History was certainly made on Sunday evening with Game of Thrones breaking records for winning the highest number of Emmy Awards received by a non-fiction show. Similarly, Tatiana Maslany beamed triumphantly for finally scooping up a gong for Orphan Black and newcomer Rami Malek smashed all the competition out of the ballpark with his sensational performance in Mr. Robot. Indeed, there's no denying that there was definitely a lot to talk about at the 2016 Emmys.
Yet among all the excitement, it was one particular win that perhaps resonated the most with audiences. Jeffrey Tambor picked up the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for a second year in a row for his role of Maura Pfefferman in Amazon's original series Transparent.
And the actor certainly used his time in the spotlight to relay some hard-hitting words in regards to gender politics in TV and movies, an issue that has been a hot topic in Hollywood for quite some time now.
Taking to the podium to receive his award, he first thanked the show's creator Jill Soloway for providing him with such a wonderful opportunity to star in Transparent. Then, refusing to leave quietly, he dived right into one of the most powerful pleas to the industry in recent years, making the following statement:
"I’m not going to say this beautifully: to you people out there … please give transgender talent a chance. Give them auditions. Give them their story. Do that."
He then concluded his speech with the strong words directed at Hollywood's casting agents:
“I would not be unhappy were I were the last cisgender male to play a female transgender on television. We have work to do, I love you."
Watch the full Emmy acceptance speech below:
Jeffrey Tambor certainly has a point when highlighting the fact that transgender actors make rare appearances on mainstream television. Indeed, the first openly transgender actress to receive an Emmy nomination was Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox in 2014, who was also featured on the ground-breaking cover of Time magazine under the headline "The Transgender Tipping Point."
Cox's critically-acclaimed performance on the Netflix show has definitely attracted widespread, and much needed, attention to the transgender topic. Yet, although these achievements have seemed like steps in the right direction for the industry towards embracing queer, gender and trans politics, it remains far from enough.
Hollywood's Complex History With Casting Transgender Actors
In particular, as Tambor noted in his speech on Sunday, Hollywood has a long history of casting cisgender actors as trans characters in its TV shows and movies. We need only look to the past few years as examples of this: Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club being notable ones.
Naturally, these are both commendable projects that received their fair share of praise, but they also attracted significant criticism from LGBT rights groups for their decisions to cast cisgender males in transgender roles.
Most recently perhaps, it was the controversial casting of Matt Bomer in indie flick Anything, a project produced by Mark Ruffalo, that really got the transgender community riled up. The actor is gearing up to play a transgender sex worker, something that has frustrated and infuriated many watching the news regarding the project unfolding all over world. One of those opposed in particular has been transgender Sense8 actress Jamie Clayton, who tweeted last month:
Emmy-nominated writer, actress and producer Jen Richards also threw her opinion into the ring, posting:
In essence, the fact of the matter is that Hollywood is still holding onto the idea that putting a male into a dress and a wig to "pretend" to be transgender is sufficient. This stubborn refusal to change is a pressing problem and continues to add to the long-simmering debate about minority actors plaguing the TV and movie world in general.
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'It's Time To Hand Out The Keys To The Kingdom'
Repeatedly, the same thing has been stressed: The time has come for trans actors and actresses to land the roles they deserve. As well as in Tambor's speech, these exact sentiments were also echoed by Transparent creator Jill Soloway to the Emmy press. She provided the following perspective:
"It would be one thing if trans people had been telling their own stories for hundreds of years, but they haven’t even gotten the chance to tell their own stories [on television]. So when straight white producers are taking the narrative for trans people, for queer people, for people of color rather than letting them tell their own stories, it’s a real problem. It’s time to hand out the keys to the kingdom, open the gates, and let more people into these roles of writer, producer, director, protagonist."
Soloway also added:
"When trans people see trans people on television as the subjects instead of the objects the world changes."
Ultimately, the challenge to Hollywood is stronger than ever right now. Let's hope it's being heard.
Should there be more opportunities for transgender actors in Hollywood?