By Leigh Monson
Let's talk about The Assignment. Generic-sounding title not ringing any bells? What about the film's earlier titles, Tomboy and (Re)Assignment? This film's constant quest to find a palatable title should be a warning sign to anyone weighing whether to see this garbage fire of a film, as it is one of the most tasteless things we're likely to see all year. Its central premise is simple but completely obvious in how it could and does become extremely problematic; Michelle Rodriguez plays a male assassin who is subjected to non-consensual gender reaffirming surgery so that he now has the body of a woman.
Now, to be absolutely clear, Rodriguez's character, named Frank, is not a transgender character in the true sense of the word. To this film's credit, Frank retains his masculine identity throughout and his internal identity is never put into question. However, this also creates a bizarre dynamic within the film where femininity is a non-entity, even in the few female characters who share the screen with Frank. Sigourney Weaver co-stars as the evil doctor who performs Frank's surgeries, and the film opts to dress her in suits and her performances is directed to be as flatly condescending and arrogant as possible. Any purposeful expressions of feminine identity are suppressed by both Rodriguez and Weaver, creating this bizarre attempt at gender neutrality that veers exclusively into masculine bravado.
In fact, the only character that shows any sense of feminine expression is Frank's love interest, the ironically named Johnnie. She serves little to no plot significance besides: a) being an excuse for Rodriguez to kiss a woman on camera, but don't worry guys, it's still straight kinda; and b) betraying Frank as a spy for the doctor, making the only representation of femininity in a film about breaching gender boundaries a manipulative and simpering traitor. For being that principally stars women, this is a film that perpetually keeps toxic masculinity in the front and center of the frame without a hint of irony or self-aware commentary to propel it.
The ultimate question I find myself asking with a film like this is "Who is this made for?" Surely the creators of the film—director Walter Hill, a seventy-five year old cisgender man, and screenwriter Denis Hamill, a cisgender man in his sixties—could not have conceived that the queer and transgender community would applaud the progressiveness of their little experiment. It also isn't a film that aims to educate its audience on notions of gender identity or expression, as every positive representation of a character is decidedly masculine and Frank is never in a situation where his new body causes him any existential distress. The film isn't even attempting to portray how the process of real-life gender reaffirming surgery to would play out, as Frank has multiple procedures performed at once with minimal recovery time and no scarring.
No, at the end of the day, The Assignment is a film that exploits the rising visibility of transgender identities to construct a horror plot. Hill and Hamill want the audience to gasp in horror that some mad scientist could put someone into a body they don't identify with, but they never once pay credence to the people who live with that dysphoria every day, portraying it as something to shrugged off with determination and manly bravado. The Assignment is a trashy exploitation flick that not only completely misinterprets its real-life inspiration, but also breeds misinformation among the undereducated audience who is likely to opt for a film like this in the first place. It's obvious that this film doesn't want to be on a social justice soapbox, but the least it could do is treat the real issues with a commensurate level of respect.
Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed on our Artist Corner and Blog are exclusively of the author and do not reflect the views and opinions of Punk Out as an organization.