Trans actor and Broadway star Alexandra Billings has slammed a West End producer’s comments opposing the casting of trans performers in certain roles.
In an interview with The Telegraph published earlier this month, Cameron Mackintosh said he wouldn’t be in favour of casting a trans actor in the lead role of his Mary Poppins musical because the story is “not about that, that was not the story of that family”.
When asked about casting trans performers, Mackintosh claimed “you can’t implant something that is not inherently there in the story or character”. Otherwise, he claimed it just “becomes gimmick casting” because it’s “trying to force something that isn’t natural”.
Alexandra Billings – who made history last year as the first openly trans actor to star as Madame Morrible in Wicked – absolutely destroyed Mackintosh’s argument. In a post on Instagram addressed to “Sir Cameron”, Billings gave Mackintosh a step-by-step masterclass in why his comments were absolutely incorrect.
“I am trans and began my transition in 1980, when it was illegal to do so,” she wrote. “I am now a very small part of a very powerful moment, every time I set foot in the land of Oz.”
She denounced the suggestion that trans actors only be cast in roles and productions explicitly written about trans issues, saying she is an actor first and foremost.
“I am Mame and I am Madame Rose. I am Miss Hannigan and I am Annie Oakley and I am Fantine,” she explained.
The Transparent star shared that she embodies these stories because “I am part of the human fabric” and that “no one has the right to take any [of] this away from me” – including Mackintosh, who she said “labels me”.
“I am an actor, Mr Mackintosh, not a gimmick,” Alexandra Billings added. “And just so we’re clear; you don’t have to make room for me.”
She continued: “I take up my own space and that was given to me by a power much greater and far more powerful than you.
“Suggesting there needs to be more roles and more plays for transgender artists, doesn’t make you a revolutionary. It makes you human. It is simple common sense.
“We will create that space with or without your consent.”
She also urged Mackintosh to remember that trans people have been in theatre for as long as the institution has existed. Billings said the only thing that has changed is “now we are becoming visible”.
“Instead of proclaiming all the things that cannot be done, how about filling the music of the universe with things that can be done,” Alexandra Billings wrote.
“What is possible is always divinely blessed. See us. Honor us. And hopefully, you will discover your own story in a newness you never knew existed.”
Social media erupted after Mackintosh’s interview was published, decrying the notion that casting trans and gender non-confirming performers is a “gimmick”.
— Cathy Falconer (@cathrynf27) August 27, 2021
I was kid who did loads of his shows and then grew up to proudly and openly non-binary. It truly hurts and leaves me feeling displaced. #NotAGimmick then and #NotAGimmick now. pic.twitter.com/Iyk1o7qv1y
— Rob Madge (@Rob_Madge_02) August 28, 2021
— Tia Kofi (@TiaKofi) August 28, 2021
I think part of the issue is that producers think by casting a trans person in a “classic role” somehow the story suddenly becomes about being trans. It doesn’t. The story remains the same. You’ve just given someone new a chance at telling it.
— Carrie Hope Fletcher (@CarrieHFletcher) August 27, 2021
In the wake of such backlash, Mackintosh posted a statement on Twitter, clarifying that his response to the question about “making the character of Mary Poppins (not the actor playing the role” and transgender woman”.
“Unfortunately, my answer has been misinterpreted to suggest that I am opposed to casting a transgender performer to play the role,” he said in the statement.
He continued: “This is absolutely not true. I meant only that I would not as a producer disregard the author P.L. Travers’ original intention for the character.”
Mackintosh then said he was “sorry for any distress caused by my remarks being misrepresented” and shared that trans actors are welcome to audition his productions.
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