Benedict Cumberbatch Addresses Backlash Over Gender Non-Conforming Role In Zoolander 2

The former Sherlock star has admitted he understands the "contention" surrounding the controversial character.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Kyle Mooney in Zoolander 2
Benedict Cumberbatch and Kyle Mooney in Zoolander 2
Wilson Webb/Scott Rudin Prods/Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock

Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken out about the backlash to his appearance in Zoolander 2, in which he played a gender non-conforming character.

In 2016, Benedict played an androgynous model named All in the comedy sequel, with his character being at the centre of several jokes about their gender identity.

At the time, this was met with a wave of criticism, and was the subject of an online petition calling for a boycott of Zoolander 2, which garnered more than 25,000 signatures.

In a new interview with Penélope Cruz – who also appeared in Zoolander 2 – for Variety’s Actors On Actors series, the former Sherlock star admitted he now understood the “contention” surrounding his character.

Benedict Cumberbatch shared the screen with Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller in Zoolander 2
Benedict Cumberbatch shared the screen with Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller in Zoolander 2
Wilson Webb/Scott Rudin Prods/Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock

There was a lot of contention around the role, understandably now,” he explained, six years on from the controversy. “And I think in this era, my role would never be performed by anybody other than a trans actor.

“But 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. But it backfired a little bit.”

Penélope then responded: “It was funny what you did.”

Benedict Cumberbatch
Benedict Cumberbatch
David M. Benett via Getty Images

Sarah Rose, who created the petition back in 2016, said at the time: “Cumberbatch’s character is clearly portrayed as an over-the-top, cartoonish mockery of androgyne/trans/non-binary individuals. This is the modern equivalent of using Blackface to represent a minority.

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

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