Documentaries are a difficult thing to review for me; it is always difficult to judge solid evidence as being good or bad no matter the topic. However some documentaries, like Netflix’s new film Disclosure, are worth talking about because of the importance of the subject. The timing of this movie is perfect, for America is finally having important conversations about integral social issues regarding race and the institutions that control this country’s perception of reality. This film excellently relays the story of many transgender people and their stories in relation to media’s portrayal of their lives (which, spoiler alert, isn’t too great). Disclosure points out many small details of films and television shows that go unnoticed by cisgender men or women, but affect the way in which trans people view themselves and how society as a whole looks upon them.
Ever since the dawn of cinema, transgender men and women have been included in films; sometimes they were thrown in the background of early silent films and other times they were used as the butt of a joke about the absurdity of trans-ness. The stereotype of the latter continues to live in comedic films and television shows, but these offensive scenes or comments have been largely overlooked. A particularly enlightening focus for me was the stretch about Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. One of the largest plot points in that movie is how disgusting it is that the female lead is actually a man; the movie even goes so far as to have minute-long sequences of Jim Carrey and others getting physically ill over the thought of someone being transgender. As a person who never has to deal with these issues in my everyday life, these scenes never hit me as being anything else but Carrey goofiness. This movie exposes the bigger picture of scenes like the ones in Ace Ventura, and how this offhanded transphobia can cause the entire community to hate themselves and feel as if they do not belong in the society in which they reside.
Disclosure points out that the media has made this transphobia the norm, and has kept the many trans people in America in the shadows because they know people will just laugh at them and dismiss their identity. Only recently has any progress been made on this issue, yet transgender people are still killed and discriminated against at a disproportionate rate. This film emphasizes the need for change by highlighting the stories and experiences of its entirely transgender commentators. Director Sam Feder simply sets the topic; the subjects carry all of the stories and facts that carry this movie. Disclosure is not one person telling us how to feel about a certain issue–instead it contains many important voices of the trans community highlighting their collective experiences about the media shutting them down and controlling their thoughts. This movie could not have worked any other way, for these personal stories give viewers a direct window into the effect these problematic media trends have.
While Disclosure mainly covers the media effect on the public’s perception of transgender people, it also makes time to cover the way in which society addresses the community in general. There seems to be a fixation on the physical aspects of being trans and the “surgery,” instead of looking at the freedom and strong identity a trans person feels when being completely themselves. By focusing on the material aspects, we are invalidating the transgender experience as being less than a human experience. Because it centers on the media’s depiction of this experience, Disclosure has the opportunity to cover every aspect of trans-ness and how each characteristic is valid.
The film gets its name from the forceful “disclosure” of one’s identity as a transgender person. In cinema, it is often seen as a cardinal sin to not immediately tell everyone that one used to be a man/woman. In fact, in many films, this supposed withholding of information results in violence from the white male character to the transgender character. Disclosure’s argument is that this can seep into everyday life, where trans people are beaten and killed for their identity. Trans people shouldn’t need to “disclose” at all; they should just live with their true self without being constantly judged. This point is powerfully made using the many film and television examples that are mentioned throughout. My only gripe with it is the structure. Sometimes it feels as if the film is just bringing up random examples and judging the portrayal of transgender people in it. The film would have benefitted from a specific structure, whether it be chronological, by subject matter, or other.
However, no amount of minuscule issues could get in the way of the stories Disclosure tells. The most powerful moment in the film for me was one where actress Jen Richards reveals her reaction when she finally saw what approving parents looked like, and how it made her resent her own parents, who have disowned her, even more. She had to grow up knowing the people she loved would never approve of who she is, and the fact that we still live in a culture where the majority of parents would feel the same way is horrific. Disclosure is one step in the right direction to make people not only accept the trans community for who they are, but look at them as human beings who are not defined by the gender they identify. These stories need to be heard by everyone who doesn’t understand, and maybe there will be a little less inherent hate in the world from cisgender people because of it.
I give Disclosure an A.