Emmy’s Transgender Nomination: Important, Inspiring, and a Breach of Integrity

laverne-cox-timeThe Emmys made cultural history yesterday, nominating Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” actress Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia Burset in the prison drama, in the category of outstanding guest actress in a comedy series. It is the first time an openly transgendered actress has been nominated for an Emmy.

She joined several of her colleagues  on the show who were also recognized in various acting categories: stars Taylor Schilling, Kate Mulgrew, Uzo Aduba and Natasha Lyonne.

The problem is that Cox received the nomination for political and social reasons unrelated to her performing skills. This will be denied, of course, and since all awards are subjective, no one will be able to prove this is the case. It is, however. In the large, uniformly superb ensemble cast, Cox’s role is relatively minor, and I have a difficult time believing that anyone would objectively identify her as a standout in the show based on her acting. (In the current season, which I have seen in its entirety, her character is almost invisible). This isn’t intended to diminish Cox in any way, for in the role she plays, I cannot imagine it being played better. Nevertheless, there are many un-nominated actresses in that show—as well as other shows— whose characters are more vivid, who have to show more range, and who are more deserving of a nomination once the process is stripped of irrelevant political baggage. Among them: Taryn Manning, whose transformation into the complex religious fanatic Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett is frightening; Yael Stone, as the heartbreaking stalker Lorna Morello; Samara Wiley, as te alcoholic moralist Poussey Washington, and several others.

Everyone is thrilled for Cox, with Cox, reasonably, leading the way. “I’m on cloud nine. I’m through the roof,” said the actress, whose path to an award was  paved when she was featured on the cover of Time magazine.“What a wonderful, wonderful day for “Orange” and for black trans-women,” she said.

Undoubtedly. It’s not such a great day for the acting profession generally, the Emmys, or the principle that awards based on merit should be decided based on merit, and not social and political agendas. I would say, “But that’s Hollywood,” except that it isn’t just Hollywood.

Cox’s co-stars also expressed excitement at Cox’s Emmy nomination. Kate Mulgrew called it “recognition of a community that very much needs and wants to be recognized, understood and rewarded. I think that Laverne as both an activist and an actor is doing a Herculean job of bringing transgenderism to the forefront of American politics and culture.” What does any of that have to do with the judging quality of Cox’s performance in comparison to other actresses? It doesn’t, of course—because this nomination was not based on what the actress did, but who the actress is. Aduba, whose performance in “Orange is the New Black” as the confused, tragic, comic, “Crazy Eyes” may be the most impressive acting job I’ve ever seen on television, said, “I love Laverne, and she’s done just an amazing thing for the trans community, period, end of story.” All true, and also  unrelated to what the Emmy Awards are supposed to be. GLAAD gives out awards to actors who have done amazing things for the trans community. That’s its mission, and its job. The Emmy’s are supposed to recognize high quality in television arts, or so they posture. Would GLAAD ever jettison its integrity and mission to give an award to a straight actor playing a straight role, saying, “I know we’re supposed to honor performances that advance the cause of the the LGBT community, but she was just so awesome in this movie, we decided to give her an award anyway!”? Presumably not.

Naturally, GLAAD saluted Cox’s Emmy nomination too. “From gracing the cover of Time magazine, to now becoming the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy in an acting category, Laverne Cox continues to break barriers,” said GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “Today, countless transgender youth will hear the message that they can be who they are and still achieve their dreams — nothing is out of reach. Laverne’s success on a hit series is a clear indication that audiences are ready for more trans characters on television.” Well, I guess the ends justify the means, then.

The nomination of Cox for the mere fact of playing a role, and unrelated to the artistic factors that the role is supposed to embody in order to qualify for such a nomination (she is a transgendered woman playing a transgendered women…not exactly what I’d call a stretch), is a form of affirmative action, and that’s a fact. Indeed, the quotes coming out of the Emmys, the cast, and the LGBT community make little effort to hide that fact. It is, in other words, a lie, and that is what is wrong with this inspiring, important nomination.

The public is used to this, certainly. The culture, pushed from the left, encourages it. The Oscars regularly make the supporting actor and actress category a diversity pot-potpourri: if an actor isn’t elderly, African-American, Asian, Hispanic, differently-abled or a child, the chances of his or her performance of a lifetime being recognized by the Academy are massively reduced. Is this fair? Does this make sense? Are the Emmys and the Oscars what they say they are, or undercover social activism organizations?

I recognize the dilemma. Cox’s honor is a step forward for a long-marginalized and misunderstood group; it will do good things for the LBGT community and the culture; and I can certainly understand the impulse that causes an Emmy voter to think, “Gee, wouldn’t it be cool to nominate Laverne Cox?” Yes, it’s cool. It also makes the Emmys a lie and a fraud, ironically reducing the significance of her honor.


Sources: Hollywood Reporter 1, 2

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts, and seek written permission when appropriate. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work or property was used in any way without proper attribution, credit or permission, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at jamproethics@verizon.net.

18 thoughts on “Emmy’s Transgender Nomination: Important, Inspiring, and a Breach of Integrity

  1. This is the Jackie Robinson/Michael Sam paradigm. When you’re the first person to break through a perceived barrier for your group, there’s an amount of pressure put on you that wouldn’t be put on other people.

    Jackie Robinson played Caesar’s wife, he had played in the Negro League for years, and was more than skilled enough to play in the Majors. There was still an amount of racism, but at least his professional credentials were unimpeachable. Michael Sam is a middling player at best, and so questions were asked; “was he picked at all because he’s gay?” “was he picked so low in the drafts because he’s gay?” “If he starts to fail, will his team be afraid to part with him?” and on and on.

    Laverne Cox…. Is, in my opinion, a good actress, and her episode in season 1 that revealed her change and her relationship with her wife and son pushed the edge. I struggle with whether that should mean a nomination for the writers or for her, but she definitely made an impression with me in her role.

    • It’s a REVERSE Robinson. The first black player had to be great..and was. The Reverse Robinson—call it the Obama Principle—holds that the trailblazer must be called great whether or no he or she really is.

  2. If Manning is not a meth addicted religious nut and Aduba is actually sane, THAT is some great acting. These two characters really stood apart from the rest in my opinion.

  3. By “transgendered” in this case, do you mean that this “actress” is actually a surgically altered man? And is this now actually a category for an Emmy award? If so, that should about eliminate the last dregs of the legitimacy of that show and throw it right down with the Spirits.

    • By “transgendered” in this case, do you mean that this “actress” is actually a surgically altered man?


      If she’s had surgery, she’s be a surgically altered woman.

      Of course that depends on the definition of “man” and “woman”. Some wouldn’t even classify her as human, since she’s not white like them.

      Having a dialogue with such people almost certainly won’t change their minds, at least not by using evidence and logic. Nonetheless it can be useful as a way of exposing knowledge – see Gaileo’s discussion between Simplicio and Salviati. That example is a good one, as it shows how this can go wrong – by showing a lack of respect for those who differ. No wonder the Pope went Ape over it. Galileo was both brilliant and correct- but also unpleasant, even obnoxious. I’ll try to avoid those faults, but I’m human too.

      With that in mind – care for another bout? I’ll mainly be cutting and pasting of course.

      If so, you might start with a rigorous definition of “man” and “woman” that is both consistent and complete. Or a discussion of why such a definition is really easy in most cases, but fraught in others.

        • From a woman who looked mostly male at birth – as I did.

          I was one of the fortunate few where that condition goes into remission, but even then I required hormone therapy and some surgical “touch ups”, as do many. Either to a male norm for boys born looking mostly female due to 17BHSD, or girls born looking mostly like boys due to 3BHSD.

          The phrase “Surgically repaired woman” is accurate, pithy, and succinct. I hope Jack doesn’t mind if I steal it.

          • Now I see where your zealous defense of the multi-sexuality nonsense comes from. Nature makes an occasional error, as we all know. But those are rare. Certainly, they have no bearing on some adolescent and grown person who is under the supreme delusion that he or she isn’t what he manifestly is.

  4. As an aside..

    The first out transgender person to be nominated for (and win) an Emmy award was Michelle Poley. She won in the “Outstanding Individual Achievement in a craft: Lighting Direction & Scenic Design” for CNN’s Election Center in 2009..

  5. Jack, I don’t know where you are in watching the second season of this show, but Manning’s acting is even more noteworthy in 2 than in season 1! Hopefully that is not considered a spoiler. 😉

    I have to agree with you here. Though I think it would have been really hard (maybe courageous) for any of Cox’s colleagues to be openly against her nomination, her receiving one over Manning makes no sense to me, especially if these nominations are based on Season 2. (I tried to figure that out from the Emmy web page but after finding no answer after 10 minutes I gave up.) Would Manning also be considered a “guest” actress? I admit to not knowing what that means.

    Personally this show represents the rare but welcomed overlapping of artistic enjoyment for my 18 year old daughter and me. We didn’t watch it together (“Ew, watching lesbian sex with my mother?”) but we did both enjoy it and agree some of the acting is brilliant.

    What do you think of the writing?

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