Eddie Redmayne is promoting The Trial of the Chicago 7, the upcoming Aaron Sorkin film and one of Netflix’s starriest Oscar hopefuls for the year. In the film, Redmayne portrays activist Tom Hayden, one of the defendants in the trial, and to promote the film, he gave an interview to the Daily Mail that is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Instead of generating hits for Trial, the interview is generating hits for JK Rowling and transphobia, two subjects I am sure Aaron Sorkin and Netflix are SUPER glad are now associated with their movie. Redmayne offered a statement regarding JK Rowling’s ongoing online attacks on the trans community, saying that he has “trans friends and colleagues […] having their human rights challenged around the world and facing discrimination on a daily basis”. This, right here, would be a perfectly fine place to leave it. Eddie, however, went on, adding that the “vitriol” toward Rowling online is “absolutely disgusting”, and he wrote Rowling a private note.
What was the content of that note? Was is a note of support? Or did Redmayne save his more condemnatory remarks for their private correspondence? It would be nice to know, even if the exact remarks are not shared publicly, simply because the statements Redmayne does make on record sound pretty supportive of JK Rowling. He acknowledges the trans community is under attack, but he does not connect JK Rowling’s comments—or her enormous, international platform from which to make those comments—to the discrimination he references, and then he equates people being mad online at Rowling with actual transphobic abuse. This is how Redmayne’s comments read, as presented by the Daily Mail:
Eddie Redmayne: “I have trans friends.” (Not a great start, bud.) “Their rights are being challenged, and they face discrimination.” (True.) “The abuse aimed at Jo Rowling is also very bad.” (Not…the point?) “Online abuse toward trans people is bad, too. These are the same things.” (Oh buddy, it’s back to school with you.)
Obviously, Redmayne, who has just resumed work on Fantastic Beasts 3, a film co-written and based on characters created by Rowling, is in a tight spot. He wants to offer support to the trans community, but he doesn’t want to (publicly) break with Rowling. How to split that hair? Unfortunately, I don’t think you can. Even if he just left his statement at generic support, it would be read as a statement against Rowling, because she has made herself the face of anti-trans TERF “feminism”. It’d be like Prince Harry making a generic “reject hate speech” statement and everyone jumping to a direct attack on Donald Trump—at this point, it says more about Trump that “reject hate speech” can be seen as a personal attack, similarly, it would be seen as a personal attack if anyone connected to Rowling said, “I support trans women.” That’s why there is no sense in prevaricating and you should just name the elephant in the room, like Daniel Radcliffe did earlier this summer.
Redmayne is in a different position, though, given that his collaboration with Rowling is ongoing, and DanRad’s is over and he is no longer in an active position of working with her. But Redmayne is also in a tricky spot because of The Danish Girl. In a bid for back-to-back Best Actor Oscars, Redmayne portrayed historical trans figure Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl in 2015. (He lost.) He was criticized at the time for the role, and he has been an awkward ally for the trans community ever since. I don’t doubt the sincerity of his support for the trans community, but he nakedly tried to win a trophy by “playing trans” which complicates even the most generically supportive statements. Redmayne, who says he likes to keep his head down anyway, should probably just do that. No one’s really looking for him to be the hero of trans people everywhere.
But this is going to be a problem for Warner Brothers and Fantastic Beasts 3. Rowling has replaced Johnny Depp and Ezra Miller as the biggest liability for the film, and its stars WILL be asked about her asinine statements next year while promoting the movie (assuming we get movies next year). Publicists at Warners should be working with the Fantastic cast to prepare statements regarding Rowling and transphobia, though again, any statement in support of trans people will be read as an attack on Rowling, and attempting to mitigate that will only look like qualifying support for trans people. The situation facing the trans community is too dire for prevarication—in the US, trans people will almost certainly see their rights further diminished, if not abolished altogether, as the Supreme Court is set to swing hard right—and someone cussing you out online absolutely is not the same thing as a real person being denied their human rights and in too many cases being murdered for living your life. An entire community faces the threat of legal erasure and very real physical harm so this is no time for “but”. It is time to pick a side.