Netflix’s Girl, a foreign-language award season submission, already faced tremendous backlash from trans critics over the film’s violent scenes, cinematic approach, the cisgender voices handling the material, and a seeming lack of access to the film in general for LGBTQ reviewers. In light of the next wave of criticism, incited by Girl‘s recent Golden Globes nomination, Nora Monsecour, the real-life trans ballerina who inspired the work, published a response in The Hollywood Reporter on Friday.
“Those criticizing Girl are preventing another trans story from being shared in the world, and are also attempting to silence me and my trans identity,” Monsecour wrote, in part. “Every day, I see young, transgender people fighting for their dreams, accomplishing their goals. They are not weak and fragile. Girl tells my story in a way that doesn’t lie, doesn’t hide. To argue that Lara’s experience as trans is not valid because [director] Lukas [Dhont] is cis or because we have a cis lead actor offends me.”
“I made it through my darkest, most challenging times,” she continued. “I am a professional dancer and a unique, brave, strong woman that knows exactly who she is and what she wants. Now, I can proudly say that I am transgender. I faced my challenges and my naysayers head-on and did not back down from my convictions. I will do the same to support this film, my friend Lukas, and this story.”
Girl, directed by Dhont, a Belgian filmmaker, stars cisgender actor Victor Poslter as Lara, a 15-year-old trans teen who’s based on Monsecour’s real-life journey to become a trained dancer from a young age. The film currently enjoys a 95 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 19 logged reviews written predominantly by cisgender male critics.
According to trans critics who’ve seen Girl, the issues go beyond the still prevalent problem of cisgender talent telling trans stories. Tre’vell Anderson from Out and Oliver Whitney from THR pointed EW to the camera’s lingering fascination with Lara’s genitals, featuring what they deemed to be unnecessary close-up shots of Lara “peeling tape off of her penis” and hovering “over her crotch.” Others also criticized the apparent disregard of Lara’s internal struggles.
Monsecour wrote that “Girl is not a representation of all transgender experiences, but rather a retelling of experiences that I faced during my journey.”
“I spent countless hours focusing on my internal demons and feeling betrayed by my physical body,” she added. “What hurt me the most was not the people who bullied me, who put me down, who didn’t want me to succeed. What caused me the most turmoil was myself and my thoughts. In Girl, these thoughts became an important part of Lara’s psyche too. I’m thankful to the team at Ghent Hospital, who helped me throughout my treatment, and consulted closely with Lukas on the film to ensure we were accurate. This was integral in developing the character of Lara.”
(Spoiler warning.) Multiple critics, in conversation with EW, pointed to a particularly gruesome scene that closes out the film. One described Girl at large as “trans trauma porn” with “a sick kind of delight in portraying a trans body as a site of suffering.”
Monsecour also defended the final scenes of Girl, though she clarified they weren’t part of her real story.
“We made a film with some hard, honest scenes,” she wrote. “Scenes that might be disturbing to watch, but that are crucial to show. I do not want to sugarcoat my experiences or hide away my darkest thoughts. I shouldn’t have to — they are real and not uncommon in the trans community. Though my story does not include this final event, it’s a thought that lingered in my mind every day.”
Some critics, especially those living outside large film markets like Los Angeles and New York, suggested Netflix was preventing trans critics from seeing Girl. Two such critics told EW they either reached out to Netflix to no avail or had to go outside their travel and financial means to see it. EW was told the screening rollout wasn’t intentionally keeping away LGBTQ viewers, but rather part of a larger strategy to help market Girl with fuel from a hoped-for Golden Globes nomination.
Now that the nomination is official, Netflix has sent out emails to various members of the press with information on upcoming screenings in the weeks ahead. EW was also told about an upcoming event with Dhont for LGBTQ tastemakers.
“The process of creating Girl allowed me to accept myself as transgender and helped me finally love myself without anger or shame,” Monsecour wrote. “But I also saw the tears rolling down the cheeks of young, trans girls standing in front of me when the film premiered in Cannes. I can still feel the warmth of their hugs, the smiles on their faces and I still read the messages of their parents thanking me. Girl is made for them, by a director who believed in me. A cis director who believed that my trans story deserved to be heard. A human being that loved someone so much, he dedicated 10 years of his life thinking about how to tell her story.”
Read Monsecour’s full response at THR.
Girl will be available to stream on Netflix Jan. 18.