Laverne Cox on artists and directors exploiting trans stars as 'muses'

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Candice Chung

'Orange Is the New Black' actress Laverne Cox.

'Orange Is the New Black' actress Laverne Cox.

Piper Kerman might have been the inspiration for  Orange is the New Black, but there's no doubt that the biggest breakout star from the show is  Laverne Cox --  the transgender actress who plays the indomitable Sophia Burset in Netflix's popular prison drama. 

In a new interview with Buzzfeed, Cox opens up about her journey to mainstream fame, starting from the move from her conservative hometown in Alabama to the way she navigated prejudice in the acting world.

"The system isn't really set up to have these conversations about intersectionality and social justice when you're an actress. I always feel like someone is going to come along and say, 'OK, this has gone on for too long. We need to get rid of this girl.'" 

She also speaks of finding herself in the New York club scene: "I wasn’t anybody really. I was just doing me. And they’d let me in because I had my own look and I was doing my own thing. I met a lot of people who kind of introduced me to myself.” 

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But Cox also highlights the everyday discrimination faced by the transgender community, including the fact that the unemployment rate for trans people of color being four times the US national average.

"I’ve worked in clubs where I know now I was being exploited. But I needed to make a living... We often find ourselves doing what we have to do to survive and I’ve certainly found myself doing what I have to do to survive in New York. 

The same problem exists in the art world where trans women are being stripped off their agency, often becoming underground 'muses' for artists who have a reputation as being 'edgy'.  

"There's this freak factor where you become this thing for people to gawk at. And I feel like it started with Andy Warhol and Candy Darling. There's this interview where Warhol is talking with her and he says 'Candy is a man.' And I'm like — I didn't know Candy Darling, obviously — but I'm pretty sure she didn't think of herself as a man." Cox observes. "Andy Warhol was very much exploiting her trans identity and you see that in the New York clubs still. And I've been a part of that."

And as for her role in OITNB, Cox feels that it's one that finally allows her to portray transgender issues in a realistic and dignified way: "What's interesting about Sophia's storyline is that, usually when we see trans people on screen their stories are all about their transition, but this is a health care issue. And just because you're in prison doesn't mean you shouldn't have health care."

Fingers crossed we'll get to see even more of Laverne in next season's OITNB!  

Sources: Jezebel, Buzzfeed