Arcade Fire’s video for pro-LGBT anthem “We Exist” featured a powerful performance from Andrew Garfield as a young man exploring and finding transcendence through his gender identity. It was our favorite video of the week. But some took issue with the casting of a cisgender actor in the role. Laura Jane Grace, the transgender singer of Against Me!, tweeted, “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 the performance to a white actor in blackface. Now Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and the video’s director David Wilson have responded to the criticism at length in an interview with the Advocate.
As background Butler tells the magazine that “We Exist” (which is about a conversation between a gay son and his father) was specifically inspired by the antigay culture of Jamaica, where it was written:
“There is a very kind of homophobic undercurrent, even in a lot of popular music and dancehall music, where there is a lot of violence against gay people. And we were in Kingston, and we went to this kind of film event and met some gay Jamaican kids and just kind of talked to them and realized that they were constantly under the threat of violence. For me, I get kind of used to being in this sort of extremely liberal bubble — where we have Whole Foods and people are tolerant. And you can kind of trick yourself into thinking that the world is that way. For me, it was really eye-opening to hang out with these kids who, if they were going to dress differently or express who they were, there was this real tension.”
Wilson tells the Advocate that he did consider casting a trans person, but “Andrew’s commitment and passion toward the project was just overwhelming. For an actor of that caliber to be that emotionally invested in a music video is just a very special thing. It just completely made sense.” Butler adds:
“Once something gets on the Internet, it works its way into people’s lives in a way that I think is pretty powerful. For a gay kid in Jamaica to see the actor who played Spider-Man in that role is pretty damn powerful, in my opinion. … There was just so much thought and love that went into the video I don’t personally see it as negative.”
He also added that he could “totally see the sensitivity of the issue.”
Butler also talks a bit about his awareness of anti-gay sentiment when he was growing up in Texas.
“The Montrose neighborhood of Houston was like the gay village, and Montrose was like a slur, and then there was gay bashing, and I remember that being in the news. This was all when I was like 12, 13. This was my first awareness of this kind of thing. I was relating to it from a small town.
‘Normal Person’ is talking about similar territory where it’s like this overwhelming pressure to be normal and to fit into a certain mold and you can feel that pressure because you are gay or you can feel that pressure because you’re goth, or because you like wearing pink or you don’t wear name-brand shoes, or you’re into hip-hop and you’re a white kid or you’re into rock music and you’re a black kid. There’s just incredible socializing pressure that’s on kids and adults. And I think that both of those songs are reactions to having felt that feeling. I felt that a lot in my own life. I think it’s a pretty universal feeling.”
You can read the entire interview here and watch the video again below.