Disclosure: Trans Lives On Screen review – an essential documentary

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The lives of trans men and women on screen are examined in a terrific new documentary from Sam Feder – and here’s our review of the film, that’s now on Netflix.

In 1981, LGBT activist and author Vito Russo published The Celluloid Closet, a ground-breaking study of gay and lesbian representation in film. Russo’s work was later turned into a 1995 documentary, featuring interviews with actors and screenwriters (many who were LGBT themselves) who looked back throughout the history of cinema, locating various films and looking at how they depicted the ‘taboo’ of homosexuality. Twenty-five years on, and coming from a similar but equally important vein, is Disclosure: Trans Lives On Screen.

Directed by Sam Feder, and including interviews with many trans men and women from in front of and behind the camera, Disclosure is a documentary which provides a detailed look at Hollywood’s depiction of transgender characters throughout film and television history, in addition to the impact these kinds of representation has had on transgender lives and culture in general. From acting as a source of humour, to being a dangerous threat, to existing merely as victims that are incessantly subject to abuse, it becomes clear how trans characters have constantly been portrayed as harmful stereotypes. In turn, this has skewed both how trans men and women view themselves, and how the world has been conditioned to see them.

Feder’s film doesn’t shy away from the consequences of such representation, whilst also acknowledging the complex and contradictory opinions of the documentary’s different participants – there is a discussion of the 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry which is especially enlightening. However, Disclosure not only highlights the importance of visibility and representation, but the urgent need for more nuanced visibility and representation, too. There is nothing that inventive about the filmmaking style, and at just 100 minutes long, the film could have fleshed out certain sections and included independent film and television. But it feels like Disclosure is not trying to be overly comprehensive – after all, you cannot cram an entire history of a group of people into one documentary. Instead, it focuses on mainstream productions as a springboard, and these minor criticisms do not take away from the sheer importance and historical significance of Feder’s film.

What feels particularly significant is that this is a history being told by trans voices. From the director to all of those interviewed in the film, Disclosure gives these marginalised voices a chance to speak about their own history in a world where they have been denied such an opportunity for far too long. As a piece of film and television history, Disclosure is remarkable and insightful, but it is also far more than that. It is a social history that holds up a mirror to our recent past, prompting valid discussions about the importance of media representation. It is a vital work of trans cinema which is truly eye-opening. Quite simply, it is essential viewing.


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