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Benedict Cumberbatch Says Playing Zoolander 2 Nonbinary Character “Backfired”

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Benedict Cumberbatch acknowledges he made a mistake with his controversial Zoolander 2 character.

Cumberbatch reprized his role as All, a nonbinary fashion model, in Zoolander 2, a 2016 sequel. The part sparked debate in the months leading up to Zoolander 2’s release, both because of the harmful assumptions surrounding the character and because it was performed by a cisgender male. Cumberbatch addressed the subject in a recent interview with Variety’s “Actors on Actors” series, admitting that he would not take the role now.

“There was a lot of contention around it, understandably now. And I think in this era, my role would never be performed by anybody other than a trans actor.” Cumberbatch went on to discuss his reasons for accepting the position. “I remember at the time not thinking of it necessarily in that regard, and it being more about two dinosaurs, two heteronormative clichés not understanding this new diverse world,” he remarked, alluding to the characters played by Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in the Movie. “But it backfired a little bit.”

While original cast members Will Ferrell and Owen Wilson reprized their roles, the sequel also featured newcomers like Cruz and Kristen Wiig. Cumberbatch’s little involvement in the film was hinted at in the teaser, which sparked controversy even before the film was released. Several petitions were started calling for the film to be boycotted because it included a “cartoonish mockery of androgynous, trans, and non-binary people,” despite the fact that it was countered at the time that the whole film was based on its caricatures of various sorts of people.

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“This is the modern equivalent of using blackface to represent a minority. If the producers wanted to provide social commentary on the presence of trans/androgynous individuals in the fashion industry, they could have approached models like Andreja Pejic to be in the film. By hiring a cis actor to play a non-binary individual in a clearly negative way, the film endorses harmful and dangerous perceptions of the queer community at large,” the petition read.

It’s unclear whether the boycott had an impact on the film’s box office performance, but Zoolander 2 underwhelmed, barely recouping its $50-55 million budget.

While critics of Cumberbatch’s character would rather he had never taken the job in the first place, his admission that it was a mistake is a step in the right direction. Cumberbatch also made the proper decision in addressing the topic, despite the fact that there was little need for him to do so, implying that the mistake bothers him. While Zoolander 2 is a minor problem on Cumberbatch’s resume, he is most renowned for his nuanced representations of LGBTQ+ characters in films like The Imitation Game and The Power of the Dog.

With the picture receiving a lot of accolades and honors, it has been another demonstration of the actor’s ability that entirely counters any objection made to his role in Zoolander 2 six years ago. Cumberbatch told Entertainment Weekly about his part in The Power of the Dog:

“It’s hard to watch what he does…. if our work has succeeded, you understand his motivations, and you should move toward an empathy for him, or at least an understanding. Not to condone his behavior, it’s part of the warning of the story, the moral of toxic masculinity is often born out of repression and feelings of being gaslighted or washed out or not allowed. There’s no space or cultural space or tolerance of them, not just his sexuality, which is a huge part of that, but also the performative nature of his masculinity.”

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Aside from his breakthrough role as the titular detective on the BBC series Sherlock, the English actor is best known for his portrayed of Doctor Strange, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s neurosurgeon-turned-sorcerer, with his most recent appearance coming in Spider-Man: No Way Home as the one who begins the film’s multiverse mess with a botched spell. Cumberbatch is also generating Oscar buzz for his role in The Power of the Dog as the ruthless cowhand Phil Burbank.


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