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'Danish Girl' caps year of transgender issues

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Eddie Redmayne plays Danish artist Einar Wegener in the film. Photo: Focus Features
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"The Danish Girl," a film about transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, hits US theaters this week, riding on a wave of growing cultural awareness and media attention on LGBT issues.
The movie, by British director Tom Hooper, who won an Oscar in 2011 for "The King's Speech," tells the story of Danish artist Einar Wegener, who underwent one of the first sex change operations of the 20th century and became known as Lili Elbe.
 
Appearing at the Los Angeles premiere of the movie over the weekend, actor Eddie Redmayne said he was very much ignorant of transgender issues when he first read the script about four years ago.
 
"I fell into all the cliches of ignorance," he told reporters. "I didn't realize that gender and sexuality weren't related."
 
Redmayne said he spent months researching his character and LGBT issues until he felt comfortable playing the role.
 
"It's almost a hundred years since Lili and Gerda's (the artist's wife) story and what Lili had to face in terms of discrimination," Redmayne said. "There hasn't been much progress except in the last few years, where there has been a sea change."
 
 
That change is reflected in a number of award-winning TV series that deal with transgender issues, like "Transparent" or "Orange is The New Black," and the very publicized outing earlier this year of transgender Olympian Caitlyn Jenner.
 
US President Barack Obama's administration has also championed LGBT issues, hiring the first openly transgender staff member at the White House, where "The Danish Girl" was screened on Monday.
 
"To think of 'The Danish Girl' going to the White House is something I would never have imagined," said David Ebershoff, author of the novel published in 2000 that inspired the film.
 
"Just the movie coming out and getting attention expands our knowledge of what it means to be transgender."
 
A page turned
And despite all the work still left to do, Ebershoff and others agree there is no going around the fact that a page has been turned for the transgender community.
 

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"It may have been simmering for a while but it has reached a boil now," said Larry Gross, a professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and an expert on LGBT representation in the media.
 
"The series 'Transparent' and other films and television series -- all the pieces have come together to raise public attention... and now it is manifested in the political sphere."
 
"The Danish Girl" opens in US theaters on Friday and Redmayne is seen as a strong contender for an Oscar for his moving performance as Lili.
 
The British actor won a golden statuette at this year's Oscars for his portrayal of the celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything."

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