Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Not Rated, 100 minutes
Directed by: Sam Feder
Throughout the many decades of film and television’s existence, transgender visibility on both small and silver screens has been piss poor. Yet that community has very much existed in society and has been yearning to see far more positive portrayals depicted of themselves. Director Sam Feder’s documentary DISCLOSURE seeks to alter the current course for the betterment of not solely the trans community, but for everyone. While this documentary is heavily loaded with information, its sentiments are heartfelt and passionate, adding much-needed educational context to a difficult conversation society seems to want to shirk.
Observational and academic-level assessments are divvied up between the informed interviewees, taking us through the start of trans characters on screen all the way through modern depictions, which show we still have far to go. Trans activists, actresses, actors, filmmakers and educators like Laverne Cox, Alexandra Billings, Susan Stryker, Lilly Wachowski, Brian Michael Smith and many others speak their truth and minds. Though some of the conversation feels a tad truncated, there’s insight gleaned on how and why Hollywood, throughout history, has chosen frequently harmful and occasionally heartrending ways to portray trans characters. It stands as a critical reckoning for the filmmakers who’ve been singled out.
Throughout each segment, the documentary wisely never presupposes that the audience has seen the films long in the zeitgeist. All of the chatter is absolutely compelling, painting with compassionate strokes. Obviously damaging instigators like ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and SOAPDISH – three particularly insensitive, insidious and transphobic depictions from the 90’s – are rather expectedly introduced into the conversation. It also broaches nuanced aspects of the issue, like when a few of the interviewees reveal their personal experiences with BOYS DON’T CRY. These exchanges also touche on the modern era’s iteration of a minstrel show: putting cis-Black men in dresses as if to emasculate them.
With all the material compiled, Feder and company could’ve easily launched a deep dive series about how all forms of media – including talk shows and the news, which have continually sought to sensationalize – are culpable in how they frame the dialogue. A large portion is dedicated to fascinating film theory. Things get especially interesting when the topic of romantic comedies centering on a gender swap (in films like JUST ONE OF THE GUYS) enters into the discussion. However, the filmmakers make all their valid and valued points with succinct efficacy, allowing the viewer to further ponder salient sentiments on their own after the credits roll.
The message this documentary sends is one filled with a hope for a better day when it comes to how transgender people are highlighted on screen. We absolutely can and should toss aside the stale, hurtful tropes of yesteryear and find an ingenious approach to spotlight that powerful community as the authentic, awesome people they truly are. Now that we know better, we can begin to do better.
DISCLOSURE is now streaming on Netflix.