A new series, “Transparent”, by award winning filmmaker, Jill Soloway, was released this Wednesday, streaming for free on Amazon, who have joined the ranks of streaming moguls like Hulu and Netflix in providing original series. "Transparent" has been released alongside several other pilots, who will compete to be picked up by the network, if highly rated.
If you're interested in seeing this trans narrative be told, watch the pilot and be sure to rate it. The series is described as,
“An LA family with serious boundary issues have their past and future unravel when a dramatic admission causes everyone's secrets to spill out.”
As you may have guessed, the series’ title is a double entendre in reference to both the ‘unraveling secrets’ of the family and the the ‘dramatic admission’ by that family’s (supposed) patriarch, Mort, played by Emmy nominated actor Jeffrey Tambor who is, you guessed it, coming out as transgender woman, Maura.
Coming on the heels of Jared Leto’s highly criticized role in “Dallas Buyers Club”, this new series enters at a time when the standards of trans representation are rising, and as Hollywood is beginning to be held accountable for the stories they tell of trans lives.
Jill Soloway, writer, director, and producer of “Transparent” employed a team of transgender consultants who’ve worked closely in the series’ production, offering a trans perspective for filmmaker, Soloway, who, in relaying a trans narrative, apparently wants to get it right.
In 2012 she was introduced to transgender filmmaker, Rhys Ernst, at the Sundance Film Festival, where they both were featuring short films.
When Soloway started work on “Transparent”, she knew who to call. Ernst joined her throughout the production of the show’s pilot episode. He has been working in the film industry since he graduated from Hampshire College in 2004, and told me that he is very happy with the way that “Transparent” has come together.
I asked Ernst how he felt, as a filmmaker, to be working on a project that centers around a transgender narrative, knowing that the transgender character is being portrayed by a cisgender actor. He responded,
“As a trans director, I ask myself, how would I cast a non-medically transitioning trans person, or someone pre-transition? I look at all options, and that may include some cisgender actors. I also see filmmaking as a holistic practice and don't see casting as the only area to focus on regarding the politics of trans representation. Filmmaking is a team effort and when it comes to trans related subject matter, trans sensitivity needs to be integrated throughout the entire production chain.”
What Rhys Ernst says here intrigued me. His idea of filmmaking as an “holistic practice”, as it relates to the politics of trans representation through the chain of production, reminds us that the stories we are telling, and how they are told, are an important part of who those stories represent.
Trans actors in trans roles makes sense, but how else can we assure that transgender people aren’t being crudely caricaturized? Ernst explains that, though he feels a cis actor in a trans role can be warranted, this issue of miscasting is endemic to Hollywood,
“As a filmmaker I have gone to great lengths to cast transgender actors. It sometimes takes more work to locate trans actors but because of my commitment to trans representation, I feel it's a step well worth taking...there are certain instances in which casting a cisgender actor in a trans role can be appropriate. I don't think it's as nearly as often as Hollywood's track record might suggest, and 9 out of 10 trans characters in Hollywood productions are typically a disappointment, both in their writing and in their casting."
Ernst isn’t the only consultant Soloway has added to her team. Transgender woman, and highly praised and respected author Jennifer Finney Boylan joined the team alongside fellow trans woman and artist, Zackary Drucker as consultants on “Transparent”. Drucker, whose collaborative work with Rhys Ernst, “She Gone Rogue”, is being featured at the Whitney Biennial this March, provides a necessary trans-feminine perspective.
In the pilot episode of “Transparent”, there is a scene set within a transgender support group Maura attends regularly. Drucker is present, as the group’s facilitator, among an entire cast of trans characters, the group’s attendees, who are portrayed by transgender actors.
“Transparent” sets a precedent, a new project from a filmmaker who evidently prioritizes accurate trans representation in her work, getting trans people involved behind the scenes in production, and on screen in an honest and intimate narrative.
With the rise of the transgender movement, community discourse on an assembly of pertinent concerns to trans people arises daily, with a new degree of visibility, and so a broader audience. Thus a week scarcely passes without the hot topic drama of trans women in film burning its way through the blogosphere.
Transgender women’s representation in film has, historically, been mishandled by an industry prone to disregard the population of women whose lives persist behind the, typically, grotesque caricatures erected in their place.
Trans women have been socially stigmatized and sensationalized as a countercultural phenomenon of lascivious taboo. Their visibility has increased, and so we’re now confronted by the output of an epistemic, cultural transphobia. We confront this transphobia in the media on all fronts, every day, as seen in sensationalized journalism and casual transphobia on TV.
The future of trans media is coming, it’s shape is being cast today with the intent of a movement that has taken misrepresentation to task. And thus, in this era of new form, “Transparent” is a narrative to watch, as a witness to our modern balance between creative license, and social responsibility.
I watched it because Alison Sudol from A Fine Frenzy (who plays one of the adult children's lovers in a singing group or whatever) posted about it on tumblr and I was bored/it was free, so I had no idea what it was about. It wasn't really funny, but it was pretty interesting imo. Plus it's by the same person who did Six Feet Under so.. hope it gets picked up!