Jeffrey Tambor’s Emmys speech called for more transgender actors to be cast
Amazon original Transparent cleaned up at the 2016 Emmys because it’s a great show, but Jeffrey Tambor’s speech about transgender roles in Hollywood deserves its own medal. During his acceptance speech for best lead actor in a comedy series, Tambor said, “Please give transgender talent a chance. Give them auditions. Give them their story. Do that.” He added, “And also, one more thing, I would not be unhappy were I the last cisgender male playing a female transgender on television. We have work to do.”
Casting cisgender men to play transgender women is something Hollywood just can’t seem to stop doing. There’s been Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl, Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, and most recently, Matt Bomer being cast as a transgender woman in a Mark Ruffalo project, Anything. It’s bullshit that they couldn’t audition and cast a transgender woman in those roles, especially because the characters are transgender.
But the fight shouldn’t just be about more transgender roles but more transgender actors on screen in general. Directors and producers should choose the best person for the part — whether they are transgender or not. By calling for simply more trans roles, there’s a risk of typecasting a transgender individual. Laverne Cox, for example, shouldn’t be destined to play “transgender woman #1″ for the rest of the career. She’s an amazing actress, she should be given the opportunity to do more.
The trans community was riled up when Ruffalo cast Bomer in his movie. Ruffalo tweeted that he was glad to be having the conversation and cast Bomer because of his past experiences working with him. But Jen Richards, a transgender actress who auditioned for another role in the film, wasn’t happy about the decision. She wrote in a long tweet that having cisgender males play transgender females leads to violence against trans people and employing cisgender men denies transgender females’ whole experience — and a chance to work and live just like everyone else. “Having trans people play trans people allows for more informed, subtle, authentic performance. It makes for BETTER ART, which is the point,” she wrote.
Jill Solloway, the creator of Transparent, echoed that sentiment in a statement to the press about representation last night. “It would be one thing if trans people had been telling their own stories for hundreds of years, but they haven’t even gotten the chance to tell their own stories [on television],” she said, according to Vanity Fair.
“So when straight, white producers are taking the narrative for trans people, for queer people, for people of color, rather than letting them tell their own stories, it’s a real problem,” Solloway added. “It’s time to hand out the keys to the kingdom, open the gates, and let more people into these roles of writer, producer, director, protagonist.”
In Hollywood, change can be slow (we’re just starting to see strong female leads and women of color in complex roles), but things seem to be opening up for the transgender community. Roles should always be given to the person most suited to play it — but that means asking casting directors to think outside the box when they think about who they want to star in their films. Yes, there should be more transgender stories. But there should also be more transgender people on screen playing all sorts of characters.