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'Transparent': Real Characters and Transfirmative Action

One of the wonders of the show is how it manages to make us sympathize with characters who are kind of horrible people

A person watching television, photo: Flickr
3 months ago

Transparent is an Amazon Studios television series created by U.S. comedian and writer Jill Soloway, who previously worked on Six Feed Under and directed the film Afternoon Delight (2013). The story’s central character Maura, first introduced as Mort (Jeffrey Tambor), a retired college professor finally comes to terms with her identity and comes out to her family as always having identified as a woman. The cast is completed with Maura’s highly dysfunctional adult children, Sarah (Amy Landecker), Josh (Jay Duplass), Ali (Gaby Hoffmann), and ex-wife, Shelly (Judith Light).

Now in its third season, Transparent has been hailed as groundbreaking television. Not just because of its inception and theme — a show released on a streaming provider with a transgender main character — but because of the maturity with which it treats its characters and the sometimes-avant garde flourishes of its plot.

This “late coming-of-age” story would have gained relative praise even if it would have centered on just its main character: an elderly parent coming out to her family as transgender. It’s the stuff critics love. But the show is not afraid to also immerse itself in darker territories, like the reckless lives of her children. Sarah is a at-first-look happily married woman with her own children, but as time passes, we see the unhappiness in which she lives, which makes her decide to divorce her husband and attempt to marry (but ultimately cruelly leave at the altar) a former ex-girlfriend from college. Josh is a music producer who outwardly seems to be very successful; it is later revealed that he can’t form meaningful and lasting relationships. And Ali, the youngest, who is just truly lost in life, goes from one meandering project to another when the mood strikes.

One of the wonders of the show is how it manages to make us sympathize with characters who are kind of horrible people. But the thing is that they become people, real, round characters who exude real humanity.

The show has also been popular because, during production, creator Jill Soloway enacted a “transfirmative action program,” whereby transgender applicants were hired in preference to cisgender ones. To date, more than 80 transgender people have worked on the show, including transgender multimedia artist and LGBT activists Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, who have worked as consultants and co-producers. Also, in 2014, classical pianist, television writer, and singer-songwriter Our Lady J was chosen as the first openly transgender person to be a writer for the show.

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