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Transgender Cinema: Becoming Chaz, Gun Hill Road

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood May 11, 2011 at 11:47AM

Transgender continues to be a hot topic in the media.
Thompson on Hollywood

Transgender continues to be a hot topic in the media.

Five months after OWN's debut, Oprah Winfrey finally delivered on her Sundance promise to do for docs what she did for books. OWN's Documentary Club launched Tuesday with the Sundance doc about the son of Sonny and Cher, Becoming Chaz, which ranked fifth in its time period among all ad supported cable networks in the key female demo. Numbers were also strong for the follow-up show, as “The Doc Club with Rosie O’Donnell” hosted a Q & A with Bono and girlfriend Jennifer Elia.

Cher herself calls the child who was born Chastity her daughter, still, and seems remarkably uncomfortable throughout Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato's doc about what her kid is going through. Are taking hormones in the ass and lopping off one's breasts healthy? Safe? She was after all, Cher's little girl in front of millions of TV viewers back in they heyday of the Sonny and Cher variety show.

As transgender stories go, Boys Don't Cry, which earned Hilary Swank her first Oscar, is damned good on the subject of a girl who wants to be a man. And another Sundance film, Gun HIll Road, is a startlingly strong fiction debut for Ernesto Green. The movie, which was inspired by Green's transgender cousin, stars Esai Morales as a red-blooded Bronx street thug who returns home from a long prison stint to find that his son is transitioning, with the help of hormones and makeup, into his daughter (discovery Harmony Santana). Motion Film Group will release the film this summer.

The problem with Becoming Chaz is that this NYT feature asks more of the right questions about what Bono is going through and why than the movie does. Chaz seems to be running away from his mother's hyper-sexuality--while bidding for media attention. Chaz morphing into a man has provided him with an identity and a career--as well as a major paunch, no matter what his sexual orientation.

[Photo by Kevin Scanlon courtesy the NYT]

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.