Belén Cuesta as Julia/Manila in Money Heist — Photo: Netflix
Fans of Netflix’s crime drama Money Heist have been venting their frustration over the casting of a cisgender actress to portray a transgender character.
The critically-acclaimed Spanish-language series, which has become a global hit on the streaming service, follows a gang who plan and execute assaults on Spain’s major financial institutions, including the Royal Mint of Spain and the Bank of Spain.
Money Heist, whose Spanish title is La casa de papel, began streaming its fourth season on April 3. It features trans character Julia — who uses the code name Manila — being elevated to the main cast, after she aids the gang in their robbery of the Bank of Spain.
But Manila’s increased screen time has brought criticism from viewers, after it was noted that she is portrayed by award-winning cisgender Spanish actress Belén Cuesta.
While Manila has been well-received by Money Heist fans, with many praising the inclusion of a transgender character, some are taking to Twitter to ask why a transgender actress wasn’t cast in the role, PinkNewsreports.
User @mjd3lacruz asked, “with the little recognition and visibility trans actors have, would it have killed the producers of the show to hire an actual trans woman to play Manila instead of having a cisgendered woman play her?”
“Is the person who plays Manila from Money Heist really a trans woman?” Caitlin tweeted. “[Because] I’d be disappointed if they used a biological female.”
“Why not cast a trans person for a trans role?” @christapata asked.
Another person countered arguments that “an actor can play anyone” by noting that transgender actors “EXIST and NEED those roles because they don’t have as many opportunities as cis actors.”
“Giving those roles to cis people conveys the idea that being trans is a performance. Spoiler: It’s NOT,” Elianor Pâtes ou Riz wrote. “A trans actor knows and lives the struggles trans people face. A cis actor does NOT. We NEED [representation] to show that trans people are REAL not just characters!”
Asked about the casting decision, Cuesta told El Español that she understands the “struggle” of trans actors and said, “I support them a lot.”
Cuesta said that she was “very happy to play Julia” and noted that Money Heist‘s production company, Vancouver, “is inclined towards visibility and inclusion.”
“A cisgender actress can play a transgender woman or a transgender woman can play a cisgender woman,” she said.
The casting of cisgender actors in transgender roles has become a hot button issue in Hollywood.
Scarlett Johansson pulled out of biopic Rub and Tug in 2018 after backlash over her casting as its trans male lead — criticism that heightened after she initially dismissed the controversy.
Responding to complaints from the trans community, Johansson said that those concerned with a cisgender actor portraying a trans character could be “directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.” (All three actors had previously portrayed transgender characters: Tambor in Amazon’s Transparent, Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, and Huffman in Transamerica.)
After her response drew even more criticism, Johansson ultimately left the production, saying she had “learned a lot from the [transgender] community since making my first statement about my casting and realize it was insensitive.”
“I have great admiration and love for the trans community and am grateful that the conversation regarding inclusivity in Hollywood continues,” she said.
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