Andrew Garfield and Our Lady J

When Arcade Fire cast Amazing Spinder-Man star Andrew Garfield as a transgender woman in their “We Exist” video, they started a conversation about trans representation that they may not have meant to start. Against Me! leader Laura Jane Grace, a transgender woman, called them out on Twitter: “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 blackface. In an interview with The Advocate, Arcade Fire’s Win Butler responded by talking about the power of a casting move like that to reach people: “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.” Meanwhile, video director David Wilson argued that, though they considered casting a trans actor, Garfield was the right casting choice: “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.” Grace did not agree.

Talking on Twitter this past weekend, Grace laid out her issues with Butler’s justifications. As Consequence Of Sound points out, she wrote the following: “This article is hella problematic. To start with there’s the fact that Win says ’he’ and Wilson says ’she’… the implication that a homeless Jamaican LGBT youth living in a sewer is going to feel empowered because… a cis, straight white male actor in movies they can’t afford to see stars in a music video they’ll never watch? That’s so like wtf?… My main problem with the video isn’t even casting it’s stereotyping. Like why does Garfield cry about shaving their head to then put on a wig when they have gorgeous hair? Why does Garfield go to the shittiest bar ever to drink domestic beer and dance with bigot rednecks? And the idea that the band playing Coachella is their Mecca of acceptance and validation. Phfff. As if. If the song was called anything else I wouldn’t have even had a problem with it it’s called ’We Exist’ and there is literally no signs of that existence represented. Should have been called ’They Exist’.”

Grace wrote about liking the band and called The Suburbs “a perfect album,” but she said that the real problem with the video was that Arcade Fire were trying to represent an experience that was not theirs.

Since then, though, Grace has deleted all those tweets and reconsidered her position. Here’s the most recent thing she wrote: “Just got done talking w/ @ourladyj about her involvement in the @arcadefire video. Her perspective really made me think about it differently.” Our Lady J is a transgender performer who coached Garfield through his performance. That’s her with Garfield above.

Comments (50)
  1. Arcade Fire takes home the beef.

  2. What a sanctimonious, obnoxious response. The oppression olympics is a game that can never be won, I hope that Arcade Fire ceases to attempt to play.

  3. Look at that. She reconsidered her position, you know, after she calmed down and got a different perspective. Maybe if she had got in touch with the band first and talked to them directly instead of going straight to social media, there would have been non of this.

    I still have a problem that she compared it to blackface performances. Thats way off. There’s no comparison.

    • I can’t believe she resorted to social media.

    • Then we could have avoided all this annoyingly civil (OK, minus the blackface part) debate about a serious issue!!

      • It wouldn’t be the Internet if people didn’t react first and then think about what they were saying. This weekend for example was a doozy (at least on my tweet feed) in the wake of the UCSB shooting and a pile-on of think-pieces that arrived literally within hours of the news breaking ranging everything from the truth (how we need to put an end to rape culture, misogyny,) reflection (women being shamed for being sex positive) to bullshit (I read one where a guy stretched a tie into the Boston Calling festival and how a culture of songs by indie rock bands like Death Cab for Cutie soundtracked the shooter’s perspective about some grand form of love.) It’s too intense sometimes to take in all at once, and it would be great if the world took a few hours, days, weeks to put more succinct thoughts together rather than overwhelm us.

  4. It’s a little bit stereotyping to say that Jamaican kids live in sewers… isn’t it?

  5. Get over yourself. Arcade Fire is obviously trying to be supportive of this situation. Did they fail to get is EXACTLY THE WAY YOU WANT? Tough shit.

    I assure you as a heterosexual male that most videos don’t reflect my EXACT world view either.

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  7. Laura Jane Grace has become such a public figure for her journey as a transgendered person that we forget that before she was known for that she was a very angry, petulant lead singer of a punk band. Not hating on Against Me! But she was never inclined to the most even handed of criticism.

  8. I hope she makes more of an apology statement than admitting that she now thinks “differently” about the situation. She’s really shed a negative light on something that I think is one of the most beautiful and important pieces of art this year (right up there with “Black Me Out”). She definitely should have just contacted the band directly in the first place with her critiques.

  9. Dismissing people out of hand, because they’re “cis, straight white male” is getting really tired. It’s become code for, “I know I can’t win this one, but we still all know who the bad guys are, right?” It’s a self-consuming ideology.

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    • Fair enough and while a lot of the responses are from transphobic assholes and I think that Laura made some really good points I do think she went about voicing them in the wrong way. It is unfair that she’s kind of been thrust into this position as a “spokesperson” for transgender people due to the fact that there are relatively few openly transgender people in the media. That being said a more constructive way to voice her criticisms would have been to perhaps talk with the creators of the video first or state her criticisms in a way that wasn’t so blatantly hostile.

    • Generally speaking, saying people who disagree with you just “need to step the fuck back and listen” while “shut(ing) the fuck up” may be a decent way to dominate the conversation, but it’s a pretty shitty way of making a convincing point. Her (and your own) critique would be a lot more effective if it appeared less concerned with the former goal and more focused on the latter.

      • Yeah but I respect the sentiment in this case because I really have no idea what it’s like to be a transgender person. I just think it’s more effective to be respectful and calm when having these conversations.

    • Aaron Cunningham  |   Posted on May 27th, 2014 +4

      Opinions are great. Overheated rhetoric? Attempts to silence those who are not 100% aligned with one’s views. An unwillingness to seek information and differing viewpoints? Well, let’s just say those are characteristics that make for less than great opinions.

    • Yeah, I’m sure the trans woman who helped Garfield with the role feels exact same way.

      What do you have to say about straight actors and actresses that play roles in movies where their characters are gay or lesbian? Or what about gay people who play straight roles? Neil Patrick Harris plays straight roles all the time and no one even cares about the fact that he’s gay, and people love him for his roles. I can’t think of any real time where someone made a huge deal about it.

      So, when one straight person plays a transwoman the entire community gets in an uproar? People should appreciate when someone can pull off a role like this. In a way it shows support from the straight community as well. If a straight person is a willing to play a role like this, that takes a lot of heart (well, not as much as coming out as a trans or homosexual, and I have so much respect for anyone who has to face the hate that comes out of a situation like that) and shows they really support this group of people.

  12. Incendiary comments by Grace and others do not help the LGTB community in any way. Referring to people that are not part of that group as “Transphobic Assholes” doesn’t help either. If you don’t want to be marginalized as a group you might want to avoid commentary that incites already confused and ignorant people that don’t understand your situation or your struggles.

    If you have a problem with how Arcade Fire represented your community you might want to get a hold of them and see where they were coming from. Perhaps with that kind of open dialogue Arcade Fire might see the validity of your point and then perhaps an open dialogue could ensue and through that others might learn something about the entire LGTB community.

    OR you could just go off on Twitter and have the vast majority of society think something along the lines of “Yup, another unstable weirdo from that weirdo group”

    Whatever you think is best………….

    • Aaron Cunningham  |   Posted on May 27th, 2014 +4

      Or make music and a video that communicates your perspective, incorporating choices that reflect your artistic, political, and sociological visions, perspectives, and experiences without lashing out at people who are more likely aligned with than against you…

      Oh, shit. There’s gotta be a way I could’ve typed that without making what would seem like an obvious Against Me! pun. Oh, well…

  13. Agree or disagree with her assessment, what’s with all the people who are almost definitely not trans* telling a transwoman to “shut up” about trans* issues? Seriously?

  14. laura jane grace is not self-righteous for getting fired up and heated about trans issues. FAR from self-righteous. people outside the LGBTQ community who think they can decide what is and is not offensive to trans people are self-righteous. end. of. story. this is not your battle to fight. it’s laura’s, and, on a larger scale, this is an issue of trans representation in visual media, which has long shafted, minimized, and made fools of trans people. please stop inserting yourselves into movements that are not yours and trying to prescribe what is best for trans people.

    • I think it’s one thing to speak on behalf of a community to which you don’t belong. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here (at least with the video in question) The movement won’t get very far without allies. and the allies won’t get very far if they’re told to mind their own business and that they’re not doing it good enough. After all, isn’t one of the goals to gain acceptance? the cis-gendered majority is the target audience.

    • It’s difficult to speak on others’ experiences, but there is such thing as getting overly bent out of shape to the point of pettiness, especially with fellow social justice advocates in the LGBT community. If you honestly have a problem with someone playing a part outside of their demographic, that’s not really going to (or should) change. It’s an almost whiny issue to have with a music video (i.e. one that’s casted) when trans people – especially those who are younger and live in more conservative places – face actual discrimination. It just seems a bit overstated that’s all, and we know how unstable and angry Grace can be, although it seems like she’s grown up since her heyday. A cis person PLAYING a trans character is very different than “misrepresenting” a trans person.

    • So, let me get this straight. You don’t see your views as being self-righteous, you just have a strong belief that your opinions are fundamentally right while the views of others are fundamentally wrong? (Checks dictionary.)

      And, what’s more, if someone, outside of a particular class, makes a case for the mere validity of their views, THEY are the ones behaving self-righteously?


  15. bono has some competition in the “number 2″ department.

  16. The problem is that this happens so incredibly frequently with the portrayal of trans* people in media. Actual trans* actors are passed on in favor of cis actors playing out trans* stories. This means that trans* people aren’t active participants in their media narratives.

  17. I appreciate Grace’s opinion on this. People don’t always have to agree, and that disagreement doesn’t always have to be a permanent battle line.

    Personally I think it’s distastefully ignorant and sanctimonious to say Jamaican teenagers don’t have access to music videos or Spider-Man movies. It’s like she thinks the entire non-white world is a Somalian tent camp and kids have nothing but sticks to entertain themselves. They have Youtube in Jamaica, dude.

    By the way, is there any more useless word in modern discourse than “problematic”? It’s just completely meaningless, doesn’t impart any useful information about the thing being discussed, and is a way for people on a high horse to put others on the defensive without actually offering a cogent point of their own.

  18. I love hearing about the problems the LGBTQ community has from people younger than the problems themselves.

  19. I think the only solution to this spat is for Andrew Garfield to have gender reassignment surgery and change his name to Andrea Garfield.

  20. This sends a strong message to artists with any privilege whatsoever to stop trying to make their songs “socially conscious.”

    Maybe writing shallow dribble is the way to go. No one can be accused of having too much privilege to understand the struggles present in “party at da club.”

  21. Bitching about the casting choices in a video in support of LGBT rights is like getting handed a free cookie and bitching to everyone how it was chocolate chip and not oatmeal. Good fucking god.

  22. Everyone is a victim. Everything is a personal attack.

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