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Film Review: Mostly Effective “Disclosure” Examines Transgender Representation in Media

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | June 18th, 2020

Film poster: “Disclosure”

Disclosure (Sam Feder, 2020) 3 out of 4 stars.

A forceful indictment of how transgender people have been portrayed onscreen since the dawn of cinema, Disclosure combines interviews and clips in a mix as infuriating as it is entertaining. Featuring a rich talking-head cast of academics, activists, actors, directors and more – all of them trans and nonbinary – the film shows both how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. Considering its intense focus on the cinematic image, perhaps a better title might have been “Transmedia,” since the word “disclosure” points, at least initially, to a very different kind of story, but it soon becomes clear why it has meaning specific to this topic: choosing how and why to disclose one’s identity is an intensely private matter, too often seized by the intolerant to rob trans people of that choice. Given that fact, however, the documentary would be richer than it already is if it balanced its societal critique with information beyond the world of movies and television, but this does not significantly detract from the overall power of what we see.

Whatever my thoughts on his approach, I find that director Sam Feder (Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger) has a fine eye for what footage from the films discussed will make the most impact. He also has an excellent sense of composition, framing his subjects in beautifully lit, perfectly balanced shots. And they are quite a fascinating bunch, all highly articulate in their expressions of pain and joy. From artists like Laverne Cox, Zackary Drucker, Bianca Leigh, Trace Lysette, Jen Richards and Brian Michael Smith, to the University of Arizona’s Susan Stryker to GLAAD’s Nick Adams to the ACLU’s Chase Strangio (also featured in The Fight), each has anecdotes and sharp analysis to contribute to the discussion. They form the heart of the film, far more than the media they talk about.

Laverne Cox in DISCLOSURE ©Netflix

But those movies nevertheless take up a significant portion of Disclosure. Feder quotes from the earliest of silents to the most recent releases, with plenty in between, including movies like Boys Don’t Cry, The Crying Game, Dallas Buyers Club, Just One of the Guys, Ma Vie en Rose, Paris Is Burning, Victor/Victoria and Yentl, to shows like Bosom Buddies, Nip/Tuck and Pose, as well as many more. What truly fascinates is the variety of opinion on each one, reminding us that we are all complex beings, individuals no matter our particular identity. That perhaps is the best lesson of this mostly moving, occasionally frustrating work: let no one dictate who you are based on how they see you; your humanity lies within, and is of your own choosing.

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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