Looking Through “Transparent”
Rebecca Walker considered her role in the Amazon Prime show
What is progressive television? Are we really making progress? And how can the trend toward inclusive entertainment be continued and solidified. The ’DEIS Impact Festival hosted a screening of the Emmy award-winning Amazon Prime show “Transparent,” followed by a discussion panel featuring ’DEIS Impact keynote speaker Rebecca Walker. Other panelists included Dr. Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman (AAAS), Brie McLemore M.A., Alex Montgomery M.A. and Ruth Galaviz ’17. Walker is a renowned champion of third-wave, inclusive feminism and progressive television. Including her creative involvement with the development of “Transparent,” some of her recent television projects include “One Mississippi,” “Black Cool” and “Black, White, and Jewish.” The screening and paneling explored and discussed the importance and impact of progressive and inclusive television.
“Transparent” focuses on the life of a Jewish family whose father comes out as a transgender woman. According to Rebecca Walker, who has worked with show creator Jill Holloway, the show is based off of Holloway’s own experiences with her father who came out as a transgender woman at the age of 65. “Transparent” is acclaimed for its award-winning performances, story and important social messages, winning three Emmys and one Golden Globe.
Rebecca Walker recalled her experiences working on “Transparent” and the evolving television industry. Recently, Walker changed her focus from authoring books to the film industry. She believes that television is proving itself a better means of modern communication.
While many shows are receiving recognition for inclusion, Walker recalled the conflicts which arose in the creative process. While working on “Transparent,” Walker recalls that her “first note on the show” regarded the issue of race. She expressed concerns about the “fairly fetishized” black male characters on one episode.
Walker made a brief appearance on the screened episode, and hoped that her presence would add nuance and “authenticity” to the characters of color in the show.
Walker explained how to move forward with television representation. She hopes that while addressing the issues that face the transgender community, there is the acknowledgement and exploration of race and class. She notes that this has not yet been accomplished in the realm of television. However, she believes that with the talents and industry recognition of the show’s creator, “Transparent” has the ability to accomplish this. Walker further articulated that this is a common industry issue; while there is creation of space for new narratives, change and growth is still necessary.
Working on a number of shows, Walker revealed her experiences in pitching sessions. “They don’t want to make the same mistakes, they really don’t,” she said. Walker explained the ability of the inclusion of a woman of color’s voice in the creative process to educate and create exchange. “We don’t want a black woman in a care-taking position, we don’t want a black woman in a house-keeping position,” Walker said.
According to Walker, shows about multiracial families are imperative in the industry, and despite the emerging popularity of these progressive shows, there is plenty of room for a variety of new stories. When Walker’s producer told her about emerging multiracial family shows, Walker responded that “our show is our show.” She told the audience that television has an abundance of cop and medical shows without a negative audience response.
“They hear us now,” Walker asserted. She told the audience that the previous election affected many in the television industry and that they “want to get it.” They want to create more inclusive narratives and characters.
As a result, an industry desire emerged to create change in some form, and voices of color are imperative for this goal. “We have to be at the table,” she states. However, she further explained that one has to be prepared with their experiences and unafraid to articulate their ideas.
Walker concluded with her personal and recent recollection of developing a black female character for the show “One Mississippi.” With her personal voice in the show’s creative process, Walker was able to highlight the importance of this complex character of color. However, the character’s role is not directly educational. She hopes that the character can educate without carrying that “burden.”
During the panel, Montgomery asked Walker about the important but problematic aspects of Black TV in the 1990s and today. To the delight of Brandeis students, Walker replied, “If you’re not going to Boston [for the marches] to save the world, I think you should think about writing TV.”