GLAAD Media Awards: Laverne Cox, Gigi Gorgeous on Importance of Accurate Trans Depictions
"It's important to have us involved in every aspect of the production," said the 'Orange Is the New Black' actress. "Then hopefully once we're there, we can tell stories that represent the diversity and beauty of our community."
New York City's 29th annual GLAAD Media Awards took place Saturday at the Hilton Midtown, where many notable names in Hollywood gathered to celebrate fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the LGBTQ community and the issues that affect their lives.
Before the event kicked off, transgender actresses Laverne Cox and Amiyah Scott spoke with The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet about the efforts they've made to shatter longstanding stereotypes of the trans community through their portrayals of trans characters on television.
Cox — who rose to fame on Netflix's Orange Is the New Black as trans inmate Sophia Burset — told THR that it is not only "imperative" to tell truthful stories about trans people amid 2018's political climate, but that it is also crucial for trans individuals to be part of the creative process, both in front of and behind the camera.
"Ideally, you want LGBTQ+ people in the writers room, you want LGBTQ+ producers," she said, pointing out that Ryan Murphy's upcoming FX musical dance drama Pose — co-written and co-produced by trans activist Janet Mock — has "an unprecedented amount" of trans talent working on the series.
"It's important to have us involved in every aspect of the production," said Cox, who also played a trans character on CBS' Doubt. "Then hopefully once we're there, we can tell stories that represent the diversity and beauty of our community."
Scott, who plays trans hustler and dancer Cotton on Lee Daniels' Fox drama Star, agrees. According to Scott, she and Daniels often collaborate to ensure veracity in her character's storyline.
"Lee is big on authenticity, so he does come to me sometimes and ask me my opinion because I am a trans woman of color. We work together and it's amazing. I love how it's not stereotypical. I can't stress that enough because most trans roles are typical and he steps outside of that box and that's what I'm thankful for," Scott told THR, emphasizing that trans women are "more than sex workers" — one of the unfortunate cliches they are frequently relegated to onscreen.
And, in fact, "some of our families do accept us from the beginning," Scott said. "It's just all different and it varies, but sometimes we are boxed in and our experiences as trans people are often shown as tragic and sad. Sometimes there is love and there is hope. It can be tragic for some, but that's not always the case. And I'm fighting to break that stereotype."
Ellie Desautels — who identifies as nonbinary, but plays trans teen Michael Hallowell on NBC's Rise — also believes that the trans community could use a bit more optimism. As the show's viewers have witnessed, Michael's narrative includes parents who fully embrace him and his gender identity, which, as Desautels explained to THR, can be affirming for supportive families who might feel underrepresented.
"Michael's story is important to tell because there are a lot of trans kids in America who do have their family's support. And although that's not the case for everyone, it's important for people — both trans kids and their parents — to see that it can be a really good thing to come out and live as your authentic self. It's not all tragedy and hardship," said Desautels, echoing Scott's sentiments. "Happy stories really resonate with trans kids, and it can give them confidence and hope."
TV isn't the only medium to illustrate realistic, positive portraits of trans lives. Internet personality and trans advocate Gigi Gorgeous, who detailed her transition in the 2017 YouTube Red documentary This Is Everything, told THR that storytelling through social media can be equally powerful — and a vital touchstone for Hollywood creatives.
"I think telling my story in my movie and keeping it authentic turned a lot of minds around. So documentaries are a great way to educate people about the trans community," she said. "But now, more than ever, it's important to log on to platforms like YouTube, where real people are coming out and sharing their stories."
Continued Gorgeous: "People are really baring it all these days. By paying attention to these real-life people, Hollywood can learn a lot about trans people and how to tell their stories with accuracy and dignity. We can all learn a lot. It is by far the utmost level of authenticity."
When it comes to casting trans characters, she would like to see more TV and film execs champion LGBTQ talent like Cox, Scott and Desautels.
"I was really happy to see Laverne Cox play a trans character in Orange Is the New Black. She played that character so well, and the fact that she was trans was that much more empowering and exciting to me. And by casting trans actors and actresses to play trans characters, Hollywood is doing their job by giving us representation where we need it," the influencer said, adding that she wouldn't mind helping the cause. "I would love [to act]. If I were to play a character, I would love for the character to be trans so that I could represent the community."