Last week, we reported on an issue with CBS using a trans slur in their sitcom “Mike & Molly” which stars actor Melissa McCarthy. The slur “shemale” was used by Mike in the show; McCarthy was not in the scene, but people called on her to speak out given the vicious attack she endured at the hands of movie critics (describing her as a hippo, for one.)
Today, we went to see McCarthy’s new movie, Identity Thief, which is currently the #1 movie in American box offices. It was not quite as amusing as I had hoped, but it had its moments. I was really disappointed, however – disappointed isn’t quite the word -, to observe two trans slurs (and a lesbian slur) in the movie.
Say what? Yes, in the first half of the film, the “skiptracer” pursuing McCarthy’s character on an outstanding warrant drops the terms “hermaphrodite” and “tranny” in 20 seconds. He’s trying to insult the other lead, played by Jason Bateman, whose name Sandy is the butt of many gender jokes. Sandy continually rebuffs attempts to emasculate him by pointing out that its a “unisex name.” While this often generates eye rolling and knowing looks, the skiptracer takes it a step further “Unisex, what are you a hermaphrodite?” he says before sneering derisively “Tranny!” as he tries to zoom away.
My jaw once again dropped. In fact, I had a very strong desire to leave the movie right then and there – because I realized that hoping McCarthy would be a trans ally was a waste of time. I stayed and that allowed me to witness McCarthy make a “dyke” joke about incarcerated women (I don’t want to give away a plot point so let’s just leave it at that – you can probably fill in the details.)
I’m really pissed off.
First, I defended McCarthy when she was attacked based on her body and appearance.
Second, I took the issue with “Mike & Molly” to GLAAD and tried to take some solace that CBS was willing to meet and discuss with that organization – putting the blame, so to speak, at the foot of the network which has an incredibly poor track record on LGBTQ issues.
Third, the movie’s director -Seth Gordon – he’s no stranger to using offensive language. Most notably, he helmed the 2011 “Horrible Bosses” where Jennifer Aniston’s character called someone a “faggot” and generated much outrage.
The problem is that these are gratuitous uses of really awful slurs that simply are unnecessary for the comedic moment. Surely the writers could have milked the (ahem) sexist assault on Bateman’s character without a throwaway reference to his gender identity – it doesn’t even really make sense. Granted, the skiptracer character is supposed to be this gruff take-no-prisoners bad ass, but is he really going to quip “What are you a hermaphrodite?” – no, he’s not.
FWIW, Bateman’s weary acceptance of the mocking of his name does turn the joke on its head. He never seems to buy in to the fact that he shouldn’t be proud his father named him after a baseball player. I appreciated that Sandy never lost his cool over this issue or succumbed to an unnecessary defense in the face of simple ignorance and stupidity.
But, Bateman is one of the film’s producers so we can’t let him off – unacceptable to use hate langauge for a laugh. It isn’t funny to the trans men and women and kids who endure violence and derision day in and day out in our society.
And, finally, there’s McCarthy. I expect better of someone who did a delicious send up of Divine for a photo shoot – I expect a bit of nuance negotiating humor from cruelty. I expect better from someone who did a terrific gender expression bending turn in “Bridesmaids.” I simply expect more from her than to be tied – in one week – to two incidents of bashing members of the LGBTQ community.
Many of those who defended McCarthy when her body was verbally attacked by a movie critic referenced the damage that distorted body image values can have, especially on young women. It can be fatal. The same is true of trans bashing. 13 transgender individuals were murdered in hate crimes during 2012 – that list doesn’t include those individuals who engaged in self-harm or endured other trauma (loss of job, homelessness, loss of family) because of their gender identity. Over 265 trans persons were murdered around the world.
What happens when “Identity Thief” is released worldwide?
In 2011, a transwoman was savagely beaten in a McDonalds by two teenagers. She survived, only to have her assault go viral thanks to a phone video. In January, two Pittsburgh LGBTQ women were physically assaulted at a bar on the South Side. Their crime? Challenging gender normative behavior by simply “being” queer. Is this an acceptable trade off for a throwaway joke in a movie?
Shame on McCarthy, Bateman, Gordon and the writers for tacitly endorsing hate for the sake of a laugh. It might be easy to laugh off the hate directed at you when you have the buffer of being white, heterosexual, affluent and equally famous family members to defend you. But it shouldn’t cause you to lose your sense of empathy for those who don’t have these privileges.
The LGBTQ community deserves better.