Why Laverne Cox is one of the best actresses working today
Though she undoubtedly is one, it isn’t enough to call Laverne Cox a trailblazer. The transgender actress has enjoyed a groundbreaking career in recent years and helped to open up a healthy dialogue regarding transgender representation and rights – but Cox is also a phenomenal actress who deserves to be celebrated for her sharp skillset on screen.
Whether it’s showing up in Trudie Styler’s Freak Show as a shrewd reporter defying homophobic ideologies with a staunch smirk and a solid argument or as a wise fashion guru trying to help Mindy (Mindy Kaling) through a crisis in The Mindy Project, Cox is always energized and powerful.
There’s a lightness to her performances that are nonetheless full of vigor. The star has repeatedly taken on roles in recent years that challenge the outdated stereotype that femininity equates to weakness and that characters on the LGBTQI spectrum can be far more than a poorly outlined caricature.
As Sophia Burset in Orange is the New Black, Cox became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy in an acting role and is also the first trans woman of color to enjoy a leading role on a mainstream scripted television show.
Her character is one of the warmest in the show, starting out as the resident outspoken hairdresser of Litchfield Penitentiary who will do anything to look out for her girls. Cox’s performance in the role is multi-faceted and ferocious, particularly in later seasons of the show where Sophia is subjected to various acts of humiliation and violence.
Speaking to Entertainment Monthly, Cox revealed why Sophia’s depth of character is so important for audiences. “(Sophia is) a multi-dimensional character who the audience can really empathize with, all of a sudden they’re empathizing with a real trans person. And for trans folks out there, who need to see representations of people who are like them and of their experiences, that’s when it becomes really important.”
It’s evident within Cox’s performances and the types of roles that she chooses that her advocacy for the LGBTQI community and activism for trans rights go hand in hand with her work as an actor. It’s something she described to Backstage as her lending her voice to spread “empathy (and) compassion for other people’s stories and issues.”
S4 of Orange Is the New Black saw Cox expressing much of that empathy and compassion in Sophia’s harrowing arc as a trans woman being willfully neglected and abused by the system. Cox used her platform within the show to raise awareness about CeCe McDonald – a trans woman of color (and now a prominent activist) who was incarcerated in an all-men’s prison as opposed to a women’s facility.
In Orange Is the New Black, several characters including Sophia’s wife (Tanya Wright) and Sister Ingalls (Beth Fowler) are shown going to extremes to try and rectify Sophia’s situation and gain proof of her unlawful suffering.
This plotline isn’t just for the sake of good drama – it spotlights the value of transgender life. “That all these people going to bat for a black transgender woman who’s incarcerated reminded me of CeCe, and all the people who did that for her. And all the trans women who are incarcerated who don’t have people on the outside advocating for them. It felt revolutionary to see that dramatized. This black trans woman matters,” Cox told Buzzfeed.
Of course, Cox is also a notable activist off camera too. In 2014 she joined the campaign against a Phoenix law that targets trans women of color (following the conviction of activist Monica Jones).
Cox is actively involved in the fight for the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA). And in 2017 she openly criticized how Pride events aren’t always “the most welcoming to trans people, people of color, and gender-nonconforming people” despite her hosting the New York event.
Cox told Mashable, “We need people with disabilities, trans people, and people of color in decision making positions in our LGBTQI organizations to start. And then, as individuals, we need to interrogate the ways in which we have internalized racism and transphobia and sexism.”
On screen or off, Cox is a hero of many forms and a champion of progressive LGBTQI politics. We’re emboldened by her activism off screen and enchanted by how she expresses those same political ideas within her work as an actor in TV and film too. Her talent is strong, her power is mighty, and her career is just getting started – we can’t wait to see what roles Cox has awaiting her in the future.