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It looks like the 1993 Robin Williams comedy film Mrs. Doubtfire will soon become a Broadway musical directed by four-time Tony Award-winning director Jerry Zaks. But while the film was a comedic hit in its time, this news has us wondering, “Is Mrs. Doubtfire transphobic?” and has its comedy aged well in the #MeToo era? Let’s take a look.
Viewed one way, the film is a comedy about a loving but immature dad who, upon losing his kids in a divorce proceeding, dresses up as an older woman to become their nanny, just so he can remain close to them.
But viewed another way, it’s about an irresponsible alcoholic who stalks his own kids in disguise and deliberately sabotages his ex-wife’s lovelife by repeatedly assaulting her lover, all while deceiving those he claims to love most.
Daniel Hillard, the father in Mrs. Doubtfire, intentionally deceives his ex-wife while invading her house, stalking her and nearly killing her new boyfriend (getting him to choke on a piece of shrimp that’s he over-seasoned with cayenne pepper, something the lover is allergic to).
A Mrs. Doubtfire musical in the #MeToo era
Defenders will argue that Mrs. Doubtfire is a comedy, and thus not meant to be taken realistically. And though Hillard is portrayed as a lovable, down-on-his-luck dad rather than an aggressive, conniving monster, he also ends up being forgiven by his ex-wife despite his disturbing actions, purely because of the kindness he showed their kids as Mrs. Doubtfire.
Hillard’s wife is portrayed as an empowered woman: a loving, responsible, high-earning parent. But the #MeToo age has brought us tales of men stalking and controlling women, and most of these men have yet to face any serious legal repercussions (although Hillard does lose legal custody of his kids as a result of his deception).
So it remains to be seen how well a Mrs. Doubtfire musical will play to audiences who might be less sympathetic to its depiction of a deceitful dad.
Is Mrs. Doubtfire transphobic?
Mrs. Doubtfire has been used to disparage trans people. Many trans women have reportedly been called “Mrs. Doubtfire” mockingly, and Fox News once used an image of Mrs. Doubtfire smothering out the flames on his prosthetic breasts in a news story about trans healthcare.
But the film, and the book it was based on, isn’t about a trans woman: It’s about a male cross-dresser who only occasionally dresses and presents as female while still identifying as male.
The film contains three notably cringe-worthy scenes: In one, Hillard’s ex-wife exclaims “Yikes,” when a potential nanny on the phone reveals they “used to be” male. In the second, a montage of Mrs. Doubtfire hanging with the kids gets accompanied by the song “Dude Looks Like a Lady.” Lastly, Hillard’s son refers to Mrs. Doubtfire as a “he-she” after seeing Mrs. Doubtfire peeing while standing up.
While the film does portray a gay couple (Uncle Frank and Aunt Jack, two makeup artists who help disguise Hillard into Mrs. Doubtfire), it also plays on tropes of a man-dressed-as-a-woman deceiving family members and would-be male suitors (like the elderly bus driver who hits on Mrs. Doubtfire midway through the film).
As such, the movie continues problematic tropes used to justify violence against trans women to this very day.