The eagerly awaited sequel to the smash hit Zoolander has found itself embroiled in controversy over the character played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Zoolander 2 features the return of supermodel Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson). The story line follows Zoolander as he is recruited by Interpol to stop a mysterious villain who is trying to kill off “the world’s most beautiful people.”
However, a preview of the film has sparked a backlash over the androgynous model named All played by Cumberbatch. At one point in the film, a clueless Zoolander asks All, “Are you, like, a male model or a female model?” All cryptically replies, “All is All.” Hansel chimes in, “I think he’s asking — do you have a hot dog or a bun?”
Some critics are saying that the exchange shows insensitivity in the age of Caitlyn Jenner. Independent critic Lexi C.M.K. Turner wrote, “If the team were really so invested in making any sort of point about transphobia (even one so banal as ‘don’t do it, kids’), they would have felt confident in hiring a transgender actor or model for the role — Andreja Pejić, perhaps — and writing for Cumberbatch an alternative part.”
Zoolander 2 is accused of using personal struggles for cheap laughs. An online petition has been created calling for a boycott of the film. The petition reads, “Cumberbatch’s character is clearly portrayed as an over-the-top, cartoonish mockery of androgyne/trans/non-binary individuals.” It continues, “This is the modern equivalent of using blackface to represent a minority.”
The petition concluded, “By hiring a cis actor to play a non-binary individual in a clearly negative way, the film endorses harmful and dangerous perceptions of the queer community at large.” The petition also pointed out that there were more than a few trans/androgyne individuals in the fashion industry that the film could have consulted for social commentary. The petition has received more than 21,000 signatures as of early Wednesday morning.
Cumberbatch is well known for playing Sherlock Holmes on TV and Hamlet onstage. The actor was recently nominated for an Oscar for his role in “The Imitation Game” as persecuted gay mathematician Alan Turing. Cumberbatch was confronted earlier this year for using the politically incorrect term “colored” in an conversation regarding the lack of opportunity for minority actors in the United Kingdom. He has since apologized for insensitively using the term.
Zoolander 2 is not the first Ben Stiller-penned movie blasted for insensitivity. The 2008 film Tropic Thunder included repeated use of the word “retard,” prompting condemnation from advocacy groups. The film was also controversial for portraying a lead actor in blackface for most of the movie. That film went on to earn more than $110 million and scored a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Robert Downey Jr.