Earlier this month, Arcade Fire released the music video for the track "We Exist", which starred Andrew Garfield as a trans protagonist who shaves her head, dons a wig and finds ultimate redemption and acceptance at an Arcade Fire concert. Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace – herself a trans woman – was less than impressed that the band hadn't cast a trans actor and called them out on Twitter.
Arcade Fire singer Win Butler tackled the criticism in a recent interview and defended their choice of actor. According to Butler, the song was inspired by the band's experience of recording Reflektor in Jamaica and witnessing the notorious homophobia that plagues the island first-hand.
"We met some gay Jamaican kids and just kind of talked to them and realized that they were constantly under the threat of violence," he told the Advocate. "I don't personally see the casting as negative, but I can totally see the sensitivity of the issue. For a gay kid in Jamaica to see the actor who played Spider-Man in that role is pretty damn powerful, in my opinion."
The video's director, David Wilson, says that he had actually considered casting a trans person, but was convinced to cast Garfield when the actor convinced him of his passion for the concept.
"Before I got on the call, I thought, Is this the right person — should we be using a transgender person?" Wilson said. "But then getting on the phone with Andrew, and Andrew's commitment and passion toward the project was just overwhelming. For an actor of that caliber to be that emotionally invested in a music video is just a very special thing."
It's worth noting the band hired Our Lady J, a transgender musician, to coach Garfield for the role. Earlier this weekend, she tweeted that neither of them saw the character as a trans woman, only a "young man exploring his gender":
Laura Jane Grace herself may have changed her mind after discussing the issue with Our Lady J:
Nevertheless, it's a sensitive subject, and one that touches on wider discussions around representation and trans visibility already happening online and in the media. When Jared Leto won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a trans woman in Dallas Buyers Club, he faced criticism for taking on a role that some said should have gone to an actual trans actor. In previous tweets, Laura Jane Grace described using straight actors to play trans roles is comparable to "white actors in black face".
What do you think – should the band and their director have gone with an actual trans actor instead of the dude from Spider-Man?
Follow Thomas Gorton on Twitter here @angstromhoot