How Offensive Is Rebel Wilson’s Trans Joke at the BAFTAs?

By
The rebel, Wilson. Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Rebel Wilson was on deck at the BAFTAs, where she presented the award for Best Supporting Actor (it went to Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies), and she started things off light and easy, with some jokes about how white the Oscars are. "I have never been invited to the Oscars because, as you know, they are racists," said Wilson. "But the BAFTAs have diverse members, and that’s what we all want to see in life. Diverse members." Jokes about racist Americans are something everyone can get behind! So it wasn't the #OscarsSoWhite joke that raised eyebrows, but the following one: "One day I hope to return here to win a BAFTA myself. I have already been practicing my transgender face." Then she smized into the camera to laughter from the audience.

On social media, many called Wilson out for the joke.

The joke itself, however, is open-ended enough to allow other interpretations, meaning you could read it as Wilson making fun of Hollywood rather than trans people. It is often the case that Hollywood tells the stories of trans and queer people by centering straight people in both the narratives and their productions. It's become an awards truism that when cis actors play trans people, they tend to receive plaudits from various awards bodies. (See: Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl, Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent.)

But perhaps that's a generous interpretation. After all, Rebel Wilson now has a history of making callous, tone-deaf jokes in the name of edginess at awards shows. At last year's VMAs, she introduced the nominees for Best Hip-Hop Video by showing up as a policewoman and saying, "A lot of people have problems with the police. But I really hate police strippers.” Then she tore off her costume to reveal a T-shirt that read, "Fuck Tha Police Strippers." She finished off her bit by saying, "I hate this injustice, hence the shirt." Rebel Wilson: Offensive, or just white?