In an interview with Variety, transgender actors, including Laverne Cox, sat down to talk about the discrimination that transgender performers often face in Hollywood and the entertainment industry.
Following the “Rub and Tug” controversy, in which Scarlett Johansson was originally cast to play a transgender man, trans actors have since spoken out about the discrimination they often face when it comes to auditioning for roles and being properly represented in both television and film. When Johansson’s role in the film was first announced, Transparent actress Tracey Lysette took to Twitter to express her outrage and frustration, arguing that transgender actors should at least be given the opportunity to play transgender roles.
“What I tweeted was a knee-jerk reaction,” Lysette said. “It was just me hitting a breaking point. When I saw this, I was like, ‘Enough!'”
“It wasn’t against Scarlett personally,” Lysette continued, “It was more pointing out the double standard. I’m not getting into rooms for cis roles. I started my career auditioning for those roles, and then I went to play trans roles. And now, I feel boxed in.”
Now that Johansson has exited the role, however, many transgender actors remain uncertain about the future of transgender representation in television and film but are crediting Ryan Murphy’s new FX series Pose as a game changer.
“I feel like Pose has changed the game,” said Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox. “I sat and watched the first episode and I just cried, because I knew this talent existed. It felt revolutionary. I said to myself, ‘This proves that we can do the job, that we can lead shows, that we can write, that we can direct. We can tell our own stories, and it can be brilliant. This is going to change the game.'”
Trans activist and Her Story actress Jen Richards agreed with Cox, saying, “I find myself saying the phrase ‘a post-Pose world’ a lot, because all the questions are changed now. That’s the difference between now and the last tipping point. It was singular, and it wasn’t a portrait of the entire community.”
When asked if cisgender actors should never play transgender roles, however, no one responded with a definitive “no.”
Oh word?? So you can continue to play us but we can’t play y’all? Hollywood is so fucked… I wouldn’t be as upset if I was getting in the same rooms as Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett for cis roles, but we know that’s not the case. A mess. https://t.co/s8gBlBI1Sw
— Trace Lysette (@tracelysette) July 4, 2018
“I think if all things were equal, then everyone should be able to play every character. But all things are not equal,” Cox said.
Queen Sugar actor Brian Michael added that there have not been enough opportunities for trans people to represent themselves, adding that there is certainly no shortage of talent.
Richards, however, noted that casting cisgender actors to play trans roles reinforces misconceptions about transgender people that could have potentially dangerous consequences.
“If they cast a cis man, they are saying a trans woman is a kind of man,” Richards said. “And those are dangerous consequences that we’re talking about.”
“It reinforces the notion that we’re duplicitous,” she continued, “that we’re a threat. That trans women are really men in good hair and makeup, that trans men either don’t exist or are just butch women in a suit.”