Filmmaker Lukas Dhont has rejected the label of “cis director” as he addressed criticism of his movie Girl, which tells the story of a transgender teenager who is transitioning while training as a ballet dancer.
Dhont was discussing the topic of equality in the film and entertainment industry at a panel discussion titled “Gender Equality is THE Way Forward,” during the European Film Awards (EFAs) in Seville, Spain, over the weekend.
The Belgian filmmaker defended his right as a cisgender person—someone who identifies with the gender assigned at birth—to tell stories of transgender people.
While he admitted that trans filmmakers “haven’t been given the visibility they wanted,” he also rejected the idea of “limiting ourselves to only talk about parts of our own identity,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
He then continued, quoted by Screen Daily: “I really feel like when I read an article about Girl and it will say ‘cis director Lukas Dhont,’ I see that as an offensive thing. If you write about a female director and talk about that she is female just to make a point, I would find that extremely offensive as well.
“I’m excited seeing female filmmakers tackle any subject they want, and I’m excited to see trans directors tell any story they want. I hope that is the future.”
Lukas Dhont criticised for excessive focus on character’s body
Dhont’s Girl has received praise and awards, including two top honours at Cannes Film Festival and the prize for European Film Discovery at the EFAs.
It failed to be shortlisted for an Oscar for foreign-language film, but it has been nominated for a Golden Globe in the same category.
LGBT+ film critics have however taken issues with the movie for its focus on the main character’s body and genitalia.
“Dhont’s portrayal of gender dysphoria is so focused on the genitals that he offers no insight into the psychological facets of trans girl’s psychology,” wrote trans film critic Cathy Brennan for the website of the British Film Institute (BFI).
“It’s a missed opportunity to properly contextualize the experiences of trans folks coming into ourselves as more than purely physical and medical,” wrote Out Magazine entertainment writer Tre’vell Anderson.
Trans journalist Oliver Whitney, who is senior editor at ScreenCrush, wrote in The Hollywood Reporter: “Lara’s genitals, shown in multiple full-frontal nude shots of [lead actor] Polster’s penis, have a bigger presence throughout Girl and are central to more plot points than the character herself.”
Whitney added: “Dhont’s movie is a primary example of what happens when non-minority critics are the only ones discussing a film portraying an underrepresented community, and the consequences of allowing non-trans creators to tell trans stories.”
Is Lukas Dhont’s Girl based on a true story?
Dhont’s inspiration for the film, which is due for release on Netflix in 2019, came from reading a newspaper article about a 16-year-old transgender ballerina when he was still in film school. He made contact with the girl, Nora Monsecour, and obtained her permission to do a film about her story.
Monsecour defended the director in an opinion piece published in The Hollywood Reporter earlier this month. “Girl tells my story in a way that doesn’t lie, doesn’t hide. To argue that Lara’s experience as trans is not valid because Lukas is cis or because we have a cis lead actor offends me,” the 22-year-old dancer wrote.
She added: “I made it through my darkest, most challenging times. I am a professional dancer and a unique, brave, strong woman that knows exactly who she is and what she wants. Now, I can proudly say that I am transgender.”