'About Ray' director Gaby Dellal's problematic explanation for casting Elle Fanning as transgender boy

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Jenny Noyes

Elle Fanning in 'About Ray'

Elle Fanning in 'About Ray'

When the trailer for 'About Ray' dropped earlier this month, it generated plenty of buzz around what looks to be a sensitive and complex depiction of a family coming to terms with gender transition.

But there were a few raised eyebrows about the decision to cast cigender female actress Elle Fanning as Ray, a transgender boy who is about to begin his transition from female to male. 

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In an interview with Refinery29 on Monday, the film's director Gaby Dellal attempted to explain her decision. Unfortunately, it comes across as rather uninformed on what being transgender actually means. Not least because the director uses female pronouns to refer to Ray throughout.

"The part is a girl and she is a girl who is presenting in a very ineffectual way as a boy," Dellal says. Oof.

"She's not pretending to have a deeper voice. She's just a girl who is being herself and is chasing the opportunity to start hormone treatment. So to actually use a trans boy was not an option because this isn't what my story is about."

It seems that despite making a movie about a transgender boy she doesn't have the faintest idea what that actually means... or at least she doesn't understand how to express it in language. And that's a real problem.

There are ways to defend a casting decision like this. A generous interpretation of Dellal's comments could be that, as Ray is only just embarking on his transition, he's still very much in a female body. Perhaps for that reason, you could justify casting a cisgender female for the part. 

But Dellal's language here is extremely problematic: it seems to imply that a transgender boy is a "girl" until his body has physically transformed. And that's just not right.

It's particularly worrying because understanding that is basically 'Transgender 101'. 

How is it that a director of a film about a transgender teenager was not better equipped with the language and understanding to discuss this in an informed and sensitive way? 

Let's hope the comments aren't indicative of how the film - which otherwise looks great - deals with the issue it's taken on.