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Transgender, Schlumpy & Human: JFB column in NYT 2/16/14

Transgender, Schlumpy & Human: JFB column in NYT 2/16/14
February 19, 2014 Jennifer Boylan

Jeffrey Tambor in a scene from "Transparent"

BELGRADE LAKES, Me. — THERE’S a scene in the new Amazon show “Transparent” when the family patriarch, Mort, walks in on his oldest daughter in flagrante with her lesbian lover. The character, who’s been struggling throughout the pilot with how to come out as trans, stands there in drag with a bemused expression. “Hello, ladies,” Mort — now Maura — says.

When I was first asked to serve as an adviser to the show, I hesitated, fearing that it would get the issues all wrong, as television and film often do where transgender characters are concerned. And yet I was won over by the pilot’s charm. So far, anyway, “Transparent,” written and directed by Jill Soloway, shows every sign of being one of the first television shows to depict the life of its transgender heroine with grace and respect.

Of the 10 pilots released early this month as part of Amazon’s gambit to enter the content-streaming market, “Transparent” is the breakout hit. A reviewer in the culture blog Vulture called it “my favorite pilot in years, and by a lot.” She continued, “the thesis of the show” is that “we hide some things and disclose other things but maybe not as well as we think we do. (Or maybe, accidentally, too well.)”

The only problem? The actor playing Maura, Jeffrey Tambor, is neither female nor trans.

One might think that this is not much of an issue; stepping into other people’s skins is, after all, what actors do.

But there are plenty of talented transgender actresses in Hollywood, including, of course, the amazing Laverne Cox, currently burning it up in “Orange is the New Black.” There are others as well; Calpernia Addams and Candis Cayne come to mind, although, admittedly, they aren’t old enough to play the part of Maura.

But you can understand why trans viewers might grow weary of seeing themselves constantly portrayed by straight actors for whom trans roles are an opportunity to “stretch themselves.” Why do these parts go to people who struggle to imitate us, when… (click here to read the full column in the NYT).

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