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.