Laverne Cox: Life After OITNB and Playing Cis
By Jude Samson
I always felt that genuine, open communication – a true exchange of ideas and viewpoints – help us learn and grow as people. Even if we remain unchanged in our original stance we now at least get to see a perspective we may not have been aware of before. One topic that comes up with some frequency within the trans community that I love to throw into the fire and see what cooks up is the concept of “Trans Face.” (You can read some background information and views from my first post here about Trans Face.) The quick gist of it is when someone plays a role that should have gone to a minority, but Hollywood opted to use a white/cis/straight person instead. This is a bit different from white-washing. A good example of Trans Face would be people feeling the role of Danish Girl should have gone to a trans person rather than a cis male actor. Other’s have the opinion that it shouldn’t matter who the person is, only that they’re the best one for the job as far as talent and portrayal are concerned. Some middle-ground thoughts are that we should be at a point where it doesn’t matter either way as we now have straight actors playing gay, gay actors playing straight, and it’s fine because it’s based on who was actually the best fit for the part.
One person who has been a true spokesperson to the trans community is Laverne Cox, who has made her way through the ranks as an actress and is most well-known for her role on Orange is the New Black. The role sky-rocketed her into wide recognition and, in turn, allowed her to become a voice for us. While OITNB is still running (and returns this June to Netflix), shows will only run for so long and despite being a very popular show, Laverne Cox was significantly absent from last season with only brief glimpses and there’s just only so many stories you can tell after a while.
“MANY OF US WERE DISAPPOINTED BECAUSE IT WAS REFRESHING TO SEE LAVERNE, OR ANY TRANS PERSON, IN A ROLE THAT WAS NOT FOCUSED ON OUR “TRANS-NESS.'”
Cox moved over to a new series called Doubt that was headlined by Katherine Heigl, which should have been a red flag from the start. (See Jenny’s Wedding Review) It was a legal drama going for the fast-paced lives of a firm filled with lawyers all headed up by a seemingly God-like attorney they all worked under. Laverne Cox was a lawyer who just happened to be trans. The show wasn’t about her being trans, it didn’t focus on it beyond a brief mention that was worked into the script well enough. She was simply an actress playing a role of a lawyer. Heigl cannot carry a series and this was one of the major downfalls. Beyond that, there was nothing that really “popped” within the series to make it stand out against a sea of other legal dramas that have flooded the market and have already established committed audiences. It was canceled after only two episodes. Many of us were disappointed because it was refreshing to see Laverne, or any trans person, in a role that was not focused on our “trans-ness.” This immediate cancellation combined with disappointingly low ratings for When We Rise at the same time did not bode well for the LGBT (especially the “T” portion) community, although we are still holding strong with Real O’Neals.
Quick to rebound, however, Cox is now set to appear in “The Trustee” which is billed as a TV Movie yet but appears to be more along the lines of a 1-hour pilot to see whether the show can gain any footing and get picked up as a series. According to Variety, its premise is: “The pilot follows a stubborn detective who finds unlikely help from her precinct’s trustee, a larger-than-life ex-con finishing out her prison sentence doing menial tasks for the police department. Though the duo has completely opposing views on crime and punishment, a highly entertaining and successful partnership is born.” (Variety)
“WHAT DOES MAKE THIS INTERESTING, HOWEVER, IS THAT JONES IS A CISGENDER FEMALE AND COX IS SET TO PLAY HER AS SUCH.”
Meaghan Rath will play the detective while Cox will return to the role of criminal by playing the trustee, Amanda Jones. Elizabeth Banks is helming the project and while many may recall her from her role as Effie Trinket from the Hunger Games trilogy, Banks has a substantial record in the industry in front of and behind the camera. With Banks navigating the series it’s sure to have a unique style of comedic flare (if you haven’t seen Pitch Perfect you’ll know what I mean). What does make this interesting, however, is that Jones is a cisgender female and Cox is set to play her as such.
To many, this is a great sign that trans entertainers can be seen as being more than capable of playing a variety of roles and that being trans does not mean we can only play trans characters. Other’s feel we’re too young in our fight for visibility to give ourselves up to a societal declaration of what “typical” is and that we shouldn’t be conforming ourselves to fit back into their binary system. Where do you stand on the matter? Do you feel we should wait before taking on more cis-based roles or that to do so is conforming to the binary? Or are we visible enough already to start integrating the way everyone else does? Either way, we should show our support. We won’t get represented in television/movies if we don’t show the industry we’re watching and we carry the power to make something profitable.