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Orange is the New Black. M. Lamar and Laverne Cox

Since 1878, when Eadweard Muybridge paired a series of still pictures together in rapid succession to create the first motion picture, the field has been dominated by cisgender men. Prominent names that come to mind when it comes to acting and directing are Humphrey Bogart, Alfred Hitchcock, Guillermo del Toro, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Stanley Kubrick, Brad Pitt, etc. You’ll notice that what all of these people have in common is something located in their 23rd chromosomes, an x and y. Until recently, men have had ascendency over the industry.

All this being said, today the media has seemed to become a much more diverse field, in regards to gender. We now have more non-heteronormative actors and directors than ever before. For example, Laverne Cox has risen to the forefront of the world of television. Since the show Orange is the New Black exploded onto the scene in 2013, she has been a landmark character as the lovely and powerful Sophia Burset. Cox, a transgender woman, plays a male-to-female transgender inmate.

Forgive the following digression: I’ve overheard much speculation as to whether it is inoffensive to cast a transgender actor in a transgender role or whether that should be an equal opportunity role for the cisgendered. There is also some quiet discussion about whether a transgender actor could be widely successful in the role of a cisgendered character. To this question I offer the idea that transgender people are well equipped to play a cisgender role. As a trans individual myself, I find myself in the role of a cisgender man everyday as I try my hardest to pass as male to society around me. Transgender people have to, more often than not, convince every person they meet in the way they hold themselves so as not to give away that they are transgender that they are cisgender in order to be considered passing. Why? Because we have to adhere to the ideals set forth by the underlying gender binary in the world we live in. I believe this gives trans individuals more skill than anyone else to pull off the role of a cis person. End digression.

Seeing Cox gain rapid success as an actress and advocate in her field gave me, and I imagine countless others, hope that this struggle does not hurt forever. Finally, the transgender community has found a big name actress that they can personally relate to on an unprecedented level. Growing up, the only other transgender person I had ever heard of was Bono’s kid, Chaz. And I only remember him because I thought he looked wildly uncomfortable in ever picture I saw taken of him when I was a kid. It seems the transgender social revolution was partially fueled by Laverne Cox making a name for herself in her passion. She gained success in one of the most difficult occupations to get into. This as instilled hope in me and in a lot of transgender individuals that I’ve ever spoken to about the matter.

Still I was waiting for female-to-male actors to burst onto the scene. Enter Jake Graf. Graf is a ftm trans advocate as well as a director and actor. He appeared opposite Eddie Redmayne as Henri in The Danish Girl as one of the two transgender actors in the film. He frequently directs and stars in short films, many of which have won prestigious awards. Another ftm actor is Eliot Fischer. Fischer has held recurring roles in three prominent and popular, critically acclaimed shows (Faking It, The Fosters, and Shameless).

With the rise of non-heteronormative icons in movies and television, it seems that the people that find themselves turning on their televisions every week to watch these actors and actresses nail their respective roles have begun to grow increasingly comfortable with the percentage of the population that is transgender. Through accurate portrayals in television and movies, these actors have done much for the plight of the transgender community. They show society that there really is nothing to demonize or fear about these people who find themselves to be different only in the regard to become who they were always meant to be. I believe that we will see a growth in the category of trans actors and directors in the future as advocates continue to pave the way to educate and raise awareness for the transgender population.

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James-David Pickering

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