The Toronto International Film Festival recently announced that it will show Walter Hill’s (re)ASSIGNMENT, a feature-length action-thriller about a hitman who becomes a vengeful hitwoman after an evil doctor gives her a non-consensual gender reassignment surgery. The film (which was originally entitled, Tomboy: A Revenger’s Tale) stars bisexual actress Michelle Rodriguez as the hitwoman (aka “Tomboy”) and Sigourney Weaver as the doctor and possibly continues an unfortunately long history of transphobic film tropes.
Nick Adams, director of programs for transgender media at GLAAD (the LGBT media watchdog), told The Hollywood Reporter:
“We haven’t read the script, but it’s disappointing to see film-makers turning what is a life-saving medical procedure for transgender people into a sensationalistic plot device. We are at a crucial moment in the public’s understanding of transgender issues, and stories like these have the potential to undermine the progress we’ve worked so hard to achieve.”
Indeed, with shows like Orange is the New Black, Transparent and I Am Jazz educating American audiences about trans lives, films like (re)ASSIGNMENT possibly reinforce negative pre-conceptions about gender reassignment surgeries. In this case, it literally becomes a punishment, a cruel means of body-horror meant to make cisgender audiences squirm. Presumably, the hitwoman gets revenge on the dastardly doctor, conveying the idea that she is a worthy target for her unthinkable crime.
We’ve already gone through a decades-long dark age of film with cross-dressing and transgender villains in Psycho, Dressed to Kill and The Silence of the Lambs. (re)ASSIGNMENT borrows a trope from films like Color of Night and Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Am In by presenting forced gender transition as a terrifying threat to cisgender identity.
As the film gains more notoriety, its creators will probably reaffirm their respect for the trans community and state that the film’s true horror comes not from the surgery but the body dysmorphia; after all, some trans people would agree that being stuck in the body of a gender no matching your identify is pretty horrific. But as far as we can tell, none of the above films had transgender creators — certainly no writers or directors — and without them, the films are cisgender nightmares that completely exclude those most affected by their subject.