Disclosure is a powerful and moving examination of the representation of trans people on screen.
Director Sam Feder’s film features leading trans thinkers and artists - including Laverne Cox, Lilly Wachowski, Yance Ford, MJ Rodriguez, Jamie Clayton, Jen Richards and Chaz Bono - and questions how trans depictions have affected the way people see trans people and how trans people see themselves.
Feder uses clips from films such as A Florida Enchantment, Dog Day Afternoon, The Crying Game and Boys Don’t Cry and shows like The Jeffersons, The L-Word, and Pose to examine a complex history that is both important (because trans people need to be seen) and also problematic (because all too often the more they are seen, the more they are at risk).
The documentary’s fascinating and eloquent interviewees talk us through the impact of on screen trans representation. We see how trans people are ridiculed or treated with disgust. We see how the same trans stories are told over and over again. We see how many trans narratives are limited to a “big reveal” and a violent end.
Clip by devastating clip, the damage this has caused becomes all too clear. However, Disclosure also explores the dangers of a lack of representation. “It’s an interesting question, a thought experiment, to go back and think what I would feel today as an out trans person if I had never seen any representation of myself in the media,” Jen Richards considers in the film.
“On the one hand, I might not have ever internalised that sense of being monstrous, of having fears around disclosure, of seeing myself as something abhorrent and as a punchline and as a joke… On the flip side, would I even know I’m trans if I had never seen any kind of depiction of gender variance on screen?”
Many of the films and television shows analysed prove problematic. However, Disclosure argues that change is in the air. More positive depictions of trans people are being created - crucial given the fact that, according to the documentary, 80 percent of the American population has never met a transgender person.
Meanwhile, the importance for trans people to see positive, nuanced trans stories is explored. Many of the interviewees share remarkably intimate stories. Cox, who is one of the documentary’s executive producers, reveals experiences that are both incredibly insightful and inspiring.
Disclosure charts the development of trans representation. Feder features the television series I Am Cait - about the life of Caitlyn Jenner - to emphasise the importance of accessible and empowering trans conversations.
While Richards disagrees with all of Jenner’s views, she believes that I Am Cait did a lot of good. For example, in one of the documentary’s most emotionally powerful scenes, she recalls watching a father talk in positive, loving and accepting terms about his trans child.
In that moment, Richards explains she understood that not only was acceptance possible, but that many people were able to go far beyond it and celebrate their trans children. It made her question why her mother and some of her friends could not have been like him - why they could not see the value of her experience.
In addition, when Richards saw this conversation unfold on screen she understood that she had also failed to appreciate her own value. “I have never seen myself the way that father saw his own child,” she says. “I’d never looked at myself with the kind of love and respect and awe that that father had for his own child. No one’s looked at me that way. How could I look at me that way? I had to see it. And now that I have, I want that.”