Once risky, 'Danish Girl' movie catches transgender zeitgeist

Mon Nov 23, 2015 8:07am EST
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By Jill Serjeant

NEW YORK (Reuters) - "Risky" was a word British director Tom Hooper heard a lot when he was trying to get "The Danish Girl" made seven years ago.

Yet when the movie about a pioneering 1920s transgender woman arrives in U.S. movie theaters this week, it catches a shift in the cultural zeitgeist that is expected to help take the film and its stars all the way to the Oscars.

"I saw it as a small passion project. A labor of love," said Hooper, whose "The King's Speech" won best picture, director and actor Oscars in 2011. "So I am very happy that it's coming out now."

"The Danish Girl" - to be released worldwide in the coming months - tells the story of Danish artist Einar Wegener, who after marriage transitioned to a woman named Lili Elbe and in 1930 became the first person known to have undergone gender reassignment surgery. It also depicts the unusual love story between Lili and the woman who remained by her side, her wife, artist Gerda Wegener.

Hooper said that when the script came to him in 2008, it had been passed around for about 12 years, struggling to secure finance because of what was seen as the story's limited appeal.

Its release now caps a year when transgender issues have gone mainstream, fueled by the success of award-winning TV series like "Transparent" and "Orange Is The New Black," and the transition of Caitlyn Jenner, the former U.S. Olympic athlete.

The White House hired its first openly transgender staff member, the Pentagon launched a study aimed at ending the ban on trans people in the military, and U.S. female colleges have begun accepting transgender women students.

Yet "The Danish Girl" also arrives amid heated debate within the transgender community over how the issue is portrayed in the media, and over the casting of straight men and women in transgender roles.   Continued...

Screenwriter Lucinda Coxon, cast members Eddie Redmayne, Amber Heard and Alicia Vikander, and director\producer Tom Hooper (L-R) pose during the premiere of the film "The Danish Girl" in Los Angeles, California November 21, 2015. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian