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Transgressions in Film Representation: Why Cis Actors Shouldn’t Play Transgender Characters

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Source: POSE | FX

Recently acclaimed cisgender actor, Scarlett Johansson, sparked media controversy for accepting the role of a transgender man in the upcoming film project, Rub & Tug. Following critical backlash from the LGBTQ+ community for accepting the role, Johansson has since then dropped out of the role.

“In light of recent ethical questions raised surrounding my casting as Dante ‘Tex’ Gill, I have decided to respectfully withdraw my participation in the project,” she claimed.

“Our cultural understanding of transgender people continues to advance, and I’ve learned a lot from the community since making my first statement about my casting and realize it was insensitive.”

While the LGBTQ+ community is relieved at this development, there are those to question the controversy. Many ask why in a world based on make-belief a cisgender actor cannot play certain roles.

In the past, transgender characters in cinema have often been played by cisgender actors. Examples include Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry), Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, and Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl. However, several voices within the transgender community have find this tendency to cast cis actors in trans roles problematic. Many believe the trend enforces a system of cis privilege and discrimination against transgender performers.

Jen Richards, a transgender actress and activist, has been vocal about the value of authentic representation. She has stated the problems that arise from casting cisgender men as transgender women in media. “First, there’s the practical/economic one. It denies actual trans women opportunities, jobs, resources, which hurts entire community.”

For many performers who come from marginalized backgrounds, Hollywood has demonstrated explicit biases of favoring those whose skin and bodies do not challenge the status quo of “white, male, cisgender, etc.”

For transgender individuals, who already face major discrimination in terms of medical access, legal protection, and general public safety, the exclusion of transgender actors from opportunities to represent themselves in the media only hinders them financially and socially within mainstream society.

To create a story about a marginalized person without involving that community’s participation is appropriation. Authentic representation requires contributions from both behind and in front of the screen from people who identify as part of that community. This was seen in Pose, which boasts the largest cast of trans actors ever represented within one show.

On cisgender actors who have been awarded for playing transgender women, Jen Richards states, “Cis audiences reward them because they see being trans itself as a performance.” She then added,

“Trans actors rather perform THE STORY, not our gender.”

So, for those who question the controversy of cisgender actors being cast as transgender characters, please ask yourself the difference between playing a role and playing an identity on screen. Understand the value of representation for those who are not yet able to see their authentic stories seen on screen.

By: Michele Kirichanskaya

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Frightening Arrests of Journalists at Black Lives Matter Protests in Minneapolis

Anna Leikvold

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Protesters outside holding a blue, red, white and black sign that reads 'END WHITE SILENCE Black Lives Matter' at the Minneapolis protests.
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Police have terrorized black communities since the existence of slave patrols. The murder of George Floyd at the hands of policemen was far from an isolated event, and citizens own the right and duty to protest the immortality displayed by the police force. We need good journalists on the streets to help tell the story of the fight for black lives.

At the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, many journalists were illegally and aggressively detained by the Minneapolis Police Department. These actions were a clear infringement on First Amendment rights and the matter was not properly handled by law enforcement or city officials.

While these events are still certainly not affiliated with the city of Minneapolis, many noteworthy examples of unjust treatment towards journalists happened within this city. Suppression of free press is an irrefutable warning sign of authoritarianism and must be taken very seriously.

On May 29, a team of CNN reporters was arrested live on air while reporting on the protests. Omar Jimenez, the correspondent of the team, was the first to be detained without any explanation as to why he was under arrest. After some time, the police detained the rest of the crew for the public to see. The CNN team was allowed to be reporting and they were following all the rules and regulations given to them by the police. This incident in particular is a case of unfair profiling and gross police misconduct.

The following evening, disturbing live footage shows WCCO photojournalist, Tom Aviles, being violently arrested by police on May 30. During this arrest, Aviles was forced onto the ground after clearly identifying himself as a member of the press. The footage shows an officer going out of his way to unnecessarily brutalize and harass Aviles.

Journalist Jared Goyette was one of the many reporters injured during the protests. Aviles was shot in the eye and tear-gassed. He is now part of a class-action lawsuit with the ACLU against the Minneapolis Police department. Goyette was one of many who was targeted by the police after being clearly identified as a member of the press.

The ACLU says that these events are an assault on the First Amendment right to freedom of the press and have dangerous ramifications. This lawsuit is a huge step for the Black Lives Matter movement and police abolishment movement as the people of Minneapolis fight to change a broken system.

“The power of the people is rooted in the ability of the free press to investigate and report news, especially at a time like this when police have brutally murdered one of our community members,” said ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson.

The suppression of free speech seemed to be an intentional effect of the brutality against journalists at the protests. This suppression also allowed police to better hide the violence committed against peaceful protestors. Many peaceful protestors were severely injured by the aggressive use of force by police across the country. Having journalists out on the front lines of these protests is a crucial way to show the reality of the events. Having live footage keeps people safe on both sides. Journalists are crucial mediators and voices of democracy, and this repeated violation of their First Amendment right reflects a dangerous authoritarian sentiment.

Minnesota Governor Tim Waltz and other city and state officials expressed their regret for the incidents, but they neither punished the officers for their misconduct nor did enough to prevent further incidents like this happening again. While Governor Tim Waltz did personally apologize to CNN reporter Omar Jimenez for what happened, these unlawful actions continued to occur after the CNN arrests, and no real action was taken.

Governor Waltz should push for an internal investigation and help the ACLU with the lawsuit against the police department. He and other elected officials across the country are in a very important position in changing the police system drastically and must not ignore the police’s constant abuse of human rights in the United States.

According to John Bolton’s recently released tell-all book, President Trump has expressed hateful and authoritarian sentiments when speaking about journalists. Referring to journalists, he said, “These people should be executed. They are scumbags.” This type of discourse should be taken very seriously, as repression of the press, to the point of execution, is a threat to all of our freedom. This sentiment is trickling down to local police who think it is okay to silence voices that represent a crucial pillar of our democracy.

These arrests and abuses must not be forgotten or pushed aside. People across the world have a right to be outraged and must continue to fight for justice, and good journalists must be there as allies for the movement. With the help of the press, this movement will live on until every cop guilty of human rights abuses is behind bars and the policing system becomes indistinguishable from the one we have today.

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Coronavirus Epidemic Ends Study Abroad Students’ Semesters

Katherine Feinstein

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Coronavirus epidemic gets serious to the point that college students' study abroad programs come to an end.
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People all over the world are unpredictably affected by the newest Coronavirus and its implications.

More specifically, abroad students are finding themselves being sent home from their study programs. Having to cancel personal travel, and living in the uncertainty of how their semesters in Europe will end.

Coronavirus started as a blip on the radar of students preparing to embark on a four-month journey to study in Europe.

The first mysterious case emerged in Wuhan, China on December 31st,  2019. And millions of American university students packed their bags and flew to another hemisphere without any worry of this ‘random’ flu discovered so far away. 

Fast forward to January 30th, 2020- just one month later- and the outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Though COVID-19 has symptoms paralleling that of the common flu (cough, fever, shortness of breath). And only has a death rate of 3.4%, the virus has uncontrollably spread. The shutdown travel has students living in Europe wondering, what now?

The countries currently most dangerous to travel to are China, with a whopping 80,703 cases. Italy, South Korea, Iran, and France are also a threat. But perhaps the most alarming aspect of this virus is how quickly it spreads.

Similar to other contagious viruses, COVID-19 spreads by human-to-human contact. Or by coming into contact with respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Thus, the increases in cases in countries with patients concentrated in quarantined areas are skyrocketing. Just within the last 24 hours,  Italy has 1,492 new cases and 250 new deaths. 

The Coronavirus map displays countries that are the most at risk for getting the virus.
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Alex, a Junior at the University of Michigan, had been studying abroad in Rome for just four weeks before Italy was declared a Level 3 Travel Advisory by the US State Department.

Almost immediately after Alex’s program was canceled and his home institution called for all students enrolled in programs in Italy to return to the US. This came as a shock to Alex and other students in his program, as Rome itself was not an area with many Coronavirus cases. 

“Almost no one was wearing masks, even when we visited the Vatican the day after the announcement. It all felt so surreal that we were really being sent home, even though Rome hadn’t changed at all,” he recalls.

Many students studying in Italy were feeling similarly. Other universities like Syracuse and Villanova had pulled their students from Europe before programs abroad had even canceled themselves. 

The next steps in these types of situations vary from school to school. But one thing is for sure: many students are left financially and academically devastated by abroad programs being abruptly canceled.

For Alex’s specific program in Rome, students will be finishing the semester through online courses. And will receive no compensation for the canceled $15,000 program. The epidemic has other serious implications such as economic recessions and discrimination towards Asian people. Abroad students’ pockets have certainly felt the blow of this unpredictable virus. 

Similarly, several typically cheap airlines used by many American students studying abroad. Such as Ryanair and EasyJet, have not changed their “no cancellation of flights after 24 hours of booking” policy.

This means that students who had flights to now untravelable regions like Italy cannot get money back from canceled travel due to the rapidly escalating virus outbreak. 

Shannon, a Junior at American University, had dropped $450 of her own money on flights and $150 on housing for an unforgettable April spring break trip in Amalfi, Italy. Now, with Italy at an overall Level 3 Advisory and some parts at a Level 4, she and her group have been forced to cancel.

“When I contacted the airline about possibly getting some of my money back given the sudden situation, they refused to refund me. Now, I’m out $600, and don’t know if I should cancel other trips I had planned just in case,” Shannon said.

 Unfortunately, many students find themselves in a similar predicament: should they not take the risk of traveling at all outside their home country?

Georgetown Junior Ally and her parents have already considered the option of canceling all travel going forward. Her program is in Copenhagen, Denmark, a country that has a notoriously strong health care system. And only 35 cases on COVID-19 with none actually in Copenhagen.

Though Ally is most likely in one of the safest areas of Europe, her parents fear that if she were to leave for a weekend trip she would not be able to return.

“People all over Europe are in busy airports and then getting on planes with 400 plus people. My parents are just worried that my plane will land. Someone will have a fever, and all 400 of us will be quarantined or denied entry to Denmark.”

The Coronavirus advertisement informs people how to avoid the virus as much as possible.
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In situations like this, many parents are struggling to figure out how to best keep their kids safe while they’re living across the world. Some students’ parents are preemptively pulling them from their programs. Others aren’t as concerned about this virus that seems to only put infants and the elderly in danger. 

Nonetheless, the official advice from the World Health Organization as of now is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Wear a mask only if you are feeling sick, and self-quarantine if you feel sick or have traveled to Italy, Iran, South Korea, or China. However, different students are dealing with this unprecedented virus, the future of existing abroad programs is unknown.

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Tarana Burke discusses her founding of the ‘Me Too Movement’

Anna Leikvold

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Tarana Burke is the founder of the Me Too movement. The movement has worked to expose gender-based violence across the world. This past week Burke traveled around schools in Minnesota and spoke about the movement and her other projects.

Among the schools, she visited was St. Olaf College where she went in-depth about the movement and what else can be done. 

Burke is also currently the director at Girls for Gender Equity in Brooklyn New York and the co-founder of Just Be inc. Both work to create safe spaces and opportunities for young women. 

Since a young age, Burke has been involved in social justice issues but she didn’t get into gender-based violence work until later in her life. 

As a survivor herself, “there is healing in acting”, Burke said. Even though the work she does is tough, “If there is just one little girl who doesn’t have to feel what I did then this was a success.”

Tarana Burke emphasized the importance of centering women of color in this movement. Burke said that if we focus on the most marginalized of us all, everyone will be benefited.

She acknowledged that many people are affected by this violence from all backgrounds. But what differentiates groups is how society responds to violence. 

“We understand sexual violence doesn’t discriminate. It is the responses to gender-based violence where we discriminate,” Burke said.

As an example of this problem, Burke compared the Weinstein and R. Kelly cases. Because Weinstein’s victims were high profile white women, the world responded much quicker than in the case of R Kelly, who victimized numerous women, mostly nonwhite, under the public eye without a reaction for years.

“We are socialized to respond to the vulnerability of white women,” Burke said. 

Burke emphasized the importance of treating every group’s experiences with gender-based violence differently because of the unique circumstances around situations. Along with this important separation, she said it is very important to qualify all survival experiences.

Tarana Burke, Me Too Movement founder, advocates the ending of gender-based violence.
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She reminded people that some stories are messy and complex but that trauma affects each person in unique ways. And that we should be more widely understood. 

Burke discussed the complications that come with reporting on sexual-based violence and retraumatization. Survivors shouldn’t need to relay all the gory details of their experience. It is unfair that “we need to cut and bleed for people to have empathy.”

Burke said, “me too can be a conversation starter or the whole conversation.” Understanding that survivors don’t owe anyone a rational unified story, or even one at all, is important to remember.

People are supporting the Me Too Movement, founded by Tarana Burke by carrying signs.
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According to Burke colleges, including St. Olaf college, can and should be doing better to deal with sexual violence. Burke also said that presidents of universities need to be consistently clear that they have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual violence.

Further, she said that college students should be safe and should feel empowered to demand that safety. This safety should become a culture on campus that we can consistently rely on. 

She brought up the example of Rutgers University which requires a mandatory seminar every year for students instead of just an online session as a way to create that culture of safety.

The school should also be more transparent about its past failures and what they are consistently doing to improve. Title 9, according to Burke, should be completely overhauled, as it is not doing nearly enough.  

“When I walk around campus students should make me feel like they are safe,” Burke said. 

Along with making sure that students are safe and “don’t leave the school broken than they came”, Burke said, the institution has a duty to reprimand perpetrators so as to prevent them from harming more people.

Burke believes that we must, however, move away from a system of crime and punishment and move towards a more restorative and transformative process for the perpetrators. 

Burke reminded supporters of the movement that survivors need empathy and not pity. Survivors need to continuously live with what happened to them and “commit to healing work” Burke said, and “remember that there is strength in survival.”

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