TORONTO — Netflix has put a warning card on the controversial Belgian film “Girl,” which landed on the streaming service Friday in markets including Canada, and created a resource website for its viewers.
Directed and co-written by Lukas Dhont, the Golden Globe-nominated drama has already screened at several film festivals and upset some critics with the way it depicts a 15-year-old transgender girl pursing her dream of being a ballerina while preparing for sexual reassignment surgery.
Viewers who click on the film on Netflix will first see a “viewer discretion is advised” card that says the “film covers sensitive issues, and includes some sexual content, graphic nudity, and an act of self-harm.”
The card also mentions www.girlmovie.info, which contains information about The Trevor Project, a 24-hour, toll-free confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth in the U.S.
Also on the site is a link to TrevorSpace, an international community for young LGBTQ people, as well as the LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD and a video featuring Dhont and Nora Monsecour, a trans female dancer from Belgium whose life inspired “Girl.”
“The actions portrayed in this work of fiction are extremely dangerous and should not be attempted,” says the site.
“Genital mutilation, hormone overdose, and acting against trans-competent medical advice are life-threatening behaviours likely to make gender-affirming surgeries impossible. Safe options and transgender resources exist if you or a loved one wish to medically transition. If you are considering self-harm or suicide, support is available. You are not alone.”
Netflix says it worked on the warning card and site with GLAAD and The Trevor Project and other LGBTQ-focused organizations.
The site is similar to the one the streaming service created for its teen drama series “13 Reasons Why,” which tackles the subject of suicide.
Belgian actor Victor Polster stars as the protagonist in “Girl,” who visits medical doctors and undergoes hormone therapy while training in the competitive world of dance. The film won several top awards at the Cannes Film Festival, including the Camera d’Or award for best first feature film.
Some film critics have expressed concern that the film is told from the perspective of a cisgender filmmaker with a cisgender actor playing the lead. They also take issue with the way the story was handled, noting it contains several graphic scenes focusing on the character’s genitalia and a harrowing part involving self-mutilation.
“The film has the potential to be very dangerous for a young trans person in any country who might stumble upon this and think that somehow that is a route to take to get the body that they’ve always felt they should have had in the first place,” Tre’vell Anderson, the Los Angeles-based director of culture and entertainment for Out magazine, said in a recent phone interview.
“One thing the film does is it contextualizes the trans experience as being one that is purely physical and one that is purely medical. It oversimplifies the experience of being trans and doesn’t take into account the psychological state of being that trans is as well.”
Anderson, who identifies as gender non-conforming, noted many trans people worldwide are required to go through therapy and have medical professionals sign off on their mental state in order for gender confirmation surgery to take place.
“Being trans is about so much more than just our bodies, it’s about more than just our genitalia, and the film did not and does not represent that aspect of being trans,” said Anderson, who saw the film at a screening in L.A.
Mathew Rodriguez, a staff writer at Into magazine in Los Angeles, said he was also upset with the emphasis on the physical aspects of the character, noting the self-harm scene made him “angry.”
“I think that we don’t necessarily need to see violence against trans bodies in that gratuitous kind of voyeuristic way on camera right now. That’s not necessary, and especially written and directed by someone who has not had the trans experience, it feels exploitative,” said Rodriguez, whose review of “Girl” last October called the film “another example of trans trauma porn.”
“When someone talks about, ‘Oh, this film wasn’t about trans, it was about adolescence’ — using a trans story to tell a story about adolescence that you want to resonate with or that you want to make universal, feels a little exploitative to me.”
Dhont was unavailable for comment, Netflix said Thursday, but he recently told the British daily newspaper The Guardian that he consulted Monsecour on the film’s script and edits. He also said he and the film’s critics “have the same cause.”
“I don’t want to be against them, I want to be together and pushing forwards,” Dhont said.
Rodriguez said he’d like to see more investment “in amplifying trans narratives that are by trans people, directed by trans people, starring trans people, not cis people who are made to play trans parts.”
“Every major role in this film, when you talk about lead actor, director, script writer — at every turn where trans people could have been involved they were not, and that’s the tragedy.”
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press