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Film sequel under fire for alleged transphobia

Not everyone is laughing at the first trailer for “Zoolander 2.”
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch speaks to the media on Nov. 10, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Anthony Devlin /WPA Pool/Getty)
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch speaks to the media on Nov. 10, 2015 in London, England.

Not everyone is laughing at the first trailer for “Zoolander 2.”

The highly-anticipated sequel to the 2001 comedy about a dimwitted male model has sparked a growing backlash over the film’s portrayal of an apparently gender fluid character named “All,” played by Academy Award-nominated actor, Benedict Cumberbatch. Approximately 10,000 people have so far pledged to boycott the movie for what one transgender rights activist described as an “offensive representation of non-binary individuals.”

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“Cumberbatch’s character is clearly portrayed as an over-the-top, cartoonish mockery of androgyne/trans/non-binary individuals,” wrote Sarah Rose, author of the Care2 petition to boycott “Zoolander 2.” She blasted Cumberbatch’s portrayal as “the modern equivalent of using blackface to represent a minority.”

The 39-year-old Cumberbatch, who previously scored an Oscar nod for his portrayal of gay mathematician Alan Turing in the 2015 drama “The Imitation Game,” appears for only a few seconds in the two-minute, 34-second trailer for “Zoolander 2,” which has been viewed over 12 million times since its release last week. In the trailer, Cumberbatch’s character is introduced with long hair and an open, fur coat -- much to the confusion of the movie’s two vapid protagonists, Derek Zoolander (played by Ben Stiller, who also directed the movie) and Hansel (Owen Wilson).

“Are you like a male model or a female model?” asks Zoolander.

“All is all,” replies All.

“I think he’s asking, do you have a hotdog or a bun?” Hansel tries to clarify. All just giggles and says, “Oops.”

None of the actors in the scene have spoken publicly about the criticism. Paramount Pictures, which is scheduled to release the film on Feb. 12, 2016, did not reply to MSNBC’s request for comment.

In addition to its “cartoonish” portrayal of a non-binary individual, “Zoolander 2” is also under fire for the producers’ decision to hire Cumberbatch over actual transgender actors or models. Such accusations of “transface” -- a term that refers to cisgender actors’ being cast as transgender characters -- has dogged several films and TV shows in recent years -- such as the award-winning Amazon series “Transparent,” in which cisgender male actor Jeffrey Tambor plays a transgender woman, and the 2015 drama “About Ray,” in which cisgender female actor Elle Fanning plays a transgender boy.

“If the producers and screenwriters of Zoolander wanted to provide social commentary on the presence of trans/androgyne individuals in the fashion industry, they could have approached models like Andreja Pejic to be in the film,” said Rose, the petition’s author, referring to the 24-year-old Australian model. (Pejic made history earlier this year when she became the first transgender female model to front a major cosmetics campaign.)

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“By hiring a cis actor to play a non-binary individual in a clearly negative way,” continued Rose the “film endorses harmful and dangerous perceptions of the queer community at large.”

This isn’t the first time Ben Stiller’s brand of comedy has offended a minority group. In 2008, a coalition of 22 disabilities organizations launched a nationwide boycott of his movie “Tropic Thunder,” which repeatedly used the word “retard” to describe a character named Simple Jack. “Tropic Thunder” also shocked many over Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in blackface, for which he earned an Oscar nomination.