“There’s an issue with diversity within the industry; there’s also promise – but it won’t change overnight”

BY EMILY EATON

Andee “Dee” Ryder’s recent film McQueen, a feature-length documentary on Alexander McQueen, has received two nominations: Outstanding British Film and Documentary – making Dee the first trans producer-director to be nominated for the prestigious award.

Here, Emily Eaton speaks to Dee about her recent achievement and coming out as trans later in life, and within the film industry.

DIVA: When you discovered the news about the BAFTAs were you aware that you were the first trans producer/director to be nominated?

DEE RYDER: A colleague of mine mentioned that should we be nominated there was potential for that, though I wasn’t sure if I’m honest. When we were nominated I looked it up and I found out that from what we could see, I was the first trans producer/director to be nominated for the BAFTA – it was quite a surreal experience and a little overwhelming. To get two as well was really quite remarkable! The Outstanding British Film nomination really blew us all away.

It’s an amazing achievement!

It is, especially as I came out fairly recently and quite late in life. As much as I was extremely glad that I made the decision to come out, it made me even happier that I did because if I hadn’t, I’d be getting an award but I wouldn’t be out. There must be a significant number of trans people who, over the years, have been prominent in the industry but haven’t been able to be out.

How was coming out in the film industry for you?

My film career means a lot to me so I found it really difficult to make that last hurdle; I was really worried about business relationships being affected. It was actually whilst finishing Alleycats that I did. I still had my old name on the credits up until the very last day. I made the decision to come out then because I knew if I left it as my old name, it would be there in print forever. After that, people started asking, “Oh, what’s the ‘Andee with two e’s’ all about?” and that led me to explain. It was a happy accident – it forced me into it a little, but that also led me to where I am today!

What a significant moment!

It was – it was the final stage of my coming out. I was really out to everyone. It was daunting but once the heat cooled down there was only goodness.

Did a lack of trans representation within the industry make it harder?

If I’m the first out trans producer/director be nominated for a BAFTA, then that is quite a telling statistic. Similarly with the lack of female directors nominated for an Oscar or BAFTA this year – there’s an issue with diversity. Of course, right now there is a big push to improve that but I still think we’re a generation away from real change – that’s why we really have to work hard on it right now. There is intent to change within the industry; and there is promise – but it won’t change overnight.

We see a lot of advocacy for better trans representation on-screen – what are your thoughts on trans visibility in film currently?

Some people say that every time there’s a trans role it has to be played by a trans actor, but I’m on the fence. It depends creatively on the part. Some people had issues with Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl but it’s not that simple. Eddie Redmayne was playing a character who went through transition. It’s tricky as, if you have a trans actor who’s transitioned, they’d have to play the part pre-transition as well. Saying that, I think on the whole when the character is out the whole time then producers should always try their best to find a trans actor to play the part.

It’s understandable when trans actors don’t have many opportunities – people were upset that yet another trans role was being played by a cisgender actor, do you agree?

I understand as a producer that they need to get the film funded, and Eddie Redmayne has the presence to achieve that. I empathise on that level, but that’s the work our generation has to go up against that. It’s a balancing act. The Danish Girl was still a representation of a trans woman and a lot of people saw that and gained some empathy towards trans people, so overall I think it had a positive place in film.

And onto your own work, what do you hope people take away from McQueen after watching it?

McQueen was such an inspiring artist and groundbreaking in so many ways. He didn’t have a lot to start with and I think that’s very inspirational to a lot of people. The more we researched his life, the more we were impressed by his innate business skills – he had no training in business whatsoever, so to achieve what he did with his brand is incredible. He also had a lot of difficulties with his mental health. For us, that was one of our most important messages: look after yourself. You see someone achieving so much but unfortunately, when it came down to looking after himself, that was an area he struggled with. It’s so important to talk about mental health awareness. The more we share this information, the better things will be for everyone.

What advice do you have for others who identify as trans and who want to work in the film industry?

For those who aren’t out but would like to be, I would say: be yourself. Try to be yourself as much as possible because doing so was the best decision I’ve ever made. On the whole, I’ve found it’s a very supportive industry which wants to change for the better. For those who are out, it’s definitely good to be surrounded by other queer people. However, I also think that it’s important to break out of the “queer bubble” – as much as it’s probably my favourite bubble! There’s a whole, diverse society out there that we’re all a part of.

Any parting words?

Yance Ford was nominated for the Oscars last year and I’m the first trans producer/director to be nominated for the BAFTAs here in Britain – it shows that we are getting there. Society is capable of moving in the right direction – we just have to keep shouting, loud and proud.

Find out more about McQueen here.

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