Amazon Series “Transparent” Sparks Debate Over Authentic Media Representation

tumblr_n72ze27diN1tni17wo1_400We love when gay roles go to gay actors, often spotlighting otherwise unknown talent. But sometimes the entertainment industry (it is an industry, after all) needs “a name.” And the crossover of these two realities can be frustrating.

In the transgender community, the tension surrounding authentic representation seems even thicker. Which is understandable — how many trans performers portraying trans characters can you name besides Laverne Cox on Orange is the New Black?

A new series set to stream on Amazon Prime, Transparent, follows the story of a middle aged woman with three adult children coming out of the trans closet late in life.

The show’s main character Mora is played by Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development), who by no fault of his own, is a man.

After a recent screening of the premiere episode at Outfest, L.A.’s LGBT film festival, Tambor spoke openly about his take on the role during a Q&A session:

“There aren’t too many footsteps for me to follow. This is an inward journey to my own feminine side.”

And no one is criticizing his thoughtful portrayal. But some in the crowd were upset at the show for having cast him in the first place, similar to the protests we heard over the trans role of Rayon going to Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club (a performance that nabbed him a golden statue come Oscar time).

Ashley Love (left), a journalist at Trans Forming Media and a transsexual and intersex advocate, addressed the panel which consisted of moderator Ari Karpel, show creator Jill Soloway, cast members Melora Hardin, Carrie Brownstein and Jeffrey Tambor, and Trans artists and show consultants Rhys Ernst and Zachary Drucker:

“We see this as ‘transface’—it’s 2014, why can’t the industry evolve? I personally know trans women who wanted to audition for the role, but [the production] wanted a well-known man instead. Why don’t our gay and lesbian friends learn from the trans community?”

Ernst defended the show, saying:

“There can be times when [cis people portraying a trans individuals] can be respectful.”

Love later told FrontiersLA:

What’s disappointing […] is Hollywood ‘transface’ continuing to be the norm. Despite there being talented trans actresses to play trans roles, TV and film directors miscast non-trans male actors instead, many times making a mockery of our womanhood (misgendering), reinforcing stereotypes, suppressing our visibility and disempowering our civil rights. Affirming change is long overdue.

Episode one of Transparent is currently available to stream through Amazon Prime.