At Sunday night’s Golden Globe awards, Jeffrey Tambor paid respect to his cast and crew, dedicated his award and performance of Maura Pfefferman on Amazon’s “Transparent” to the transgender community and showed Hollywood what it means to be an ally.
I hope Jared Leto was taking notes.
It took decades for the real-life stories of gay, lesbian, and transgender people to be reflected in network television or a major motion picture. There has been a promising increase in recent years, but as Leto, who played a transgender woman in “Dallas Buyers Club,” and Michael Douglas, who played Liberace in “Behind the Candelabra,” made painfully clear at least year’s Golden Globes, one can bring an LGBT character to vibrant and multi-dimensional life yet still take a tumble on the awards stage.
Douglas’ and Leto’s work was exhaustive and their characters believable. But when it came time to accept the accolades for their work building those characters, both filled the distance between themselves and their characters with tales of hair waxing and mincing jokes.
Which is why Tambor’s speech is so important. Tambor, who, like Douglas and Leto is a straight, white man, opened his acceptance speech for best actor in a musical or comedy with six important words: “This is much bigger than me.”
There are those who have argued that the story of bumbling retiree Mort Pfefferman transitioning to Maura should have been portrayed by an actual transgender person. That has made “Transparent” another battleground in the never-ending “can or can’t someone tell the stories they themselves have not lived” debate.
The argument is ridiculous. Of course people can portray stories they haven’t lived themselves, as long as they are great actors. In doing so, they reveal the power of acting, of stepping into someone else’s struggle, of empathy, of understanding and of common humanity. Stepping out of one’s self to find and reveal the things that unite us is bigger than any one person, argument, or even the struggle of the transgender community to find acceptance, or at least tolerance.
Tambor made it clear that his work on this role involved more than exercising his dramatic skills; he stretched into learning more about others, and in the process, he said, learned more about himself. He stepped out of himself to find and reveal the aspects that unite us as people. That’s bigger than any one person, argument, or even the struggle of the transgender community to find acceptance, or at least tolerance.
Mark Pampanin is a senior at Champan University, where he is editor in chief of the Panther newspaper.
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