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‘Zoolander 2’ drawing fire for androgynous Benedict Cumberbatch character

Back in 2001, the original Zoolander movie was a bona fide hit. Starring elastic-faced Ben Stiller, it was a hilarious take on the world of modelling, and it introduced us to the facial pose “Blue Steel.”

Excitement about Zoolander 2 quickly turned to distaste for a lot of people after the trailer was released (you can watch it in its entirety, above), when Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, All, appears for the first time.

The dialogue goes like this:

“Are you, like, a male model or a female model?” the clueless Zoolander, played by Stiller, asks Cumberbatch’s character.

“All is All,” Cumberbatch replies.

“I think he’s asking — do you have a hot dog or a bun?” says Hansel, who’s played by Owen Wilson.

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MORE: Justin Bieber, Ben Stiller practice Blue Steel pose for Zoolander 2

An online petition has started up, hoping to garner 25,000 signatures to boycott Zoolander 2 (as of this writing, they’ve hit 21,551). Their stated targets are Paramount Pictures, Stiller and Cumberbatch. The main complaint is the movie’s “offensive representation of non-binary individuals,” but the petition is also concerned about a non-transgender actor playing a gender-fluid model.

The petition goes on to say:

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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.

If the producers and screenwriters of Zoolander wanted to provide social commentary on the presence of trans/androgyne individuals in the fashion industry, they could have approached models like Andreja Pejic to be in the film. By hiring a cis* 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.

(* “Cis,” short-form for “Cisgender,” is a term for a person who is not transgender.)

Zoolander 2 co-writer and husband of Jennifer Aniston, Justin Theroux, took the transgender boycott very seriously, quickly responding to The Wrap:

“I don’t even know what to make of it, because it hurts my feelings in a way,” he said. “I take great care in the jokes I write, and the umbrage being taken is out of the context of the scene. I wish people would see the movie first. Satire is a thing that points out the idiots, and we went through it on Tropic Thunder with the ‘R’ word.”

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Theroux is referring to the Robert Downey, Jr. movie Tropic Thunder, which used the word “retard” to much controversy. (Incidentally, Tropic Thunder was another Theroux/Stiller writing project.)

“The goal was not to mock or be cruel to the mentally challenged, but exalt in the stupidity of people who use that word. I’m all for letting words be ugly when the target is correct,” Theroux said to The Wrap. “With social media and all the rest of it, people’s issues need to be heard… at the end of the day people are looking for bandwidth. People are looking for places to inject their voice. But our target is not, and never was, to disenfranchise anyone.”

Despite this petition, Zoolander 2 is set for release on Feb. 12, 2016.

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