s character in the highly anticipated sequel.
In the newly released trailer, Cumberbatch is seen briefly
in a long dark wig with shaved eyebrows and wearing a white fur coat,
introduced as “the world’s biggest supermodel, All”. During the 10-second exchange shown in the trailer, Ben
Stiller’s character Derek Zoolander asks if the model is “like a male
model or a female model”.
“All is all,” Cumberbatch’s character replies.
“I think he’s asking if you have a hot dog or a bun,” Owen Wilson’s
character Hansel McDonald replies. The model gasps, then gives a high-pitched
giggle and says “ooops”.
“Cumberbatch’s character is clearly portrayed as an
over-the-top, cartoonish mockery of androgyne/trans/non-binary
individuals,” the petition reads, started by a user called Sarah Rose.
“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 Peji to be
in the film.
A limited public understanding of non-binary peopleBy hiring a cis actor to play a non-binary individual
in a clearly negative way, the film endorses harmful and dangerous perceptions
of the queer community at large.”
Jennie Kermode, chair of Trans Media Watch , said she
understood the characters were intended to be shallow but said the portrayal
was damaging because it played to such a specific stereotype, when there was a
lack of alternative representations in Hollywood.
“It is difficult to form a clear impression of what
Benedict Cumberbatch’s character is like from the trailer alone, but we would
have preferred to see a trans person in this role,” she said.
“Not only is it very difficult for non-binary actors to
find work, but there is still very limited public understanding of non-binary
Given the hostility many encounter in their day-to-day lives, we feel
it’s particularly important for producers to think carefully about
Kermode said it was heartening to see more people beginning
to recognise the issues in Hollywood’s portrayal of trans people, particularly
after Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall, which critics said had used trans stories
from the gay rights movement for light relief, rather than putting them centre
A huge obstacle Zoolander 2, which reunites Wilson and Stiller 15 years after
the original, centres on airhead male model Derek Zoolander’s blunders through
the world of high fashion, and also stars Will Ferrell, Penélope Cruz, Kristen
Wiig and Justin Bieber.
In the sequel, Stiller’s character is set to come out of
retirement to find a mysterious killer whose victims imitate Zoolander’s famous
“Blue Steel” pout at the moment of their death.
Cumberbatch has previously been outspoken about his
commitment to gay rights, notably when he played Bletchley Park’s Alan Turing
in The Imitation Game, the codebreaker genius who was persecuted later in life
for his homosexuality.
In an interview for Time Out, the actor said homosexuality
remained a “huge obstacle” for those who wanted to play leading men.
“I don’t really know what they do to deal with it,” he said.
“Human rights movements and sexual and gay rights movements have made huge
social progress in the last 40 years, without a doubt, but there’s a lot more
work to be done.” - (c) Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2015
Watch the trailer:
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