Nick wrote:It's been a while since I've seen "The Silence of the Lambs", but I think the movie does a decent job of reminding the viewer that Buffalo Bill is not a real transgendered individual, nor is he meant to be representative of transgendered individuals. Some choice quotes form the movie...
"There's no correlation between transsexualism and violence."
"Transsexuals are very passive. Clever girl."
"Billy is not a real transsexual. But he thinks he is. He tries to be."
"Billy hates his own identity, you see, and he thinks that makes him a transsexual."
Ignoring the inherent transphobia in the quotes the producers of Silence threw in (I recommend the article I posted), I would argue that intent doesn't really matter when it comes to things like this, as much as the actual effect it has on moviegoers. The producers of Breakfast at Tiffany's likely intended Mickey Rooney's character to be slapstick comic relief, as did the producers of Sixteen Candles with Long Duk Dong, but the intent doesn't matter when both characters were in actuality horrible racist stereotypes of Asians. Regardless if the producers threw in those quotes to try to clarify things, Buffalo Bill went on to be one of the main portrayals of trans people in the media and in society, and this is undeniable, both from the films cultural influence (plenty of references to buffalo bill in other films and tv shows), and my own personal experience with people making jokes about the character.
The same goes for judging films by current social norms. While the technical achievements of Birth of a Nation might have been groundbreaking, saying the films heavily racist content should be given a pass because of the time in which it was made is almost a way of temporarily bringing those norms into the present. Without modern social critique of historically racist films, all thats left is praise and canonization for problematic films in the modern era thats not much different from when it was made.
Most importantly, I would argue that Buffalo Bill's character isn't merely a horrific racist sideshow like Mr. Yunioshi or Long Duk Dong, but so much one of the primary antagonists and plot elements of the film, that makes it so hard to simply dismiss the films transphobia as a minor sin. By coding the Ed Gein-esque character as gender non-conforming, the film plays on societies fear of trans women attacking or violating cis women, or invalidating the concept of womanhood (Bill literally tries to build a woman suit).
It's notable that Laura Jane Grace (of Against Me!), has gone on record saying that Bill was her first exposure to trans people, along with what I imagine to be thousands of other trans people today. I can't imagine how horrifying and scarring of an experience that has to be, realizing that society views you as aligned with a character designed to be a freak and a villain in a film (the infamous "tucking" scene, for instance, has become one of the films most enduring images) among the most acclaimed of the 90s.
I write this all not because I'm a saint or some perfect being, but as a white, cis, gay man who has witnessed several trans friends endure residual minority stress not only from personal experience, but because of the idea of trans people as portrayed and created by films like this. That is why I feel guilt about not revisiting the film before making my list.