Laverne Cox is arguably the world’s biggest transgender actress and has done groundbreaking work to shine a light on both transgender roles and the transgender community as a whole with her roles like Sophia Bursett on the critically acclaimed Netflix hit “Orange Is the New Black.” Now, in a recent interview, Cox talked about her opinion on the effect of cisgender actors playing transgender roles in film and TV.
In the interview, Cox explained that having a transgender person playing a transgender character person on TV has helped her community immensely by allowing audiences to see what life can be like for trans people, which in turn allows the audience to understand and sympathize with the trans experience.
“My experience as a trans woman playing a trans character is that I have found that audiences not only have empathy for the character that I play but they find themselves having empathy for the actor who plays that character,” she said. “And I think there’s a lot of evidence that this moment happening with me and ‘Orange’ has created an enormous amount of social change. Right? I mean, like just look at the resume! The proof is there.”
However, she explained that when cisgender people play trans characters, whether they intend to or not, they end up reinforcing the idea that the existence of trans people is somehow not real or justified, which ultimately plays into the transphobia and homophobia that plagues her community.
“Jen Richards [the author of “Why Straight Men Kill The Trans Women They Love”] said that she believes that when cisgender men or non-transgender men play trans women it sends a message to people who don’t know trans folks that trans women are really men,” Cox explained. “And then, as brilliant as Jeffrey Tambor is, as brilliant as Jared Leto is, and all these actors who play trans women, when people who don’t know anything about trans folks and trans women see the very sexy Jared Leto and his beard accepting an Oscar for playing a trans woman, the message that it sends is that trans women are really men. So when men find themselves attracted to trans women they have anxiety about that because of their own internalized homophobia and transphobia and they’ve gotten this message that trans women are really men and then this leads to violence. [Jen Richards] contends that this leads to violence against trans women. And I think she makes a really strong argument.”
Cox does, however, explain that she doesn’t want to stifle another actor’s creativity or police their acting gigs. But she does want producers to be aware of how their choices in actors affect the communities those actors are portraying.
“I would never want to tell another actor that they should or shouldn’t play a part,” she said.
“Art is art,” she said. “And artists should have the freedom to do whatever we want. But there are consequences to that. There’s freedom of speech and freedom of expression, but there [are] consequences to that speech. So Jen Richards’ arguments I think are worth considering when we think of casting trans folks. And I think that trans folks should not just be playing roles that are expressly trans. I just did a pilot for ABC and played a part that was not written as trans. But the producers, after looking at a lot of different actors, thought that the qualities that I have as an actor would lend themselves to this character. And it didn’t get picked up but they loved what I did and I tested very well with audiences apparently, which is exciting to hear.”
What do you think of Cox’s opinions on cisgender actors playing trans characters? Let us know in the comments.