Pictured: Amy Landecker & Jeffrey Tambor in a scene from 'Transparent'
When Jill Soloway’s Transparent was first announced to the public, the show seemed like a promising step in Amazon’s campaign to ape Netflix with online exclusive original programming. While its competitor has generated media and awards buzz through shows such as Orange is the new Black, which give a voice to those often considered the outliers of society, Amazon has yet to receive the same kind of attention. But with this newest outing, Amazon is hoping that its own take on gender and community will finally allow its original programming to take off the ground. Here are five things we’ve learned about the show, via the first big profile, titled "Can Jill Soloway Do Justice to the Trans Movement," in New York Times Magazine (the piece is available in the Sunday, Aug. 31 print edition).
1. Soloway’s father is transgender.
Three years ago, Soloway’s father called her to come out as transgender. Soloway’s reaction was not shock or anger, but realization. Always having struggled with traditional notions of gender, Soloway finally realized that her questions came from her familial experiences. “I think out in front these gender questions were part of our family,” she elaborates. “The discomfort with traditional roles of masculinity and femininity in our house.” While she still worries that simply having a transgender parent does not give her the right to tell a story about trans people, the news reveals that the show might be based, at least somewhat, or her own personal experiences. Still, she stresses that Transparent is not overtly autobiographical and expects to explore gender in a variety of ways.
2. Soloway has hired transgender consultants to help her better understand trans issues.
One of the more common complaints against Transparent is the choice to have the show’s main transgender character, Jeffrey Tambor’s Maura, be played by a cisgender man as opposed to a transgender woman. With Orange is the New Black getting praise and Emmy attention for its casting of transgender actress Laverne Cox to play transgender prison inmate Sophia Burset, not hiring a trans leading actress could be a risky move. However, Soloway has revealed that she understands her own limited frame of reference and has hired two full-time transgender consultants to help steer her away from any pitfalls and help give a more authentically trans voice to the show.
3. Soloway has gone out of her way to hire many trans actors and crew members.
Even with consultants, one might still worry that casting Tambor as opposed to a trans actress takes away a major opportunity from trans actresses who might have otherwise received the part. Soloway, however, has responded to such criticism by revealing that she wants her set to be a “sanctuary where all are welcome” and has instituted a “transfirmative action program,” wherein she favors the hiring of transgender candidates over cisgender counterparts. As of now, 20 trans people have been hired in the cast & crew, with over 60 employed as extras.
4. Soloway keeps a bed in her office for siestas.
Soloway has always enjoyed napping during the day, feeling that it allows her thoughts to come together into characters and plotlines. She has always hid the habit out of shame while working on other productions. As the showrunner for Transparent, though, she finally feels comfortable being open about her naps and has thus installed a large bed in her on-set office.
5. Soloway wasn’t always a feminist.
With Soloway’s impressive skill for rhetoric, one might be forgiven for assuming that she has been reciting feminist creedos from early on. In her discussions with the New York Times, however, she revealed that her primary concerns used to be “makeup, hair, and cute clothes.” When she entered college, she was “very preoccupied with cuteness,” even attempting to pledge to a sorority at one point. However, after a lakeside stroll where she noticed how much fun “hippies, feminists, demonstrators” et. al were having in the water and how they seemed not to be self-conscious, she realized that “these were her people” and has been the outspoken critic of gender roles we now know her as ever since.
Transparent’s pilot is already available for free viewing on Amazon, with the rest of the series set to come exclusively to Prime Instant Video in September. Watch the trailer below: