He plays a gender-fluid model named All.
An online petition with more 12,000 signatures is calling for the boycott of Zoolander 2, which activists say features an offensive depiction of a transgender person. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson reprise their roles as Zoolander and Hansel in the sequel, which is set to hit theaters this February. The trailer for the movie came out last week, stoking outrage over a gender-fluid model named All, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Petitioners write:
“In the "Zoolander 2" trailer, an androgynous character played by Benedict Cumberbatch is asked by Zoolander and Hansel if he is a ‘male or female model’, and if they ‘have a hot dog or a bun’. Additionally, Cumberbatch’s character is clearly portrayed as an over-the-top, cartoonish mockery of androgyne/trans/non-binary individuals. This is the modern equivalent of using blackface to represent a minority.”
Those critical of what they’ve seen in the trailer are also taking issue with the film’s casting of a cis person in the role of a trans character, although this is certainly not the first time this has happened. In The Danish Girl, which premiered this month, cis actor Eddie Redmayne plays Lili Elbe, a transgender artist who was one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery; his casting became the subject of criticism. There are other recent Hollywood cases in which transgender characters were removed from films altogether, and replaced with cisgender characters. Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall did exactly that (also becoming a target for boycott), and subsequently tanked in theaters.
More prominent voices have raised concerns over Zoolander 2, including transgender model Tschan Andrews, who told The Guardian that the small preview of dialogue showcased in the trailer reduces transgender people to their body parts.
“I do find it quite offensive. It’s essentially a man in wig dressing as a trans woman,” Andrews said. “If there are trans models out there, why not let them play the role? If you are going to portray that story, you have a chance to investigate it and do it properly.”