The 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.
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