Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler and acclaimed music video director David Wilson have responded to Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace‘s recent criticism of the band’s video for We Exist, comparing the use of a non-trans actor playing a transgender role to blackface.
The We Exist video features The Amazing Spider-Man actor Andrew Garfield playing a transgender character named Sandy, which prompted Grace to tweet, “Dear [Arcade Fire], maybe when making a video for a song called We Exist you should get an actual ‘Trans’ actor instead of Spider-Man?”
In an interview with The Advocate, Butler explains that the song was one of a few from the band’s album Reflektor to be entirely written whilst on a trip to Jamaica though the song itself is the least reflective of Jamaican music, which he says is a reaction to the country’s homophobic culture.
“There is a very kind of homophobic undercurrent [in Jamaica], even in a lot of popular music and dancehall music, where there is a lot of violence against gay people,” the frontman explains. “And we were in Kingston, and we went to this kind of film event and met some gay Jamaican kids and just kind of talked to them and realised that they were constantly under the threat of violence.”
Butler says that We Exist was born out of “just meeting these kids in Jamaica and then imagining this conversation between a son and his father, that was the emotional kernel.” Butler says that the music video was an attempt to expand the message of acceptance contained in the song.
“For a gay kid in Jamaica to see the actor who played Spider-Man in that role is pretty damn powerful, in my opinion,” he says. Meanwhile, Wilson, who directed the video, says that he did consider casting a trans actor in the role, but was struck by Garfield’s passion and commitment.
“Before I got on the call, I thought, ‘Is this the right person — should we be using a transgender person?'” the director recalls. “But then getting on the phone with Andrew, and [his] commitment and passion toward the project was just overwhelming. For an actor of that caliber to be that emotionally invested in a music video is just a very special thing. It just completely made sense.”
Watch: Arcade Fire – We Exist
Gallery: Arcade Fire – Qantas Credit Union Arena, Sydney 28/01/14
Photos by Yael Stempler