Romeos: When Cis Actors Play Trans Characters

This past holiday weekend, I finally had the chance to check out some LGBTQ+ movies I’ve been meaning to watch. One of these was Romeos, a German film that follows young trans guy Lukas as he navigates the difficulties of hiding his trans-ness from the people around him.

My feelings about this film are complicated. It does an excellent job of showing the challenges faced by a pre-op trans guy who is attempting to go stealth, and Rick Okon’s performance was compelling and felt very authentic. So authentic, in fact, that I was genuinely surprised to discover that Rick is not, in fact, a trans actor, but a cisgender (not transgender, in other words) man.

On the one hand, if they had to hire a cisgender actor to play Lukas, I’m glad they at least went with a cis man rather than a cis woman. Lukas is a man, and the casting reflects that. On the other hand, the fact that they would rather add CGI and/or prosthetic breasts to a cis actor instead of just casting a trans actor in the first place…well, that’s kind of an issue. There is no shortage of roles for cisgender actors, whereas trans actors often struggle to find work, so it feels a bit off that this role – specifically written for a trans actor – wasn’t given to one.

Regarding the film itself: There was a lot I enjoyed about it, particularly the level of vulnerability mixed with frustration and occasional chaotic joy that Rick Okon brought to Lukas. His best friend, Ine, was also beautifully played by Liv Lisa Fries, and some scenes – like Lukas trying to convince a rather skeezy and transphobic Man In Charge that he should be allowed to live in the boys’ dorms instead of the girls’ – did a masterful job of showing the astounding amount of crap trans people have to put up with just to live their lives.

On the other hand, the primary “romance” of the movie is between Lukas and Fabio, and Fabio is good-looking but otherwise has very few redeeming qualities. He outright tells Lukas that he doesn’t date “tr*nnies” and asks him probing questions about his private parts, all the while continuing to flirt with him and then looking disgusted when Lukas responds in kind. While the “happy ending” of the film sees Lukas and Fabio together, their relationship seems to be strictly physical, a case of Fabio finally giving in to the physical attraction he feels to Lukas rather than making any sort of meaningful connection with him. And did I mention that he never apologizes for being a transphobic ass? Because he does not.

Overall, I’m glad I watched this film – there’s a lot to appreciate about it, but there are a lot of missteps, too. I’m happy the filmmakers wanted to make a movie exploring this subject, but there are so many things that could’ve been done better. Solid C+ from me.

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