TropFest…. What were you thinking?
Tropfest is one of the highlights of my year, due to the fact that it regularly showcases some of the brightest young actors and film-makers that Australia has to offer.
However, as both a trans-woman and a lesbian, their decision to present the blatantly transphobic film Bamboozled with their premier award over the weekend, has left me feeling shocked, sickened and saddened.
That’s because while references to “sex changes” and rape culture might be amusing for some people, films like the one produced by Matt Hardie can be nothing but soul-destroying for those of us who have lived through situations similar to those that were both depicted and implied throughout his production.
To show you what I mean, we need to examine the premise behind Bamboozled in rather graphic detail.
At the start, Pete bumps into his ex Harry at a bus stop somewhere in inner west Sydney. After Pete fails to recognise Harry, he then states that he’d just “chosen out of the blue” to have a “sex change” and that he used to be called “Helen”. After catching up on the past 11 years since they supposedly last met, one thing leads to another and after a pretty solid drinking session they inevitability wake up in bed next to each other the next morning.
Now at this point of the film, Bamboozled could have easily of ended on a feel-good note which would’ve made it a worthy winner of TropFest, not to mention a game-changing romantic comedy that could have been utilised to show at-risk same-sex attracted and gender-diverse teens that things ultimately do get better. Instead of utilising such an inspiring story line, Matt Hardie decided to utilise the cliched morning-after-drunken-regret scene that’s found its way into way too many movies over the years, by revealing that the entire situation was nothing more than an “elaborate hoax”, shaming Pete with the news that Harry isn’t really transgendered.
This feeling of shame and exploitation is further compounded, as the real Helen and a camera crew burst into the room with glee soon after.
In essence, Harry sexually manipulates Pete by acting as if he was somebody else, while implying that life changing and traumatic situations (such as being transgender), can be flicked on and off like a light switch. Needless to say, if Pete had of been female rather than male, I doubt that any of TropFest’s judges (or Hardie’s supporters for that matter) would’ve found this film to be funny at all.
Furthermore, it’d be interesting to see what Nicole Kidman thinks of this film, given that some of the prize-money that she’d donated to TropFest was awarded to the actor that played Harry in Bamboozled.
Since last Sunday, Hardie has repeatedly claimed during interviews with the ABC and other media outlets that his film was nothing more than “satire” and that those of us who can’t see that were “completely missing the point”.
These claims are further represented in a statement that he gave to Inside Film on Monday, at which time he said: “I’m copping it hard from some people. I guess that just going to happen with such a controversial subject matter. But I’m not homophobic and I don’t think the movie is homophobic or transphobic.
“The main character decides to sleep with the transgender person because he loves that person for who they are. But it’s not even a transgender character… it’s someone playing a trick on him. It’s more a comment on media and the extremes to which reality TV could go.”
Now whether he’s willing to admit it or not, this statement essentially highlights the fact that Hardie utilised trans-people as a punchline throughout his entire production. By stating that Harry was just someone playing a trick on Pete, Hardie has effectively implied that trans-people are nothing more than hoaxers and that the deeply personal inner-conflict that we experience on a daily basis is something that can be easily recreated for the enjoyment of others.
This in turn reinforces the commonly held belief in some parts of society that issues involving sexuality and gender are throw-away and artificial in nature, which can have catastrophic consequences for members of minority groups, as evidenced by the comments made by Superintendent Tony Crandell of the NSW Police’s Sex and Gender Diversity Unit during the recent Transgender Day of Remembrance function at Parliament House.
While Hardie might have thought that his film had a “nice punchline at the end”, it’s hard to laugh while hearing reports of rape, torture, physical abuse, suicide and murder being made by the state’s top policeman for LGBTI affairs and that comedic productions like Bamboozled have had a role in stopping people coming forward to report them.
Furthermore, as a journalist who has been embraced as an equal by some of the most prominent names in the media industry, I can say with conviction that Hardie’s claim about transphobia within the contemporary media is mostly overly simplistic and wrong.
Now in all fairness, while this entire saga has greatly distressed me over the course of the past 24 hours, it is one that I am willing to move on from, if both Tropfest and Matt Hardie are willing to give a bit of ground on this as well. If Hardie and TropFest are publicly willing to admit that they’ve unnecessarily hurt an extremely vulnerable community with the transphobia surrounding this film, learn from it and ensure that a situation like this never arises again, then they should be championed for it.
If they don’t however, then they deserve all of criticism that they get.
Kate Doak tweets under @katedoak.
UPDATE WEDNESDAY 11 DECEMBER 2013
In a statement released earlier today Tropfest founder John Polson wrote:
Thank you to everyone for attending Tropfest on Sunday night and watching our live broadcast on SBS. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with the majority of people agreeing this was our most successful Tropfest to date. We were very excited to celebrate short film with a record-breaking crowd in a brand new, spectacular venue and at a new time of year.
However, it has also come to our attention that some in our audience felt offended by the winning film, Matt Hardie’s ‘Bamboozled’. As a free and open platform for filmmakers, we don’t apologize on behalf of specific films. We also don’t believe that the filmmaker’s intention in this case was to denigrate or belittle any section of the population. However, if that was the unintended outcome of this film to any of our audience members, we do sincerely apologize.
Anyone who has attended Tropfest, or has interacted with us as a filmmaker, knows that we support, embrace and celebrate all people and lifestyles. We are a small, very dedicated and passionate team who work tirelessly to bring this enormous, free, community event to life every year – for ANYONE who wishes to attend and enjoy it.
To those who have expressed their concern about the film, we want you to know that your comments have been heard.
Tropfest is a platform and, at the end of the day, we’re glad this platform is being used to stimulate conversation about equality and diversity on a national level. Please keep talking about this film – and all our films – in a respectful and healthy way. Keep sharing your opinion and keep the conversation happening.
That’s what Tropfest is all about.
John Polson & Team Tropfest