Laverne Cox's Promising Young Woman Role Was Voiced by a Male Actor for Its Italian Release. Here's Why That's 'a Straight-Up Act of Violence'

Illustration for article titled Laverne Cox's Promising Young Woman Role Was Voiced by a Male Actor for Its Italian Release. Here's Why That's 'a Straight-Up Act of Violence'
Screenshot: Focus Features/Movieclips (YouTube)

We’re gonna say this one more time for the cheap seats in the back: Stop. Deliberately. Misgendering. People.

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Look, we get it. Many of us are still acclimating to a world that increasingly identifies beyond the gender binary. Even the most well-meaning among us who happen to still be relatively ensconced in heteronormativity are bound to occasionally screw up, whether by misusing pronouns or making assumptions based on our own unconscious bias. When we do, we should stop, drop (our egos) and apologize. Then, course-correct. It’s that simple.

However, what is entirely unacceptable is the erasure of someone’s stated and lived gender identity. Such is the case in the Italian-language release of Promising Young Woman, the Academy Award-winning revenge thriller in which Laverne Cox plays a supporting role as the protagonist’s best friend. While Cox’s character is never identified as trans (and it’s absolutely irrelevant to the plot), Cox’s gender expression is as a trans woman using the pronouns “she/her”—so why was a male actor cast to overdub her role?

More from the Guardian:

Scheduled to hit theaters across the country on 13 May, the release has been pushed back after a clip of Una Donna Promettente [Promising Young Woman] was posted by Universal Pictures Italy on 6 May. In the since-restricted video, Cox’s character, Gail, talks to protagonist Cassie, played by Carey Mulligan, in a distinctively masculine tone. The Orange Is the New Black star was given the deep tones of voice actor Roberto Pedicini. Italian viewers couldn’t believe their ears, immediately taking to social media to voice their outrage.

“I think this dubbing choice was a straight-up act of violence,” Italian trans actor and voice actor Vittoria Schisano, who previously dubbed Cox’s voice for the Italian release of the Netflix documentary Amend: The Fight for America, told the Guardian. “It’s insulting. I’d feel bullied if I were [Cox],” she added.

Schisano, who is currently the most prominent and perhaps only trans voice actor in Italy, also dubbed trans character Natalie for the latest season of Netflix’s Big Mouth as well as General Atitaya in Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon. Nevertheless, Schisano said she “wasn’t even asked to read for Cox’s role in Promising Young Woman.”

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As further noted, Italy has made this offensive error before—several times, in fact (meaning it’s not an error; just offensive). Most notably, Cox’s characters in Italian versions of Orange Is the New Black, The Mindy Project and another project were also voiced by a male actor. But the issue also isn’t exclusive to Italy, as “in Spain and Germany, a cis man was cast to voice Cox in Promising Young Woman,” the Guardian reports.

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Faced with understandable backlash over the over their callous disregard for Cox’s gender, Universal Pictures International, which is handling European distribution of the film, released the following statement to the Guardian:

We are deeply grateful to Laverne and the transgender community for opening our eyes to a bias that neither we nor many in our industry had recognized. While there was no malicious intent behind this mistake, we are working diligently to fix it. We have begun redubbing Ms Cox’s voice with female actors in our international territories and are pushing back release dates to ensure the correct version is available.

...

We are sorry for the pain caused but are thankful that we can address the situation on this film and prevent similar mistakes from happening again on future projects.

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Of course, given the fact that so few roles are afforded to trans actors and voice actors, it might be nice to get further clarity on which “female actors” Universal intends to use, since there is clearly an opportunity here. It’s one of many issues addressed in the now Peabody Award-nominated Netflix documentary Disclosure, executive produced by Cox. However, we’ll defer to Schisano, who maintained “that dubbing is like ‘finding a dress that perfectly fits someone,’ and this ‘has nothing to do with being cis or trans.’” (Full disclosure: This writer also moonlights as a professional voice actor, and she’s not wrong about the fit.)

However, this issue may also present an opportunity for the European film industry to reexamine its longstanding racial issues, since, as noted by the Guardian:

It’s no secret that Italy’s dubbing elites are overwhelmingly white and cis. For Daniele Giuliani, the newly appointed president of Associazione Nazionale Attori Doppiatori (ANAD), this isn’t discriminatory. “We’ve never had Black voice actors—not because we didn’t want them, but because there aren’t any who have specialized in voice acting,” Giuliani says.

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This is no doubt a bigger and continuing conversation about talent pipelines, implicit bias, and access in the film industry. But as for the topic at hand, I suppose we can at least be mildly encouraged that Universal is taking reparative actions that may hopefully compel others to follow suit.

“Changing one’s mind can be a smart approach,” Schisano told the Guardian. “We can all make mistakes, but those who are smart apologize, take a step back and try to fix it.”

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See? It’s that simple.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?

DISCUSSION

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While there was no malicious intent behind this mistake...

You might not be intentionally trying to hurt anyone, but the first time a man is cast to voice an obviously female-presenting person is a ridiculous mistake.

That it’s happened multiple times is an act of serious offense and (given all things relating to this very important issue) violence, and your ignorance and stupidity are not good enough defenses or excuses.

If you’re really this stupid that you continue to cast obviously male voice actors to dub female characters, then you should be out of a job, or at least maybe start mopping floors there instead of doing anything that requires wits.

Accidents happen due to ignorance, but once you should have learned better, you’re just being willfully stupid, and that should be unacceptable everywhere.