Justice

Laverne Cox Just Made History

May 16th 2016

By:
Lucy Tiven

Laverne Cox has been a major advocate for transgender visibility in Hollywood, and her next role is a groundbreaking and historic step for the trans community.

The "Orange is the New Black" star will appear in the legal drama "Doubt," as the first first recurring transgender character played by a transgender actor on broadcast television. In the show — which was just picked up by CBS, according to Deadline — Cox will play Ivy League lawyer Cameron Wirth, Jezebel reported.

More transgender characters in TV and film haven't guaranteed parts to trans actors.

In recent years, Oscar nominated films like "Dallas Buyers Club" and "The Danish Girl," along with the critically acclaimed television series "Transparent" have been lauded for brining transgender characters to the screen. But they've also been criticized for casting cisgender actors to play transgender characters.

"When you cast a cis actor you are stealing that role from a trans actor," reporter Naith Payton wrote in an opinion piece on Pink News. "In our cis-centric society, trans actors do not get the opportunities that cis actors do, they are deliberately held back and marginalised [sic]. For many trans actors, trans roles are the only roles they will ever get."

Though Cox has been hesitant to openly criticize specific cisgender actors and projects, she told Bustle that she believed the market contributed these casting decisions.

"It’s about business and we are in, as bell hooks calls it, Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy, so that market forces can’t be dismissed when casting decisions are made," she told Bustle at the Opportunity Agenda's Creative Change Awards in 2014.

Casting director Risa Bramon Garcia told Cosmopolitan she had seen more calls for transgender parts in recent years, but that the industry still needed to educate itself and become more aware of trans performers.

"The good thing about buzz is that it will hopefully translate into roles that are created for trans actors or that are open to trans actors," Garcia told Cosmo. "I personally don't know a ton of trans actors, so I need to educate myself. Also, it's the responsibility of the trans community and any trans actor to make him or herself, or themselves, known. It's an interesting struggle that we're all going through. The good news is that there's a hunger to solve this."

Transgender visibility is still a work in progress.

GLAAD's 2015-2016 report on diversity in scripted television found that while trans visibility has improved, there is still a long way to go. GLAAD reported:

"There are no transgender characters counted on primetime broadcast programming, while only three recurring trans characters were counted on cable (2%). Streaming series boast the highest percentage of trans characters at 7% (4) with two notably being series leads. Of the seven trans characters counted, only one was a transgender man."

Popular shows have also been criticized for catering to negative and defamatory tropes about transgender people — portraying them as duplicitous, criminal, or as stereotypical sex workers. The show "Pretty Little Liars" received considerable backlash for its "big reveal," in which the series' anonymous villain was determined to be a transgender character played by a cisgender actress.

As ATTN: has previously reported, when an episode of the "X-Files" reboot included a trans character played by a trans actress, she was stereotypically cast as a crack-smoking truck-stop prostitute, which many critics and journalists believed pandered to transphobic stereotypes.

“As more shows begin to include transgender characters and stories, we’d like to see them moving beyond the transition narrative, and include more trans men, who remain largely invisible in mainstream media," GLAAD’s Director of Programs for Transgender Media, Nick Adams, said in the report. "It’s also important that we see more diverse depictions of the transgender community, including more trans people of color, and characters of different ages, economic statuses, and sexual orientations."

[h/t Jezebel]