The television landscape looked very different when Orange Is the New Black premiered in 2013, at least as far as transgender representation is concerned. Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia Burset on the Netflix series, reflected on that change on the red carpet at the show’s season 7 premiere in New York City last week.
“Honestly, I feel that change is inevitable,” Cox told the Associated Press. “I was aware that there would be famous trans people in other countries who would sort of have mainstream careers, and I was like, ‘Why isn’t that happening in the United States?’”
“It turns out, I was going to be the vessel for that,” Cox continued.
Orange Is the New Black wasn’t the first TV show to feature a trans actor in a trans role. (Candis Cayne became the first trans actress to play a recurring trans character on ABC’s Dirty Sexy Money in 2007, while Amiyah Scott became the first trans actress to play a starring trans role on Fox’s Star in 2016.) But the Netflix series did usher in a new wave of mainstream trans visibility on scripted TV that included The Fosters, Transparent, Sense8, Star, and Doubt, arguably paving the way for shows like Pose and Euphoria to be on TV today.
“I don’t think it’s about me,” Cox told the AP. “I think it’s about a moment that was inevitable, that had to happen. I got really lucky with Jenji Cohen and Jen Euston, our casting director. People were able to connect with Sophia in a way that [let] a lot of misconceptions that people had about who transgender people were melt away because of the human way in which this character was written.”
The seventh and finale season of Orange Is the New Black is streaming on Netflix.