Zoolander 2: transgender outrage 'hurt my feelings', says screenwriter

Justin Theroux responds, "I wish people would see the movie first."

Clarisse Loughrey
Tuesday 08 December 2015 15:57
Comments
Benedict Cumberbatch in Zoolander 2
Benedict Cumberbatch in Zoolander 2

Zoolander 2 screenwriter Justin Theroux has responded to the controversy surrounding the film's transgender character, played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

When the trailer dropped back in late November, an understandably horrified shockwave was sent across the internet, with Cumberbatch's appearance sparking an online petition which clocked over 20,000 signatures. That made it pretty inevitable Theroux was going to have to address the issue in some form; though his interview with The Wrap on the matter is going to come to most as a pretty disappointing, and depressingly routine, response to such a controversy:

“I don’t even know what to make of it, because it hurts my feelings in a way. I take great care in the jokes I write, and the umbrage being taken is out of the context of the scene. I wish people would see the movie first. Satire is a thing that points out the idiots, and we went through it on Tropic Thunder with the ‘R’ word.”

Theroux is referring to the screenplay he wrote for 2008's Tropic Thunder, which was similarly called on to be boycotted by Timothy Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics; the controversy surrounded the use of the slur multiple times within the film, including the famous line, "never go full r*****."

“The goal was not to mock or be cruel to the mentally challenged, but exalt in the stupidity of people who use that word. I’m all for letting words be ugly when the target is correct. With social media and all the rest of it, people’s issues need to be heard … at the end of the day people are looking for bandwidth. People are looking for places to inject their voice. But our target is not, and never was, to disenfranchise anyone.”

Zoolander 2 - Trailer 2

It's clear Theroux's intentions were never consciously malicious, but it's a retort that doesn't really address the core problems of Cumberbatch's character. Yes, the trailer's line "“I think he's asking is do you have a hot dog or a bun?” is poking fun of Derek and Hansel's general backwardness in the modern world; but let's not pretend like Theroux's not intending audiences to have a little giggle at the very existence of Cumberbatch's genderfluid model All. Seriously? They're called All. They deliberately shaved their eyebrows. Their sartorial choice looks as if it's a fur jacket and nothing else. 

And underneath all that eyebrowlessness is Benedict Cumberbatch in a clear, surprise, we made your favourite A-lister dress silly for you moment. If the joke was really meant to be entirely about Derek's idiotic inability to recognise transgenderism (which, really, bigotry is the least fun form of stupidity there is); then why isn't the role, as the petition points out, played by an actual transgender individual like Andreja Pejić? 

Theroux's comments highlight a need for the word "satire" to no longer stand as a catch-all justification for offensive material. Opinions will always differentiate, but the conversation needs to move towards addressing when and how harmful stereotypes are being reinforced within the media, and how more meaningful insight into matters can be made in the future. As it stands, Cumberbatch's character isn't very insightful, nor satirical. 

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in