85-year-old actress Judi Dench has been criticized for saying in an interview with Out that her character in the 2019 adaptation of the 1981 musical Cats is transgender.
Dench plays Old Deuteronomy, an old cat who judges which of the contestants in the “Jellicle Ball” will be reincarnated into a new life. While the character has been traditionally male, Dench’s character is a female cat who goes by female pronouns.
“I kind of call it ‘trans Deuteronomy,’ is the part for me, you know,” she said in the interview. While Out concluded that she was probably just joking—as there is no further indication in the film that Old Deuteronomy is anything but cis—some found her comment problematic, including one columnist for io9, a queer-inclusive sci-fi site.
“If Old Deuteronomy’s gender was at all explicitly addressed in Cats’ text, then the movie could have arguable been one of the most high-profile depictions of a trans-identified person in a big budge Hollywood film out this year,” wrote Charles Pulliam-Moore in the article “It Doesn’t Count If Your Character Comes Out in a Junket Interview.” “But Cats doesn’t come anywhere near close to even suggesting that Old Deuteronomy is anything but a cisgender anthropomorphic cat…Comments like Dench’s are the perfect example of what Hollywood needs less of: hand-wavey, out-of-touch nonsense that makes it seem as if people have no idea what proper representation actually looks like.”
Others on social media criticized Dench too, saying the comment was just a money grab with no actual support.
"maybe we can sell some extra tickets to the woke crowd by pretending that a character had another layer of body dysmorphia lol"https://t.co/RWXsVFbspe
— Sam (@Spainkiller) December 26, 2019
Judi Dench has said that her character in CATS is transgender. Looking back on the film, I'm not sure where that's implied or even contributes to the plot. Then again, it doesn't really change anything. https://t.co/LguHnlDxCx #CatsMovie pic.twitter.com/ki6keaLuh8
— Stars & Popcorn (@Starsandpopcorn) December 24, 2019
Total genius marketing move. I think this means no one is allowed to say anything critical whatsoever about Cats now.
Box office disaster averted!*
** Half joking.https://t.co/zX2D7Fejgr
— RyanMcGovernePhoto (@RyanMcGoverne) December 23, 2019
Cats hit theaters December 20.