Recently, sexual assault allegations have surfaced and taken down longtime Hollywood power players like Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, Harvey Weinstein and Brett Ratner; they’ve lost jobs and respect and their positions in the industry. Now one of the most ground-breaking queer shows in TV history has been affected. Two trans women, Van Barnes and Trace Lysette, have come forward accusing Transparent star Jeffrey Tambor of sexual harassment, including getting inappropriately physical with them. In a private Facebook post Barnes, who was Tambor’s personal assistant, talked about how Tambor acted inappropriately many times with her, and then Lysette, one of the main trans actors on the show, came forward to say that Tambor not only made sexually charged comments to her while on set, but also touched her and rubbed up against her in ways that were clearly unacceptable and crossed lines.
For years women have been saying we could completely change the media landscape if we were given a fraction of the opportunities and financial support men are given. Women, and especially women of color, queer and trans women and disabled women have stories to tell that we’ve unfortunately never been able to see on screen due to a complete lack of access. It looks like that could be changing, not because the industry is finally giving women a fair shot based on merit, but because it’s finally coming to light just how many predators and abusers are holding position of power across industries and political landscapes. This very public reckoning is coming at a time when there’s an influx of critically acclaimed, award-winning, box office record-breaking stories created by and starring traditionally marginalized voices. The audience is there, the money is there, the platforms are there — and streaming platforms, especially, have been rewarded for taking chances on creators and actors who aren’t cis white men. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon have been collectively racking up Emmy nominations and wins for years now. Moonlight stunned at The Oscars earlier this year.
Shows like One Mississippi and Transparent, which will be moving on without the sexual harassers associated with them, and other shows like Take My Wife and Lena Waithe’s upcoming The Chi are proving queer women can make brilliant content when given the chance. As cis white men are forced out to face repercussions for their actions, this could become our moment.
Transparent has a lot of big decisions to make. When the show was first announced, Amazon and Jill Soloway defended casting a man as the leading trans character by saying they needed a big name to sell the show and attract viewers. But the show already has a home now, an established viewership and many awards under it’s belt (even without Tambor). Other shows — Roseanne, Once Upon a Time, Bewitched, Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire, and Game of Thrones, for example — have recast major characters, but this would be a change of a much larger magnitude. Tambor is the face of the show. He’s won two Emmys for this role. He is the trans parent of the Pfefferman clan. But he’s not the whole show. He’s not even the transgender heart of it.
One of the best things Transparent has done is hire trans people to tell their own stories. Actors like Trace Lysette, Hari Nef and especially Alexandria Billings have brought a soul and reality to their characters that we’ve rarely seen on TV. Producers and writers like Rhys Ernst, Zackary Drucker and Our Lady J have kept the trans storylines and representation grounded and full of scenes that any trans person watching would be able to deeply relate to. The show still has these people, and the many other trans actors and crew members who have made it so revolutionary. It also still has Jill Soloway, Judith Light, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass and Gaby Hoffman, who shined especially bright in Season Four as her character started figuring out her own transgender identity.
As Our Lady J said, the show shouldn’t be ruined because of one cis man’s behavior, and all of the trans people who work on the show shouldn’t lose their jobs for the same reason. So I see several options.
The first, and probably easiest, would be to write Maura off. Transparent has dealt with the death of family members before, and there are plenty of other characters to focus on, including Ali, who could become the new trans focus of the show after exploring a non-binary identity last season.
Or, they could shift focus to Alexandria Billings’ Davina, Maura’s friend who is played by one of the most legendary trans actors of all time and who has lots of interesting storylines — her HIV status, her romantic relationships, her estrangement from her family — the show could explore. When they want to tell more stories about Maura, they could go back to her childhood, and bring back Sophia Grace Gianna, who gave a wonderful performance in the season three episode “If I Were A Bell” or go back to her days as a young woman and bring back Season Four’s Zoe Van Brunt.
What would be truly remarkable, though, is if the show were to recast Maura with a trans actor. This would make the biggest statement of support for the trans community and an equally large statement of support for the trans women Tambor abused and harassed. Unfortunately, because of the lack of opportunities given to trans actors in the past, there aren’t a lot of experienced trans actors the right age to play Maura. One possibility is Romy Haag, a Danish trans performer and actress who worked as a muse for David Bowie in the past. Or the show could bring on a new, as of yet undiscovered trans talent, as it has with so many of the trans actors featured on the show.
It won’t be easy. Moving on without the award-winning lead would be hard for any show. But if Soloway and the others behind Transparent want to make a bold, loud statement and show that they really want to continue to be the feminist and trans-supportive show they’ve grown into these last four seasons, one great way would be to cast a trans woman as the star and central character, and to move forward with a renewed commitment to stand with trans women and all women against predators, the patriarchy and the cisnormative industry that made Tambor the pick to play Maura in the first place.