Disclosure: Trans Lives On Screen movie review (2020)

Directed by Sam Feder, this documentary tackles a full history of transgender representation in Hollywood, one that goes back to early silent era films, includes Bugs Bunny, “The Jeffersons,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” FX’s “Pose” and more. With hundreds of clips, the doc establishes a long history of images for people who are marginalized to this day, but it faces transphobic media with its cutting analysis—as painful as many misrepresentations in popular culture can be, “Disclosure” is an eloquent wake-up call against cliches (sex workers, murdered characters, psychos) and images that have given everyone the wrong idea.

A project like this comes full circle with the clear passion behind it, especially as it tries to reach to viewers by sticking to a talking head documentary approach. Feder makes some vital choices, one of them being that every person interviewed is transgender. When a particular show is brought up for a discussion of its portrayal, the discussion is more about the experience of watching—which can be heartwarming like when actress Laverne Cox talks about discovering “Yentl,” or heartbreaking when actress Rain Valdez talks of watching “Soap Dish” with her family. It’s a powerful casting decision too, as if you’ve seen nearly any of the films talked about here, transgender characters almost only play supporting roles. In “Disclosure,” you’ll see more transgender faces here (I wish I could list them all; just see the doc) than you might ever get to see in a single Hollywood movie. 

Whether or not these interview subjects were a part of the images that are on-screen (like Candis Cayne on her historic appearance on ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money”), they are an intrinsic part of a media history that always comes back to their lives. They have lived with it, it has shaped how they view themselves, and they all have incredibly eloquent things to say about it. It’s also not uncommon for the story to take a moment for someone to reflect on how an image affected them. These moments provide the background that a Wikipedia article could not—this is what it was like to be writer Zeke Smith at a certain age, and to realize that his favorite movie “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” associates transgender characters with vomiting, along with other titles that are mentioned. The history that is discussed here, that is chewed on, lamented, and built upon, is always personal. 

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