On Monday, Mark Ruffalo said he was excited to be the executive producer of a "daring project": the upcoming movie "Anything," about a transgender female sex worker living in Los Angeles, played by actor Matt Bomer.
"Love is at the essence of great storytelling and transcends all discrimination and politicization," Ruffalo told Variety.
But many in the transgender community didn't agree and took to social media to argue that the film, based on the play by Tim McNeil, was just another example of "transface" — casting a cisgender actor in a transgender role. It's a pattern that has played out over decades: Jared Leto was cast as a trans woman in "Dallas Buyers Club"; Eddie Redmayne starred as a trans woman in "The Danish Girl"; Hilary Swank won an Oscar for her portrayal of a trans man in 1999's "Boys Don't Cry."
As word spread of Bomer's casting in "Anything," trans activists and actors took to Twitter to voice their objections. Among the most vocal was Jen Richards, who directs and stars in "Her Story," an Emmy-nominated Web series about the lives of transgender and queer women. In a lengthy tweetstorm, Richards attacked the practice of "transface" as not only discriminatory but also dangerous.
She noted that she has lost transgender roles because she didn't appear "trans" enough. (She also revealed that she had auditioned for a role in "Anything" — not the character played by Bomer — and didn't get the part.) And she argued that casting a man as a transgender woman could encourage violence by perpetuating the idea that trans women are really just men disguised as women.
"I'm not some screechy activist," she continued. "It's happening all the time. The stakes are life & death. Our women are dying."
Her claim is supported by research: The 2013 Hate Violence Report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that transgender people were far more likely to be victims of threats and sexual violence than non-transgender people. Trans women and trans people of color were especially vulnerable; more than half of all LGBT homicide victims in 2013 were trans women of color, the report showed.
Richards wasn't the only one who wanted to get this point across. Jamie Clayton, who stars in the Netflix sci-fi series "Sense 8," also weighed in with a message directed to Bomer and his co-star, Michelle Rodriguez, who will also play a transgender character in "Anything."
Clayton's objection didn't exactly get a warm reception from Bomer, who blocked her on Twitter, then later unblocked her — a rather surprising reaction from an actor who has previously spoken out about transgender issues and his own experience as an openly gay actor.
On Thursday, Ruffalo offered a more encouraging response to the controversy.
Richards thanked him — and reiterated her interest in talking about the issue.
As of Thursday, she was still waiting for a response to that suggestion. But she said she was moved by the many others who had followed her arguments and experienced a change of heart as a result: "I'm touched how many people have written to say that my argument for not having cis men play trans women has changed their mind," she tweeted. "It happens."