Laverne Cox Tells OZY Fest: ‘Eff the Backlash. We Have to Move Forward’
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you’re the ones buying the movie tickets.
By Fiona Zublin
The reality on the silver screen hasn’t always reflected the realities of society. Let’s be honest: It rarely has. But even Hollywood has to move forward, little by little. Recent megahits like Black Panther, Moonlight and Get Out are paving the way for a big change in the movie business, even as national politics have swung to the hard right, and at OZY Fest last weekend, transgender superstar Laverne Cox spoke about the future of the entertainment business and what allies can do to help encourage diverse films.
How do you feel about the recent controversy over Scarlett Johansson playing a trans character? Do you think she did the right thing by pulling out of the project?
As an actress, I never want to suggest that another actor should or shouldn’t play a part. I think as artists we should be able to do whatever we want to do creatively. But that creativity has consequences. GLAAD did a study that found that 84 percent of Americans don’t personally know someone who’s transgender, so most of what Americans find out about transgender people, they learn through the media. Our unemployment rate is three times the national average, and 40 percent of transgender people attempt suicide. And so much of the road map to acceptance is how we’re portrayed. If everything were equal and trans people weren’t constantly under attack, everyone playing everything would be a wonderful reality. But that’s not the reality.
But do you feel like the entertainment industry is taking steps toward equality?
Pose has the largest LGBTQ cast ever assembled on television. Five transgender women are leads on the show — that’s never happened before. These kinds of moments give me hope, but it’s really important when these shows happen that audiences support them. Because it is show business, and people want to make money. Please support the work when it is diverse.
Like Black Panther?
Black Panther is just a really good movie. I would love for it to translate into other aspects on the entertainment industry, but I think a lot of it’s the way it was marketed, because I don’t think Black Panther was marketed as a Black film. Something that is marketed as a Black film or an LGBTQ film or an Asian film is going to have a certain kind of audience and a certain kind of life. So how do we market something as not a Black film, or an Asian film, but a human film?
As LGBTQ people and people of color make strides forward in Hollywood, do you see or worry about a backlash against it?
With any kind of progress forward for marginalized people, backlash is inevitable. But we have to make sure we’re not allowing the opposition to set the terms of the conversation. I was watching Fox News last night, and it was a whole other reality. But there are millions of Americans who are tuning into that channel exclusively, and those folks are setting the agenda for this country right now. How do we begin to take the reins of the conversation? We have to be vigilant. We have to push back, and we have to say, “Eff the backlash.” We have to move forward.
Do you feel pressure to represent trans people, or people of color, with every role you play?
I think Hattie McDaniel said, “I’d rather play a maid than be a maid.” And I hope now in 2018, marginalized folks can begin to imagine that there are other options. For a couple years, I was one of very few trans people that mainstream people knew, and there was a tremendous amount of pressure, and what’s so exciting about this moment right now is that there’s so many trans voices in the media. And I can be myself; I don’t have to bear the brunt of representing an entire community.
You don’t have to be every woman?
Right. Although I am.