An eye-opening documentary unpacking trans representation on-screen, Disclosure is needed now more than ever and is a strong reminder that we can all do better.
Disclosure (Netflix) makes its best point without drawing any attention to it; the frank new documentary feature is also smart enough to let it speak for itself. The point is this: a familiar, and perhaps even generic format can be made interesting on the strength of its viewpoint. In this way, the film, which looks to unpack the troubling history of transgender representation in film and on television, highlights how vital diverse voices and experiences are in the broader entertainment landscape. If this film were about almost any other subject, it’d be boring.
But it isn’t boring, because it’s viewing film history through an important lens. Its talking heads are knowledgeable and well-spoken, as talking heads almost always are, but they speak with the familiarity of people whose real, lived experiences are being described, and with an urgency that can only come about when a disproportionate number of people are killed either by themselves or others in no small part because of the egregious ridicule, questioning, and denial of autonomy that has characterized their depictions in the pop-cultural landscape. Jen Richards, Laverne Cox, and others who speak in Disclosure haven’t learned their field from textbooks and lectures – they’ve lived it.
Since transgender issues are more widely-discussed now than ever, in large part due to the seeming inability of certain public figures to stop wading into them, Disclosure is vital in how it chronicles the representational history of trans people on-screen in hope of articulating how it defines the trans experience off-screen. After all, these things don’t occur in a vacuum. Through archival footage and anecdotal accounts from the aforementioned talking heads, director Sam Feder walks the audience through reels of shameless prejudice directed against trans people, whether in the form of innocent-seeming stereotypes or outright hostility or anything in-between.
It’s the brazenness that gets you, at least after you’ve got over the sheer consistency of it. From small screen to large, trans people have and in large part continue to be treated with at best suspicion and at worst blatant antagonism. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but to see it presented in quite this way is striking. Such representation has been considered normal, quite uncontroversial, and as the speakers discuss it in those terms their enduring dignity becomes impossible not to notice. I struggle to imagine how anyone could watch Disclosure and see anything in it other than a damning indictment of our popular culture, and a reminder that we must do better than this.
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