As many people continue to condemn Disney’s lack of action regarding Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Lucasfilm has quietly announced that transgender British actress Talisa Garcia has been cast in the Disney+ series Willow. Deadline reports that Garcia will play a cisgender woman with only a few speaking lines, and that she may only appear in one episode.
While this announcement is just now officially public, it was apparently in the works for a month or so, well before the backlash surrounding the “Don’t Say Gay” bill began. Garcia’s casting is historic, but it is such a low bar for Disney to step over that the celebration around her role feels a little performative. Garcia is an excellent actress, judging by the critical acclaim that she generated during her time on the British show Baptiste. She deserves this win, but in the grand scheme of Disney’s silence, walkbacks, and turnarounds regarding queer and transgender rights, contributions, artists, and staff, it doesn’t feel like Disney has earned any kudos here.
The best actress for the part got the part, and that’s the long and short of it. I don’t want to take anything away from Garcia as a trans woman of colour — she has no doubt worked incredibly hard while facing a lot of discrimination along the way. This is a step toward greater inclusivity and representation on screen, full stop. But if we praise Disney when it feels like the studio, especially one as large as it, is doing the bare minimum, real change will be even slower to arrive and come at more and more incremental values. We have a handful of actors who have taken on the burden of being groundbreaking firsts for Disney — something that Disney surely doesn’t deserve, considering the studio’s lack of support for queer and trans rights over the past few years, much less the past few months. The exposure and visibility of queer and trans people without legal and social protections will only serve to benefit straight and cis-passing individuals, and will continually other any queer person who does not fit that highly visible mode.
Accurate, authentic visibility and representation is vitally, existentially important. Cisgender people can’t ignore us if we are living our lives just as much as they are, if we are present in not only our stories but every story. However, Disney’s casting choices are not activism, and they shouldn’t be treated as such.
Willow is slated to arrive on Disney+ later this year.
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