Poster for the 2020 Netflix documentary "Disclosure".
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A commentary on “Disclosure” (2020)

5 mins read

During Pride Month 2020, several online streaming sites have compiled and released a plethora of films, documentaries and TV shows centered around the LGBT community. One of the most prominent examples of this recent surge in long-overdue LGBT representation is the critically-acclaimed documentary Disclosure.

Disclosure fits perfectly into director Sam Feder’s line of work, intertwining queer politics and history into both an educational tool and a piece of political activism. In this interview-based documentary, transgender celebrities talk about their individual experiences, the mediatisation of transgender people and its many repercussions on society. 

The documentary’s main arguments are the historical violence towards trans people (both on and off-screen), misrepresentation’s daily effects on transgender people and the need for more positive depictions as a vital tool for the LGBT liberation movement. Amidst an international political climate where transgender rights are often questioned, this documentary seems like the perfect piece to raise awareness about transphobia, whilst also pointing out the elevated levels of violence transgender people of colour are exposed to.

Credit: SOPA Images via Getty Images.

Executively produced by actress and civil rights activist Laverne Cox (also one of the interviewees), Disclosure’s critical nature “is an eloquent wake-up call against clichés” that perpetuate violence against transgender people, according to film critic Nick Allen. By combining the interview format with an extensive archive of on-screen transphobia, “the hard-won dignity of the film’s transgender speakers is brought into sharper and sharper relief”, says Teo Bugbee from the New York Times.

Laverne Cox being interviewed for the documentary. Credit: Variety

The documentary examines film and TV from D. W. Griffith’s “Judith of Bethulia”, which is one of the first films with gender-variant stereotyped characters, to Netflix’s “POSE”, a revolutionary TV series made by and for black trans women based on New York’s ballroom culture. However, as actress Jen Richards clearly states (not too long into the documentary), transgender people carry within themselves a small history of the representation that shaped their conception of transgenderness and of themselves.

This documentary also excels at being diverse in every possible way. By including transgender people of every colour and area of expertise, the documentary reinforces the idea that intersectionality is absolutely vital when advocating for civil rights. Again, Laverne Cox’s voice is powerful in Disclosure, but it gains meaning with the supporting voices of Bianca Leigh, Jen Richards, Alexandra Billings, Susan Stryker, Yance Ford, Lilly Wachowski, Brian Michael Smith and Tiq Milan, amongst others.

Updated version of the LGBT pride flg, proposed by Daniel Quasar. It focuses on raising awareness for transgender people and LGBT people of colour. Credit: Daniel Quasar, via QUARTZ.

An additional and constructive aspect of this documentary is the amount of healthy debate it naturally generates. By now, I have watched this documentary twice: the first time, during an online streaming party hosted by the University of Stirling’s Gender Studies Film Club; and the second, with my family, in an attempt to subtly increase the level of transgender representation within my own home. Needless to say, the first time was especially eye-opening, considering the Club members and I engaged in a long, healthy discussion about gender and their own experiences as transgender individuals.

As a cisgender ally myself, this experience was incredibly educational and I felt like I learned so much from simply listening to intelligent, brave individuals (both on-screen and in the Club’s chat). It definitely helped to make me sense the level of scrutiny transgender people (especially non-white ones) are constantly subjected to. Which is why I wholeheartedly recommend this documentary to everyone: to transgender people, as an empowering piece of film; to cisgender people, as an educational tool.

Lastly, I feel we must heed the documentary’s parting lesson: to enhance transgender representation is a monumental step towards liberation, but it is not the goal of the revolution, just its means.

Feature image credit: California Humanities

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