Thursday Trends: Recognizing Actors for Portraying Transpeople

Jeffrey Tambor as Maura Pfefferman in 'Transparent' (Business Insider)

Jeffrey Tambor as Maura Pfefferman in ‘Transparent’ (Business Insider)

Last week at the Golden Globe Awards, actor Jeffrey Tambor received the award for Best Actor in a Television Series, Musical or Comedy. Tambor plays Maura in Amazon Studios’ “Transparent,” a transgender woman who’s always identified as a woman, and how it affects her three adult children. (The series also won the Golden Globe for Best TV Series, Musical or Comedy.)

Tambor, who dedicated his award to the trans community, is the latest actor to be recognized for his work in playing a transperson. Though some actors before him have achieved recognition in portraying trans characters, the awards and nominations have come few and far between. But Tambor’s award comes less than a year since Jared Leto won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing a transwoman in “Dallas Buyers Club.” This suggests that the trans community is rapidly gaining in visibility, and portrayals of the community members’ nuances are beginning to be normalized onscreen.

The first film actor to be nominated for portraying a trans person was Chris Sarandon for “Dog Day Afternoon” back in 1975. Sarandon played Leon Shermer, the pre-operative trans wife of bank robber Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino). The character was based on the real-life Elizabeth Eden, initially born Ernest Aron. Sarandon received Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for his work.

The first film actor to win an award for playing a trans person was Hilary Swank, portraying Brandon Teena in 1999’s “Boys Don’t Cry.” Swank won the Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama Golden Globe and the Best Actress Oscar.

Last year, the Emmys made history when it nominated its first transgender acting nominee. Laverne Cox, who plays hairdresser/inmate Sophia Burset in Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black,” was nominated for outstanding guest actress in a comedy series. (Though she didn’t win, Cox later scored another first as the first openly trans person to grace the cover of “Time” in June.)

It’s important to note that previous to Cox, all the actors nominated were cisgender, and this has occasionally become a point of contention. After Leto won the Oscar in 2014, discussions arose around transgender actors portraying trans characters.

With actors receiving recent recognition in portraying trans characters, the trans community’s visibility is rapidly rising. As more audiences watch trans stories, mainstream acceptance should spread.