‘Tangerine’ Star Mya Taylor Talks Scary Movies and Trans Visibility in Hollywood

"We can't sit around and wait for other people to hire us and get comfortable."
July 10, 2016, 4:00am
Mya Taylor in 'Tangerine'

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada

I got a chance to interview Mya Taylor of the movie Tangerine when she was in Toronto for Pride Month, and it reminded me how listening can be a political act. It is easy to engage in the erasure of trans people by speaking over people and not engaging them when they are telling us what they experience and what we can do to help.

Taylor's role in Tangerine earned acclaim for shining light on the lives of LA sex workers, a life she understood first-hand. We talked about her favorite scary movies, her Spirit Award win, and finding room to grow as an actress when so much stands in the way.


VICE: Why did you want to come and take part in Toronto's Pride celebration?
Mya Taylor: Why wouldn't I? I get to come and help to spread awareness and show the community that I'm still here and still active—trying to break barriers and make it easier for all of us. I'm just doing my own little part to try and make life better for all of us transgender people—not even just transgender people. For everybody.

You've become a spokesperson for the trans community. Do you feel pressure in this role?
Not at all. And the reason why is because I'm just myself. And I've been myself ever since I came into this business. So, that's why people are attracted to me—not sexually attracted but you, know, attracted to me and want be around me and why they want to [take] advice and listen to me. It's because I'm real about every single thing. It's not hard, because I'm not trying to be something I'm not. Not saying that other people are—no shade!

What kind of roles are you looking to play?
I really want to be in a romantic comedy or a scary movie—you know, the movies that I like to watch. My favorite scary movies are Stephen King's Rose Red or It. I love those… "We all float down here!" And my favorite TV shows are like Empire and Sex in the City.

What do you feel like the future for trans actors is in Hollywood?
If all the directors and producers get past the transgender thing, then we'd be a lot better. But I think what we're going to have to start doing is creating our own. That's what it's going to have to be. We can't sit around and wait for other people to hire us and get comfortable. Time is money; money is time.

You're talking about creating your own space, but do things like critical acclaim and being nominated for Academy Awards—does that mean something to you?
Having an Academy Award does not tell you that this is a good actress. An Academy Award or a Spirit Award is just an award. I'm very grateful that I won the Spirit Award, but that doesn't define me as an actress. Think about it like this, Tamar Braxton said it best—and you know I love me some Tamar: You can't sit and look at the record sales and the numbers and the charts and everything, because if you focus on that, then you're going to lose the love that you have for the craft that you're doing. You have to just do what you love and go with that.

Just going back to you being a very visible person, do you think that has in any way changed the discrimination that you face in this business as a trans actress?
You know, I don't know, quite honestly. I really don't know. Let me say this: I was supposed to go to the GLAAD Awards, and I didn't make it. My manager's assistant sent me some ideas for fashion for what I was supposed to wear for the event. And he sent me all these pictures of what Laverne Cox wore, and that was it. And I immediately just blew up. No shade to Laverne Cox, because I love her, I adore her, and I think she's super super gorgeous. But why, every time when I have to do something, why am I always compared to or have to refer to her just because I'm transgender. I transitioned to be a woman, so couldn't he send me pictures of what Taraji wore or Sarah Jessica Parker wore? Why are we always put into that one box. That's the issue I'm facing now being an actress.

So you are worried about being typecast and shoved into these roles.
Exactly. It feels like Hollywood wants you to do the same thing that you've done already over and over. And if they continue to do this then there's no room for growth as an actress.

We see cis actors getting critical acclaim and awards for playing trans roles. How do you feel about that?
I don't have anything negative to say about that because what I go by is, if there was a movie being made of me, I don't care if a chihuahua plays me. If the chihuahua looks like me, if it acts like me, if it can do that role then let the dog do play role. I feel like it shouldn't matter who plays it. But the issue there is with all the people who are getting awards for playing transgender people—transgender people never had the opportunity to try and get these parts and play these roles. Like the issue is not the fact that other people are winning the awards for playing transgender people, the issue for me is that there was no opportunity for another trans person to get those roles.

Is mainstream acceptance important to you?
No, it's not important to me because I'm not an actor to win Academy Awards or anything. I'm an actor because I love to do it. Winning an Academy Award just comes along with it. Now when I do win these awards, it shows I've accomplished something. But I'm a trans woman, and there's nobody else that's won the Spirit Award. So I realize that I've helped us to move forward, So that's what I'm most proud of.

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