Foundation News

The Power of TV: Trans Visibility in Storytelling

"You’re on the planet to tell your story," says trans performer Alexandra Billings.

  • Alex Blue Davis, from left, Lilly Wachowski, Steven Canals, Brian Michael Smith, David Ambroz, Madeline Di Nonno, Alexandra Billings, and Nick Adams take part in The Power of TV: Trans Visibility in Storytelling, at the Television Academy's Saban Media Center.

    Phil McCarten/Invision

"TV has the power to address social issues with an eye for addressing what's going on behind the scenes," Television Academy Foundation Chair Madeline Di Nonno said, as she introduced Thursday evening's The Power of TV: Trans Visibility in Storytelling event. Throughout the evening, discussion touched on issues such as trans casting, harmful stereotypes and how best to help the community with stronger representation in television.

"We are everywhere," said producer/writer/director Lilly Wachowski when asked about her decision to cast a trans person in a role for her Netflix series Sense8. "We just need to be seen."

Wachowski was a panelist at the Television Academy Foundation's ninth Power of TV program co-presented with Walt Disney Television, held August 1 at the Saban Media Center in North Hollywood. Joining Wachowski on the panel was Steven Canals (executive producer of Emmy-nominated TV drama Pose), Alex Blue Davis (Grey's Anatomy), Alexandra Billings (Transparent) and Brian Michael Smith (Queen Sugar). Nick Adams, Director of Transgender Representation at GLAAD, moderated.

"What people don't understand is that trans representation in media is a life or death thing," said Billings, who shared her own story about transitioning from male to female. Adams confirmed that 40% of the trans population has attempted suicide– compared with 4.6% for the general population, according to a GLAAD report.

According to GLAAD, only 15 out of the 893 regularly recurring characters in TV shows identify as transgender. Six of them star in just two shows– Pose and Transparent. "Still, that number has grown 15 times in the last 6 years," said Adams.

Canals detailed his experience pitching the groundbreaking series Pose, a show starring five trans people of color as leads. "They would use this coded language," Canals said, "and they'd say things like 'Oh, it's too niche, it's too urban, it's a period piece.'" After a year of pitching, he finally got a chance to meet with Ryan Murphy, who bought Pose in the room. Canal's determination and perseverance paid off as the critically acclaimed program garnered six Emmy nominations.

Billings encouraged attendees to help educate the public, political leaders and the media. "You have a story to tell. That's why you're here. You're on the planet to tell your story. If you're not having a dialogue every day about who you are, you're part of the problem."

The Power of TV is in an ongoing series hosted by the Television Academy Foundation that celebrates the power of television to inspire social change.


You can watch the full discussion here.