Many films about trans people have been based on real individuals: Eddie Redmayne played Einar Wegene in The Danish Girl, for instance, and Hillary Swank portrayed Brandon Teena in Boys Don't Cry. Yet Elle Fanning's Ray in 3 Generations is not based on a real person, despite this history. The movie, out May 5, is a fictional story, and Ray's saga, while possibly feeling familiar to some viewers, is not inspired by any actual teen.
When 3 Generations was initially set to be released in 2015 (it was delayed until this month), criticisms of the film centered around the casting of Fanning, a cis woman, as a trans character and around director Gaby Dellal's misgendering of Ray in a 2015 Refinery29 interview. In the interview, the filmmaker stated that she initially conceptualized the film as being about three generations of women, two of whom were gay. She then met a man whose child was transitioning, and decided to incorporate a trans character into the script. So, while the movie isn't based on a true story in a literal sense, 3 Generations is, however, inspired by the experiences of a trans child, or more accurately, the parent of a trans child that Dellal knew.
In 2015, About Ray was delayed, recut, given the new name of 3 Generations, and is now back, with Dellal defending her casting choice and pronoun usage in a recent interview with Bustle. In the interview, Dellal noted that she had very little experience with or knowledge of trans issues when she began making the film, and that she spoke with doctors and trans teens in her research. In an interview at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, according to Variety, Fanning, for her part, shared that she also did a lot of research into the experience of growing up as a trans boy, speaking with those who were welcomed by their families when they came out as well as those who were not and describing how she learned that every experience of being a trans teen was different.
This is all well and good, but what's missing, of course, is the opportunity for trans people to directly represent themselves, rather than have their words or experiences communicated second and thirdhand by cis people. In an exclusive featurette on IndieWire, director Dellal and Sarandon both spoke to the experience of working with a group of talented women on the film. Sarandon expressed her appreciation for the "feminine point of view" of Dellal as a director, and Dellal noted that with "four women and a female director," there was "a lot of estrogen in the room" during filming. The problem with this, of course, is that, beyond the fact that "estrogen" doesn't necessarily mean "woman," 3 Generations isn't a movie about a bunch of women. It's a movie about a trans boy and the women in his family, and neither Dellal or the movie's stars are themselves trans.
Ultimately, while the cis actors and directors doing research for the film is important, there is much lost when a story about a trans teen, fictional or otherwise, is told by cis people.