From Assassination Nation To Barbie, This Is Hari Nef

Yesterday it was announced that the cast of Greta Gerwig's "Barbie" movie was adding Michael Cera, Issa Rae, and Hari Nef to the already stacked cast featuring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Kate McKinnon, Emma Mackey, America Ferrera, Simu Liu, Alexandra Shipp, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Rhea Perlman, Ncuti Gatwa, Oscar winner Emerald Fennell, Sharon Rooney, Scott Evans, Ana Cruz Kayne, Connor Swindells, Ritu Arya, Jamie Demetriou, and Ariana Greenblatt.

There's plenty to be excited about with so many A-listers joining forces to bring to life a pop culture icon from a script written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, and as someone with an unhealthy amount of knowledge surrounding Barbie lore, I've been fully on board since jump street. That said, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that the casting announcement that's made me the most excited has been Hari Nef. Don't worry, I heard you loudly exclaim, "Who?" from my living room couch, and I'm here to do the gay lord's work of giving you a necessary education.

Hari Nef started out in the modeling world, walking New York Fashion Week for Adam Selman, VFiles, Vejas, Degen, and Eckhaus Latta, before being signed to IMG Models, becoming the first openly transgender model signed to the agency in the process. Shortly after, Nef connected with Joey Soloway, the creator of "Transparent" who created the part of Tante Gittel specifically with Nef in mind. She was nominated for a SAG award for her work, but in the immediate years that followed, only showed up in one-off roles on random TV series and short films. Fortunately, all of that changed in 2018 when she appeared in the biopic "Mapplethorpe," but more notably, as Bex Warren in "Assassination Nation."

Breaking down barriers and forging new ground

It's difficult to explain how monumentally important Nef's performance in "Assassination Nation" was in the scope of transgender representation on film. Her first leading role in a feature, Nef brought a seldom before seen humanity to the character of Bex, defying tired tropes and showcasing a personality that exists outside of her gender identity. Two years prior, Nef hosted a Ted Talk called "#FreeTheFemme," discussing the feminine aesthetic requirements of trans women as a means of survival. In "Assassination Nation," she introduced these necessary themes to the world at large through playing Bex, a young trans woman targeted by a group of bigoted, toxic men, who want her dead for committing the crime of ... being desired by one of their friends.

The film was crafted by Sam Levinson who would go on to create one of the most beloved and popular trans characters in recent memory, Jules on "Euphoria" as played by Hunter Schafer. Don't get it twisted, there is no Jules without Bex. This is not a matter of pitting strong trans characters against one another, merely acknowledging the ridiculous way in which characters from oppressed or "taboo" identities are given opportunities. Bex was an immediate favorite, which proved that there was a market for complex, dynamic, and imperfect trans characters. Despite "Assassination Nation" failing to perform at the box office, it has been embraced by queer film lovers everywhere, and developed a cult following in the process. Nef's portrayal of Bex is a huge factor in that following.

All hail Rabbi Jen

Following "Assassination Nation," Nef popped up in the occasional episode of "Camping," "Acting for a Cause," "Day by Day," and "Room 104," all great programs but again, shows with relatively niche audiences. Her addition was always a welcome one, but it was admittedly disappointing to see such a strong performer seemingly disappear from mainstream consciousness. Trans actors are frequently relegated to playing the "token trans role" on a series and left to wait in the wings to again fulfill the same role on a different project. Of course, there are always exceptions, but no amount of screaming, "But what about Laverne Cox on 'Inventing Anna?'" changes the systemic reality of how studios view trans performers. With that in mind, imagine the joy felt when Hari Nef showed up on the first season of "And Just Like That."

During the latter half of the season, a storyline developed surrounding Charlotte's gender-nonconforming child, Rock. As they reached the important age of 13, Charlotte throws a "they mitzvah," and seeks out a transgender rabbi named Jen, played by Nef. Trans representation is already hard to come by, but seeing a trans character in a religious setting is even less likely. Nef's performance as Rabbi Jen was again, groundbreaking. She was joyous, she was empathetic, she was the voice of reason during two of the show's biggest conflicts coming to a head, and she did it all without having to mine through trauma to justify her character's existence. Similarly to her role on "Transparent," Nef was brought on "And Just Like That" with a character written specifically for her. The part was originally much smaller, but after Nef wowed everyone with her talent, she was given more lines, with her reaction to tasting Anthony's sourdough challah bread considered one of the best comedy moments of the season.

'The dolls are dolling'

The casting of Hari Nef in Gerwig's "Barbie" movie is important for a number of reasons. For one thing, the inclusivity of a trans woman in what is the most dominantly "GIRLY, GIRL, GIRL, GIRL!" brand in history is worthy of celebration, but this is also the mainstream attention that Hari Nef has deserved for years. The reality is that only a small amount of trans women have been given non-tokenized opportunities in the industry, and even fewer have been granted access to high-profile projects that allow them to develop a fanbase outside of the LGBTQIA+ community who actively seek out the work of marginalized performers. Nef is finally getting her chance to shine in front of as many eyes as possible and as she said when the announcement of her casting broke, "the dolls are dolling." (For those that don't know, "dolls" is an in-community term to describe trans women.)

The announcement came merely days after it was announced that Nef and her mother would be featured in a Mother's Day campaign by Zoey Grossman and Jorden Bickham for Victoria's Secret. It's clear that we are on the precipice of the era of Hari Nef, so before "Barbie" makes its debut, now is the perfect time for the uninformed to get on board.