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From Dog Day Afternoon to Dallas Buyers Club: The Danish Girl Predecessors

on December 10, 2015, 1:45pm
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Predecessors is a new feature in which our staff explores how a film or album owes a significant debt to earlier works. This time, Allison Shoemaker revisits five films from five decades that helped make The Danish Girl possible. 

Eddie Redmayne’s chasing another Oscar.

In defense of The Danish Girl and Redmayne, it’s worth saying that Lili Elbe is a more than worthy subject for a biopic and that Redmayne (as well as Alicia Vikander) delivers a skilled performance. Still, effectiveness aside, there’s something off-puttingly important and awardable about The Danish Girl — which, for better or worse, is very much the product of the films it follows. It’s a complicated issue: Is a male actor playing a female transgender character something that should be considered awards bait? Is it “transface”?

The fact that we can have such a conversation at all is a mark of progress — it wasn’t so long ago that an Oscar-dominating film featured a character many considered a perpetuation of negative stereotypes, and it was little more than an asterisk at the time. Prior to the ’70s, few trans stories were told at all, and the movies that played with gender identity rarely did so without aiming for humor or horror. Andy Warhol did his thing with the Factory, but mostly it was Norman Bates, Glen or Glenda, and “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

For better or worse, The Danish Girl is Oscar bait of the purest kind. Not all such bait is bad, and not all is good, but the fact that a movie about a transgender pioneer sits so firmly in the mainstream — complete with sensitive orchestrations and a full-press PR campaign — is no small thing. Here’s a look at some of the films that made such a development possible. Some are better than others, but all are bricks in the red-carpet road that The Danish Girl now treads.

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