The problem with Michelle Rodriguez

Last week it was announced that bisexual actress Michelle Rodriguez would be playing a transgender hitwoman in a new film called Tomboy. No amount of love for the actress or her co-star Sigourney Weaver could stop many of us in the LGBT community from cringing at the thought of yet another film about a trans killer. GLAAD spokesperson Nick Adams, told The Hollywood Reporter, “We haven’t read the script, but it’s disappointing to see film-makers turning what is a life-saving medical procedure for transgender people into a sensationalistic plot device. We are at a crucial moment in the public’s understanding of transgender issues, and stories like these have the potential to undermine the progress we’ve worked so hard to achieve.”

So when a new video of Michelle Rodriguez talking about that very reaction came out last night, it was even further proof this film would not be in anyone’s best interest. TMZ caught up with Michelle outside of an event where she said the LGBT community should relax because “If anything, it’s frickin’ promoting it”—”it” being transitioning, I suppose. She goes on to misgender Caitlyn Jenner (erroneously referring to her as Kris): “Thank Kris Jenner for becoming who he became. And now you have a popular subject matter that nobody wanted to make a movie about, and now everybody’s on it.”

She’s not wrong about that last bit. Maybe trans topics are becoming “so hot” right now, as lesbian chic has been in the past, but as we have seen time and time again, our lives have been mishandled when not presented by those have a vested interest and care deeply about doing the community they are are representing on a massive scale. And as someone who is a member of the queer community, we’d like to think that Michelle Rodriguez would take that kind of concern. Instead, she’s disappointing us with off-color comments (“I remember a day when white people were playing black people, so it’s just about the evolution”) and highlighting the exact kind of ignorance trans people are worried about happening when a transgender actor is not hired to play a trans role.

But back to Michelle’s being a part of our community for a moment. In 2012 I wrote a piece lovingly titled “Are you f—ing kidding me, Michelle Rodriguez?” about how adamant she was (consistently) about not being a “dyke.” A year later, she officially began talking about her bisexuality (“It’s something natural, organic. I want to try new things and feel free.”) and it looked as if she might begin to be out and proud (“I’m getting older. Eventually it’s going to wrinkle up and I’m not going to be able to use it. I wanted to be honest about who I am and see what happens.”). She publicly dated Cara Delevingne and even praising her for coming out after their break-up (“That’s so sexy! I think that’s hot. I think everybody should be open about everything in their lives, but at the end of the day the world isn’t that black and white.”)

So Michelle has evolved on her own identity and coming to terms with it as a public person. But, as we’ve sadly seen too many times before, just being a part of the LGBT acronym doesn’t mean you are the best ally to the the other letters. And if you are not, at the very least, an informed and respectful ally of the people you are looking to portray on screen, then you are not the person to be playing that role. 

Chinese American Film Festival Opening Ceremony And Gold Angel Awards Ceremonyphoto credit: Paul Archuleta/Getty

Having just recently seen The Danish Girl and interviewed the actors, director and screenwriter behind the trans-themed film, I can’t tell you enough how impressed I was with the great love, time, energy and personal research and relationships that went into getting the story right. It was the first time I’ve ever been given press notes that included a glossary of terminology for reporters and critics so that they had no excuse but to use the right pronouns and words like transgender, cisgender and sexual reassignment surgery when writing about the film. That kind of reverence is a large part of why The Danish Girl will be a success.

Is there a chance Michelle could become more informed before shooting a film where she plays a trans role? One would hope. But besides the fact it starts shooting next week, with the amount of content in the world that is working to create a positive and truthful narrative about trans people (i.e. Orange is the New Black, Transparent, Her Story, etc.), there is no reason Tomboy is a film that needs to be made. We’ve seen evil trans killers over and over again. It’s tired, it’s boring, and it’s offensive. As an actress who says she’s constantly seeking out better roles for women in Hollywood, this can not be one of them. 

Michelle’s “IDGAF” attitude is one of the reasons audiences have taken to her in movies like Girlfight, Machete and the Fast and the Furious franchise. But it’s not working to her or anyone else’s advantage this time around. She wont’t care what anyone else has to say—”No press is bad press, baby!”—but she should. Part of being an actor, and a human being, is compassion, honesty and the want for understanding those outside of ourselves. When those things are lacking, it’s evident both on-screen and in the real world.