Talent Agency Creates Opportunities for Trans Representation Onscreen – The Hollywood Reporter
Back in the mid-2010s — before Ann Thomas started her Transgender Talent management company — it wasn’t always easy for Hollywood productions to find trans actors. “They were calling around to LGBT centers: ‘Do you happen to know somebody?’” recalls Thomas, who started the agency in 2015 after appearing on an episode of Glee that featured a 197-person-strong, all-trans choir, many of whose members were found through such untraditional casting methods.
Since then, Thomas has won roles for an array of the company’s trans and nonbinary clients including Zoey Luna (a lead in the 2020 film The Craft: Legacy), Shannon Gibbs (Jackass 4.5) and Emmett Preciado (Good Trouble). “She cares about the job part of it and she cares about the emotions of every single one of the people whom she represents,” Luna says of her manager.
Adds Blumhouse head of casting Terri Taylor, who worked with Transgender Talent on The Craft: Legacy, “Ann’s access to the transgender and nonbinary acting community is a valuable resource in our continued pursuit for authentic onscreen representation. She has great taste in actors and employs a nurturing and holistic approach to managing her clients.”
From shows like Pose to Euphoria and the new Queer as Folk, trans characters — played by trans actors — are more prevalent today. According to GLAAD’s Where We Are on TV Report 2021-2022, there were 42 transgender characters across broadcast, cable and streaming in the period studied, up 13 characters from the previous year.
Ann Thomas, Emmett Preciado and Shannon Gibbs
BOBBY QUILLARD; COURTESY OF SUBJECT; COURTESY OF TRANSGENDER TALENT
In sharp contrast, there were zero trans characters in wide-release films in 2020, per GLAAD. “TV is very supportive and inclusive,” says Thomas. “But when it comes to international distribution of a film, a major distributor can’t put trans [characters] in there and go out to wide release [in countries like] Saudi Arabia. One of the Marvel movies, Eternals, got banned in Saudi Arabia because there was one scene about a gay relationship.”
Pose star, Arraygency co-founder and voguer Jason Rodriguez, whose roots are in NYC’s ballroom culture.
Because of the lack of representation in studio films, Thomas often pushes for her clients to go out for roles in which they do not play trans characters. That’s the course she pursued for trans male actor and former client Zach Barack, who won a role as a classmate of Peter Parker in 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home. In the film, the character’s gender identity was not discussed. Barack was heralded in media coverage as Marvel’s first openly transgender actor, while at the same time, recalls Thomas, “The movie didn’t get a single frame knocked out of it anywhere in the world.” Transgender Talent also has a consulting division that works with productions on portrayals of trans topics and characters, as well as music and voiceover divisions.
In 2021, Pose star Jason Rodriguez and business partner Ricardo Sebastián launched Arraygency, a New York-based management company representing queer, BIPOC and trans models, singers and dancers. The impetus was to find a “way of giving work to folks in our community,” says Rodriguez, who recalls meeting with “a talent who [told] me about working a professional gig and not getting paid anything. I said, ‘We need to make this happen. Let’s create this agency that’s needed for Black and brown queer trans folks. They need representation. We launched a company that represents the underrepresented.”
The pair, who have worked with clients including Ulta Beauty, COS apparel and SNS, tell THR they are about to move into representing actors as well. “We’re quadrupling our client roster, “says Sebastián.
For them, looking out for the mental well-being of their clients is paramount, especially when it comes to use of correct pronouns. “Just one moment of being misgendered,” says Rodriguez, “[can mean] not being able to show up 100 percent to succeed at a job.”
Thomas also notes that the preparedness and training of many trans actors has increased in recent years, the result of social change. In past decades, says Thomas, “Very few [aspiring actors] were getting the support of their parents. They were getting kicked out of their homes when they were 14 and ending up on the street and homeless. [Even today], up to 40 percent of our homeless youth are LGBTQ. We’ve been so squashed by society. So how would they get any school and get any training?”
That’s changed as more — though certainly not all — parents have become accepting of their trans children. “It’s only in the last couple of years that we’re seeing a lot more trans and nonbinary actors who are really good, graduating university with BFAs and MFAs and so on,” says Thomas. “We’re only just getting there.”
A version of this story first appeared in the June 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.