Review: “Disclosure” documentary critically examines transgender representation in the media

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Image: Ivy Marie Clarke

“Disclosure” is essentially a reel of transgender film history supplemented with commentary by contemporary trans film industry workers like Laverne Cox, Sandra Caldwell, Lilly Wachowski and Yance Ford.

“Disclosure” is essentially a reel of transgender film history supplemented with commentary by contemporary trans film industry workers like Laverne Cox, Sandra Caldwell, Lilly Wachowski and Yance Ford. Although perhaps shocking to cisgender viewers, what they examine and discuss is nothing new. 

“For decades, Hollywood has taught audiences how to react to trans people. And sometimes, they’re being taught that the way to react to us is fear. That we’re dangerous, that we’re psychopaths, that we’re serial killers, that we must be deviants or perverts.”

So said Nick Adams, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Director of Trans Media & Representation, in the Netflix documentary. What precedes and follows his statement is a variety of clips from past productions with depictions of, as well as interviews with, trans people, the overwhelming majority of which illustrate his point. 

Whether inserted as comedic relief or a villain in a movie, killed off in a show series or harassed on live television, trans people, over and over again, throughout virtually the entirety of film’s existence, have been subjected to violence in the media. And because the media shapes society, such treatment has catastrophic real-life impacts.

According to GLAAD, 29% of trans people live in impoverished conditions, 30% report experiencing workplace discrimination because of their gender and nine times the national average reported attempting suicide. 

“I think, for a very long time, the ways in which trans people have been represented onscreen have suggested that we’re not real, have suggested that we’re mentally ill, that we don’t exist,” said “Orange is the New Black” actress Laverne Cox. 

The documentary takes care to show how intersectionality factors into trans media depictions. Trans women deal with the additional issue of misogyny; trans people of color, and particularly Black trans people, are even more susceptible to harm as racism intersects with transphobia. 

“It’s the erasure of, of Black people. So, it’s like you can’t have, like, queer trans people and Blackness in the same space at the same time,” said writer and media maker Tiq Milan. “They’re (Hollywood media) telling me that I can’t exist in my Blackness and my queerness and my transness. I can’t bring all of this in at the same time.”

“Disclosure” ultimately seeks to challenge trans representation by presenting these harmful depictions alongside successful trans stars in the pursuit of awareness and positive change. 

“I think capitalizing on people’s fear is what has landed us in this moment right now, and you have hope on one side and fear on the other,” multimedia artist Zackary Drucker said. 

Overall, the documentary is excellently done and important to watch, particularly if you align yourself as a trans ally.