The CW has a new drama in the works, presumably with the hopes of tackling subject matter surrounding gender identity. The show is called “Ze” and will be the first mainstream TV show to be centered around a trans* character.
Written by playwright-musician Kyle Jarrow, ZE revolves around a Texas teenager who announces that they are transgender and will be living life as a boy. As his dysfunctional family spirals into identity crises of their own, he discovers that he may be the most well-adjusted of them all.
As details for the new show are limited, it’s uncertain what steps are being taken to preserve the authenticity of the subject matter, especially for presentation outside of the LGBT sphere. The show’s title, for example, begs the question of whether or not the main character will adopt the gender-neutral pronoun ze as his own or even if the show will delve into such terminology in a respectful and detailed manner. No casting information has been provided either, but given the CWs history with trans* performers, it seems likely that they would consider a trans* actor to fill the role, especially if they follow the upward trend that has given trans* actors more visibility by featuring them in roles written for trans* characters — Laverne Cox from Orange is the New Black or Candis Cayne from Elementary, for example.
However, it should come as no surprise that the media has a sordid history with representing characters that fall out of the white, cisgender category. So, while it might seem like an obvious choice to cast a person most fit for exemplifying the nuances of a complex role, it’s not always the case. Frequently, cisgender actors are called to fill roles portraying characters from the LGBT community, and the results can be problematic; depending on how it is written, it has the potential to reinforce harmful stereotypes as well.
Amy Fox, the creator and executive producer of The Switch, a comedy web series about the lives of transgender individuals, calls out these problems regarding casting and why it’s so prevalent in the industry:
“What we usually see in media is that cisgender people portray trans people and it’s not very flattering to trans people. Also, trans people are not getting cast for trans roles and they’re also not being cast for any central roles. Essentially, casting agents are deciding that trans people aren’t allowed to act and we’d like to change that. We’d like to see ourselves representing ourselves. We want trans people to turn on their Internet and not feel that we’re not good enough to play ourselves.”
ZE has the potential to be a springboard for which more media will follow suit. The creators will have to tread carefully and do their research, lest they veer into disrespectful and hurtful territory. If done right, this show could spread awareness to a wider audience about what it means to be trans* and give activists a mainstream platform for discourse. I’d like to see this fare well, but until they release more information, we’ll have to wait with baited breath to see how it all plays out.