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08/27/2018 06:14 pm ET Updated Aug 28, 2018

A Famous Director Once Asked Laverne Cox If Trans Actors Even Existed

The "Orange Is The New Black" actress got candid about the importance of trans representation.
Laverne Cox at the Hudson Theatre last month in New York.
Noam Galai via Getty Images
Laverne Cox at the Hudson Theatre last month in New York.

Few people recognize the importance of trans representation in Hollywood more than Laverne Cox

“I think part of the thing that has kept casting directors and producers from casting trans people to play trans parts, and ideally to play other parts that aren’t just trans, is that they don’t think we exist,” the trans actress told Ebony Magazine in an interview published Monday. 

“I remember a famous director once said when he was asked why he didn’t hire a trans actor to play a trans character, he said, ‘Do they even exist?’” said Cox, best known for playing Sophia Burset in “Orange Is The New Black.” 

Cox’s interaction with the unnamed director reflects a larger issue that has plagued Hollywood. Dozens of cisgender people have played trans characters over the years, including Jeffrey Tambor in the TV series “Transparent,” Felicity Huffman in the 2005 film “Transamerica” and Jared Leto in 2013′s “Dallas Buyers Club” (for which he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor).

Most recently, actress Scarlett Johansson came under fire for taking the role of a trans man in the upcoming film “Rub & Tug.” As the criticism mounted, Johansson dropped out of the movie

When we are casting people who are not trans to play trans characters, it’s sending the message that trans women aren’t really women, trans men aren’t real men, that non-binary people don’t exist. Laverne Cox

Cox told Ebony that trans actors playing trans characters (and cis characters) will affect how the public views the trans community. 

Given that the vast majority of Americans have said they don’t personally know a transgender person, everything that most of them “learn about transgender people, they learn from the media,” Cox said. “When we are casting people who are not trans to play trans characters, it’s sending the message that trans women aren’t really women, trans men aren’t real men, that non-binary people don’t exist.” 

The best example of just how important representation really is, Cox said, is the reaction she’s received from many trans fans of her portrayal of Sophia on “OITNB.” 

“I can’t tell you how many trans people I’ve gotten letters and emails from saying, ‘I now believe it’s possible to be a working trans actor because I saw you on television. I came out to my family because I saw you on television. I didn’t commit suicide because I saw you on television,’” Cox said. “That’s the difference it makes when you have diverse representation.”

Head over to Ebony to read Cox’s full interview. 

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article misstated the year “Dallas Buyers Club” came out and which Oscar Jared Leto won for the film. 

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