A band writes a pro-gay anthem. For the video, they use an openly gay director (David Wilson) and bring in a transgender musician named “Our Lady J,” to coach the big-name actor who’s starring in it.
You would think this video would be embraced by the gay and transgender community, but you’d be underestimating that community’s capacity for pique. In the video for alternative rock band Arcade Fire’s latest single, “We Exist,” star of “The Amazing Spider-Man” Andrew Garfield portrays a transgendered man decked out in a wig, bra, belly shirt and eye makeup.
In the video, Garfield’s character “Sandy” is bullied and beaten to the ground at a small town bar before literally rising up out of the shadows and dancing jubilantly, “Flashdance” style. Arcade Fire described the video as “the story of a young person’s struggle with gender identity.”
Not. Good. Enough.
Laura Jane Grace, a transgender singer for the band Against Me! tweeted at Arcade Fire: "Dear @arcadefire, maybe when making a video for a song called 'We Exist' you should get an actual 'Trans' actor instead of Spider-Man?" Other gay advocates responded in kind and prompted Rolling Stone, The Hollywood Reporter, The Guardian and even The New York Times to report on the backlash.
The band’s frontman, Win Butler, defended the casting choice to the gay magazine The Advocate saying, "For a gay kid in Jamaica to see the actor who played Spider-Man in that role is pretty damn powerful, in my opinion."
The backlash mirrors the way gay advocates complained about Jared Leto being cast as a transgender woman in the Oscar-winning, “Dallas Buyers Club.”
Butler talked at length to The Advocate about what he heard talking to gay and transgender kids in Jamaica about their culture’s hostility towards homosexuality. But the song is meant to advocate for LGBT rights worldwide. At the 2014 Coachella music festival, Butler introduced “We Exist” by declaring,“The right to marry anyone you want is a human rights issue.”
Butler also apparently wrote the song to “intentionally chide the religious right for trying to deny the existence of LGBT people,” with lyrics like, “They're down on their knees / Begging us please / Praying that we don't exist.”
Well, consider us chided, but not so much that we can’t enjoy watching Arcade Fire learn that even rank pandering isn’t enough many in the LGBT movement.