Arcade Fire - "We Exist" Video

The video for “We Exist,” a song from Arcade Fire’s Reflektor album, is the band’s attempt at a massive grand-scale pro-LGBT statement. It casts Amazing Spider-Man star Andrew Garfield as a transgender woman who, after suffering a hateful beating, hallucinates her way onto the Coachella main stage. But Against Me! leader Laura Jane Grace, an actual transgender woman, was not moved. On Twitter, she called the band out for casting Garfield as the video’s star: “Dear @arcadefire, maybe when making a video for a song called ’We Exist’ you should get an actual ’Trans’ actor instead of Spider-Man?”

She also compared it to blackface.

Comments (83)
  1. Yeah, they could’ve. But they didn’t. Oh well, moving on…

    • Er, no. Especially after this year’s Oscars, this is clearly an important issue to to trans-identifying people.

      • Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have been so dismissive. My reaction was more to defuse the kind of manufactured outrage these “where’s the beef” articles usually bring up. Usually about much more trivial subjects. That being said, I still don’t see it as a big deal that they used a famous actor to portray a transexual. Sincerely, why not? the message is the same isn’t it? I mean, yes they could have, and that would have been interesting in and of itself, but instead they got a famous actor who would probably bring in more viewers, therefore more people seeing this ‘story’. which is a good message. I guess it’s the complaint of ‘You’re not being pro LGBT enough!” that gets me.

        • ‘I guess it’s the complaint of ‘You’re not being pro LGBT enough!” that gets me.’

          Okay, sure. But do you know who’s making that complaint? The LGBT community. The one that you’re supposed to listen to on issues like this.

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          • Let’s assume, for a moment, that Laura Jane Grace doesn’t automatically speak for the entire apparently homogeneous entity you refer to as the LGBT community.

          • Okay, sure. But when you listened to oppressed classes, you listen to those who are unhappy with their depiction. Trans people who are satisfied with this video are fine! They can be fine. But here is a trans woman voicing the fact that she doesn’t appreciate it and thinks they really could have done better. People are dismissing that, but really, I’d dare them to find a trans woman who thinks the video is completely kosher.

          • Aaron Cunningham  |   Posted on May 23rd, 2014 -1

            Sorry Joey… To the extent that there’s a monolithic LGBT community speaking with one voice on this or any issue, it is the same community and the same voice that was complaining that President Obama wasn’t being pro LGBT enough. How’d that conversation turn out?

          • For what it’s worth, I totally understand your point of view, that we should be listening to the community this story supposedly represents. But I don’t think that discredits the perspective of cis-gendered folks like me, whom I would argue is the real intended audience. Especially when I get such a positive message from the video.

      • Yeah, they could’ve. But what would it have done? It’s music video, not a documentary.

    • The controversy is that trans actors are often unable to get roles because they aren’t physically convincing enough as the gender the role requires (not in my opinion, but because perhaps the actor is in the middle of their transition).
      So it’s unfortunate to see roles they can convincingly play on a physical level being given away to cisgendered actors, especially when a trans actor could potentially deliver the role better, as they understand and come from the same issues the character has.

    • I’ll second this article.

      • This article was written by the woman who coached Jared Leto for the movie and was written at the height of the Oscar media frenzy about it. As someone who coaches people to play trans characters, whose client was up for an Oscar, this piece is extremely biased, she has a vested financial stake in this game. She needs this to be considered okay and she needed Leto to win the Oscar because it directly benefited her bottom line.

        I appeared with Calpernia on TV months prior to this, right after the Golden Globes, when she actually said several critical things about how he approached his performance. She’s just covering her ass here.

        • Aaron Cunningham  |   Posted on May 23rd, 2014 +1

          Let me make sure I understand this correctly: You just accused someone of being “extremely biased” toward a particular perspective and having “a vested financial stake” in that perspective in one paragraph and then turned around and noted that this individual publicly said critical things on television months prior. Help me understand it: What is Ms. Addams’ incentive to be publicly critical of Jared Leto’s performance BEFORE it won an Oscar that also makes it logical to be publicly supportive of his performance after he’d won the Oscar and publicly thanked her for her role in shaping it? And how does being critical of something preclude one from also being complimentary of it?

        • So she sold out? is that what you’re saying?

  2. I expected this reaction from Laura Jane Grace, which is not to say that I think she is overreacting but that she is right. Arcade Fire chose to put a hot hipster-friendly celebrity in a role that could have more authentically been filled by someone from the community they claim to support. It steers more interest in media attention and clicks based on the actor’s name attached and not the actual message. “We exist!” and yet Arcade Fire ignores the trans community by failing to show a real face from within it.

    • well, that brings up a good point. Sure, something could be said for casting a transexual person in the role of a transexual. But, as you said “it steers more interest in media attention and clicks based on the actor’s name attached and not the actual message”. Well, I think it could be a good move to draw viewers with a hollywood name, both for Arcade fire and the LGBT community. More attention to the cause, right? after all, trans people are portrayed disfavor-ably in the video, are they? quite the opposite. I kind of see wether or not the actor is actually trans as completely irrelevent. It’s acting, that’s what acting is all about.

      • Arcade Fire have enough star power at this point in themselves to bolster any message. Everything additional, be it the guy from ‘Breaking Bad’ wearing one of their wax heads, Greta Gerwig dancing live for them at a fake awards show or Andrew Garfield guesting in a music video, is just celebrity-skinned vanity. If I were part of a marginalized and under-represented group, I think I would start to feel annoyed if I continued to not see myself authentically represented in anyone up on the screen. Yes, acting is a form of artistic expression, but that doesn’t mean that white actors smearing their faces with black paint made it alright back in the 1930s or whatever.

        • I don’t think it’s any stretch to say that this video got way more attention with Andrew Garfield than it would have with an unknown transexual. Now would the video have meant more with an ‘authentic’ transexual? sure, possibly. But I feel like that’s irrelevant, the message of this video is no less without a transexual. I personally got goosebumps watching that video, I thought it was very emotional. What’s wrong with a heterosexual actor empathizing with the trans lifestyle through acting and performance? Even more, should we be claiming that Arcade Fire should have gotten actual transexuals to write the song ‘we exist’? as far as black-face, I don’t see the two as analogous.

          • A couple things here: as far as I know, no members of Arcade Fire are transgendered. As such, they should only be considered allies to the transgendered cause, not individuals who have the right to dictate the cause’s course. Furthermore, it’s really, really easy for heterosexual, cis-gendered individuals to say that using a heterosexual, cis-gendered actor is sufficient. However, given that Arcade Fire is trying to ally themselves with transgendered individuals through this video, I think it’s more important to pay attention to transgendered people’s reactions to this video than our own (I am also a cis-gendered person) or even Arcade Fire’s. Laura Jane Grace is one of those people. In my mind, if she’s wondering why Arcade Fire didn’t use a trans actor, then we should all be wondering that same question. Otherwise, Arcade Fire’s message is a failure because the people that they’re trying to help still feel disenfranchised by the system.

          • I think the article linked to above by Philip Cosores addresses a lot of those issues. It may not be about this video specifically, but I think it’s basically the same situation.

          • Aaron Cunningham  |   Posted on May 23rd, 2014 +3

            Someone is gonna have to explain to me how this video constitutes dictating the course of the transgender cause.

        • Female impersonation is female impersonation is female impersonation. It’s a man in woman-face. Getting an established actor probably drew more attention than getting someone nobody knew or cared about.

      • i kinda cringe every time you say “a transexual”. “trans person” or “transgender person” is more appropriate. much like you wouldn’t call someone “a gay”.

    • Andrew Garfield is hipster-friendly?

  3. The message and the performance is important, not the performer. (sorry if this is the third time this thought has been posted, but stereogum doesn’t seem to be posting my latest comments)

  4. keep in mind, the argument isn’t “a transgender role should always be played by a transgender actor.” she’s merely giving the suggestion that instead of throwing an already-accomplished actor the part, why not consider a transgender actor? it’s not like they don’t exist.

    • That’s fair I guess. Though even if this was just a casual suggestion, people like me are going to take the statement and blow it out of proportion.

      • LeMonjello, the above statement signals your cognitive dissonance pretty well.

        People who are trans will watch Arcade Fire’s video and see a cis actor playing a trans woman, not actually enforcing any empowering message of “We Exist.” Try as you might, this is Andrew Garfield. He is a KNOWN cis actor, and is not trans. He is KNOWN to not be evidence of the existence of trans people.

        People who are not trans have watched Arcade Fire’s video and described being trans as being in drag. Someone described it as “putting macho action stars in drag.” Do you have any idea how much the idea of trans experiences being drag screws up how seriously people take trans identities? Have you even the foggiest notion?

        It’s not about the performer. It is about the message. But it’s about how the message is RECEIVED, and unfortunately, you should listen to trans people when they say that the performer HAS interrupted how the intended message was received.

        Listen to the people who exist.

        • Are you saying you’d rather have no music video depicting a trans experience, if the actor isn’t transgender? ‘Cause that’s what it sounds like you’re saying.

          I’m all for interesting discussion on the perceived reception due to the actor’s identity and it is totally worth speaking about, but scolding people because they didn’t do enough isn’t really helping anyone’s cause.

          • I’m saying that if you’re going to make something advocating for queer rights and experiences, you listen to those with the experiences you’re trying to advocate for.

            And it’s also not that they didn’t do enough. Things like this can actually be harmful for trans identities, having them merely be perceived as a person who wears drag. Which is not what it is, and is the reason that comments like justabrobro’s (see: below) exist.

          • EXACTLY. They did something in support of the LGBT community. All of the complaining that they didn’t do enough simply hurts the cause.

        • First of all, Is this video specifically about Transgendered people? perhaps, but I think gender and sex expressions are a lot more complicated than that. And you mention how it’s important how the video was RECEIVED. I agree with that, my question is: who is the intended audience? Is it the LGBT community? I’m not saying they shouldn’t have an opinion on the matter, because they obviously have stakes in it. But I think the message is to go out to us cis-gendered, and I think it’s easy to argue that using a popular cis-gendered actor to empathize with the LGBT community is a great way to reach out to the public at large. I don’t know what every transgendered person thought of the message of this video, but here’s the message I got: This video honestly got an emotional reaction out of me. I sympathized with the character, and it lead me to thinking about what it would be like to have a different sex/gender identity and how/if I would be brave enough to express that. I’m not making this up to bolster my argument, that was my honest reaction. So how is that a bad thing? is that not a good message to take from this video? does it matter if one (or many) transgendered person(s) think it should have been done differently if the intended audience gets a good supportive message?

  5. You know, you try and do something nice and some people just have shit all over it.

  6. I get her point, but playing something you are not is kind of what acting is all about, isn’t it?

  7. I don’t see anyone complaining that Neil Patrick Harris plays straight characters, so I don’t see why anyone has grounds to complain about this. The focus should be on the character portrayed in the film, not the person playing him. Bullshit like this threatens the integrity of acting as a medium for expression.

    • Not trying to be a dick here, but that comparison is unfair at best and patently absurd at worst. It denies existing power relationships in society and both the historical discrimination LGBT people have faced and that which they continue to face. Simply put, it’s not the same for Neil Patrick Harris to play a straight character as it is for a straight person to play an LGBT character. Now, I’m not saying it’s always offensive –– it’s not. But when considering the enormous rate at which LGBT actors are marginalized in the industry and even passed over by non-LGBT actors for roles playing LGBT characters, it’s indeed a lamentable trend. In a role like this, further –– a non-speaking role in a music video –– it seems a bit ridiculous to say an A-list actor was needed for the part.

      And –– actively trying to be a dick here –– “Bullshit like this threatens the integrity of acting as medium for expression”????? Oh fuck off. That’s the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard. This is about living in a decent fucking society that treats people with a modicum of respect and does what it can to right long-simmering wrongs. The artistic integrity of this video wouldn’t have been harmed in the least if they had a talented trans woman playing the role. It would have been the same thing, and potentially even more powerful a statement.

  8. What’s more important, the message or how it’s delivered?

    Truth be told the message was carried further on the back of Andrew Garfield’s notoriety.

    It’s hypocritical to the message to discredit Andrew Garfield on the basis of his gender.

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      • Aaron Cunningham  |   Posted on May 23rd, 2014 +5

        So you’ve decided that only trans people NEED the message. Got it. And you’ve decided that because Laura Jane Grace doesn’t approve of the message, no trans people approve of the message. Got that too.

    • “discredit” – where and when did that happen? yeah, the real problem here is how anti-male Grace is! poor Andrew Garfield, how dare she put him though this mild, appropriate critical observation?!?

  9. no one’s addressing the scarcity of opportunity for trans actors factor here

    everyone’s just acting like this is a “don’t sit at my lunch table” type of deal


  10. Oh Lord, at least we have an acceptable headline here at the ‘Gum.

    p4k’s choice to use the word “slams” I don’t feel applies to Laura’s tweet AT ALL. I felt Laura was very respectful in her criticism.

    • Yes and no (in my opinion): to call this “pro-LGBT” might be slightly off, given the amount of push back from trans folks on it. Also, L’s, G’s, and B’s (and all other Q’s) aren’t really represented here. Sexual orientation and gender identity are often conflated (understandably so given their link) but are not actually the same thing. For me (as a G) saying I relate to the trans experience would be wrong – not morally, just factually. So were I an editor, I would suggest changing the title to at least say “pro-trans”, with a lot of question on the “pro-” part.

  11. i mean andrew garfield being in the video does have benefits like getting the message to a bigger crowd of people buuuuuuuuut this is also an arcade fire video we’re talking about and allowing actual trans people at least some visibility isn’t exactly a non-issue either. it’s also not like theycouldn’t have restructured the video to include a famous person or two while still allowing the main role to be played by someone who’s actually trans and still upped the viewership. i;m not saying what they did was “bad” necessarily??? but it’s also not just cut and dry good all around imho

  12. How do we know AG isn’t a transgender?

  13. Keep in mind that this was a 140-character tweet so it’s a bit ridiculous to then criticize it for not making a longer more nuanced article. She’s making a valid point that if the song is called “We Exist” and doesn’t use one of us in the video but instead hires a non-trans actor to play a trans role, is a thing worth commenting on.

    That being said, the issues with this video and its representation of trans issues, not unlike Dallas Buyer’s Club, are significantly deeper than just the lead actor. The video itself has significant problems:

    So saying “But at least it gets the message out there!” is not a valid response because the message is bullshit.

    • It’s not really ridiculous to criticize a tweet for not being long enough or more nuanced if you believe the person is expressing an opinion that demands to be lengthier and more nuanced because you’re expressing that the choice to voice that opinion through a tweet is an issue within itself if it doesn’t the person’s point justice.

      I read both the articles/blogs you posted and although neither of the author’s faced any real length or context limits or restrictions I do not believe they put forth much of an argument. It’s fair to say that as a member of the trans-community that was meant to represented in the video you did not feel the characterization presented did not represent you or the community you are familiar with. It is fine to feel that way and in a way it is a valid criticism, but it is not a very useful argument without substance that shows that the representation in the video not only fails to resonate with you personally, but fails to tell an honest portrayal and goes as far to show a damaging representation of the trans-community.

      “The truth is,this video exploited trans experiences as a plot device. They could have used this to make a real statement about how many trans women are murdered or attacked after they go out into bar scenes. They could have made a statement about transphobia and trans experiences.”

      The author doesn’t explain how the video fails to make a statement and failed so hard that its an offensive attempt. More importantly the author doesn’t explain how the video could have effectively made a real statement, this is why many people are viewing this criticism of the video’s attempt to be pro-trans as people saying “Please don’t ever try to help bring attention to these issues unless you are personally a transgender person, not just somebody who feels affected by these issues, because there is so simply no right way to do it.”

    • See that’s what confuses me, the authors (one author basing their argument off of the other) start out by saying how FUCKING TERRIBLE the video is, but then go on to say how much of the video hit home for them and their experiences. WHa!? It’s when the video goes on to take artistic and abstract liberties with the story that these writers start to take issue.

  14. Wow, some people are really overly sensitive. Some things are never good enough for some people.

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  15. On the first part, I want to say that I agree with Laura Jane Grace on this thing. They definitely should have used the opportunity to cast a trans* actor in this role because non-binary people are vastly underrepresented in the media.

    However, I also would like to point out that in Arcade Fire’s description of the video, they say it depicts “…a young person struggling with gender identity.” This does not specifically refer to trans*, but rather might be someone who is unsure of themself, uncertain of their binary identity, but not definitively moving one way or the other.

    In this case, hiring a cis actor to portray the role might make more sense. An actor playing someone who is struggling with something that the actor themselves might not be struggling with is the basis of acting, and if this character isn’t specifically TRANS* but more EXPLORING, I get it. I’ve read trans* people saying that the beginning of the video is relatively accurate to the beginning of a trans* experience (I can’t comment on that myself as a cis person). This video more portrays someone who identifies as one gender testing out the sliding boundaries of gender identity, finally realizing that it’s not specifically one thing or the other. While it would have been really cool to see an actual trans* person in the role, it makes sense that someone who identifies as the former gender would be chosen to actually depict the transition.

    I think the BIGGER problem stems from society’s fascination with the transition rather than the person themself, that there’s some sort of obsession with the genitalia (This person is MALE; now this person is FEMALE). It makes the whole thing performative, not unlike acting, which isn’t a good representation and definitely pigeonholes the trans* community into these situations.

    Anyway, yeah.

  16. punk people never like anything.. anyway her tweet wasn’t like offensive or anything. i don’t really see no beef..

  17. but thats not fair the fact that they did anything is enough… who are they to say or even to complain.. Arcade Fire did what they or the director who ever thought was a good thing, she needs, nay fucking negative assholes need to thank Arcade Fire for even attempting to make a statement for their cause…

    • They are trans people. They are the people Arcade Fire wants to help. They exist.

    • Being grateful is one thing. But when an attempt at being supportive is so misguided as to perpetuate dangerous stereotypes and continue the pattern of looking over trans actors for trans roles… well what is there to be thankful for? “Thank you for continuing to make us look like damaged, predatory freaks.”

      I’m down with not being down with this video.

      • I need you to explain to me how this video perpetuates dangerous stereotypes. How this portrays trans peoples as ‘damaged, predatory freaks’. I simply got no message of the sort. I, after watching the video, honestly had an emotional experience, empathizing with people who are bravely exploring their place in the sex and gender spectrum. Isn’t part of the purpose of this song/video to spread awareness and empathy to us cis-gendered folk? I got an objectively good message from this video, and i’m sure many had a similar reaction (and many more still thanks to a famous actor).

  18. Who is more “oversensitive”? The person who objects to the very real fact that they are prejudiced in their lives on a daily basis and want to see an honest portrayal of that prejudice, or the person who is so offended that they may have caused offense to someone else such that they fly into a rage at being called out?

  19. maybe we can settle on, “good video, beautifully shot, well acted, but we can do better next time.”

  20. Oh come on. Next thing, people will be saying that a black guy should have sang “Mammy” instead of Jack Rabinowitz.

  21. Can’t please everyone I guess…

  22. social media is crazy with left-on-left violence man, the way certain people talk any liberal who makes a vague “misstep” is some kind of blackhearted reactionary

    • Gender identity does not indicate political affiliation.

      • I didn’t say it did. just a general comment on topics you could safely classify as liberal-interest ones. It’s sort of odd watching people who don’t substantively disagree on almost anything (not just talking this subject) nitpick each other.

        not that I don’t get why someone’d have this issue, but it kinda reminds me of the handwringing over “Same Love” last year

  23. pretty sad bunch of commentary here. no, Grace didn’t “shit on” Arcade Fire, she made a perfectly valid point, and a particularly ironic one considering the title of the song in question. why are people pretending not to understand her point, and simultaneously grossly exaggerating what that point was? why y’all doing that? jeez, just deal with what’s actually been said!

  24. Arachnid Person of Heteronormative Male Gender
    Arachnid Person of Heteronormative Male Gender
    Does Whatever an Arachnid Person of Heteronormative Male Gender can
    In a video, from Arcade Fire
    Peeps are mad, because an actual trans wasn’t hired
    Loooook outttt!
    Its Arachnid Person of Heteronormative Male Gender

  25. I am glad we can all agree that Arcade Fire should have gotten Tobey Maguire for the video.

  26. Arcade Fire made the video. The above long and protracted back and forth dialogue ensued. And several people on both sides of the gender coin chimed in. And this is called “discourse”. And out of discourse comes knowledge and understanding.

    That being said……

    Apparently a big “thank you” is in order to The Arcade Fire. For starting a dialogue that obviously brought about some genuine thought provoking comments.

    And maybe that’s what the video was really all about.

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