Great TV and movie performances by transgender actors

Great TV and movie performances by transgender actors
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Celebrate some of the best showcases of transgender actors from TV and movies.

Transgender actors are finally starting to get some of the screen time and recognition they deserve after decades fighting for the opportunity to tell their stories on TV and in movies. In 2014, Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox became the first transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in an acting category. Seven years later, Pose star Mj Rodriguez earned the Emmy's first lead acting nomination for a trans performer. On the film side, Tangerine's Mya Taylor made history as the first trans actress to win a major film award in 2016 with her Independent Spirit Award's Best Supporting Female victory, years after Gun Hill Road's Harmony Santana got the first Spirit Award nod for a trans actor. Although several cisgender stars have been nominated or won Oscars for playing trans characters, no openly transgender actor has scored an Academy Award nomination for their work. (Elliot Page came out more than a decade after receiving a nod for Juno.)

Read on as we celebrate some of the best performances by transgender entertainers on the big and small screen, in no particular order, below.

Tangerine

Augusta Quirk/Magnolia Pictures Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in 'Tangerine.'
Augusta Quirk/Magnolia Pictures Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in 'Tangerine.'

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor made a huge splash at Sundance and with audiences in 2015 as Sin-Dee Rella and Alexandra in the Christmas Eve-set comedic drama Tangerine.

Saturday Church

Samuel Goldwyn Films/Everett Michaela Jaé Rodriguez and Indya Moore in 'Saturday Church.'
Samuel Goldwyn Films/Everett Michaela Jaé Rodriguez and Indya Moore in 'Saturday Church.'

Before starring together in game-changing series Pose, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez and Indya Moore both appeared in Damon Cardasis' debut film Saturday Church about a teenager who finds community and freedom at a local church's program for LGBTQ youth.

A Fantastic Woman

Sony Pictures Classics Daniela Vega in 'A Fantastic Woman.'
Sony Pictures Classics Daniela Vega in 'A Fantastic Woman.'

Daniela Vega's work as Marina Vidal in A Fantastic Woman took her all the way to the Oscars where the film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Euphoria

Eddy Chen/HBO Hunter Schafer on 'Euphoria'
Eddy Chen/HBO Hunter Schafer on 'Euphoria'

For Hunter Schafer, Euphoria has served as a breakout project both in front of and behind the camera after she co-wrote a special episode after the show's groundbreaking first season.

Gossip Girl

Karolina Wojtasik/HBO Max Zión Moreno in HBO Max's 'Gossip Girl.'
Karolina Wojtasik/HBO Max Zión Moreno in HBO Max's 'Gossip Girl.'

Equal parts ruthless and vulnerable, Zión Moreno was a standout on the Gossip Girl reboot as Luna de la Cruz. Particularly in the second season, which ends with Luna becoming a model finding global success.

The Umbrella Academy

Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix Elliot Page as Viktor Hargreeves on 'The Umbrella Academy' season 3.
Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix Elliot Page as Viktor Hargreeves on 'The Umbrella Academy' season 3.

After Elliot Page came out as trans in 2020, his Umbrella Academy character also transitioned and took the name Viktor Hargreeves.

Orange Is the New Black

JOJO WHILDEN/Netflix Laverne Cox on 'Orange Is The New Black.'
JOJO WHILDEN/Netflix Laverne Cox on 'Orange Is The New Black.'

Laverne Cox's groundbreaking role on Orange Is the New Black as Sophia Burset not only won over audiences, but made Cox the first transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy in an acting category.

Billions

Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME 'Billions' spin-offs 'Millions' and 'Trillions' are in the works.
Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME 'Billions' spin-offs 'Millions' and 'Trillions' are in the works.

We love watching Asia Kate Dillon navigate the high-octane world of finance as Taylor Manson on Billions.

Grey's Anatomy

Christopher Willard/ABC/Getty Alex Blue Davis on 'Grey's Anatomy.'
Christopher Willard/ABC/Getty Alex Blue Davis on 'Grey's Anatomy.'

Grey's Anatomy fans will remember Alex Blue Davis' intern Casey Parker for how he treated his patients, bonding with Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd) about being in the military and that time when he shared his truth with Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) after saving the hospital from a hack.

Sense8

Murray Close/Netflix Freema Agyeman and Jamie Clayton on 'Sense8.'
Murray Close/Netflix Freema Agyeman and Jamie Clayton on 'Sense8.'

Nomi Marks (Jamie Clayton) was a brilliant hacker with a powerful life story on Sense8 and her passionate relationship with Amanita Caplan (Freema Agyeman) will stay with anyone who watched the Netflix series.

The Fosters

Eric McCandless/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Tom Phelan on 'The Fosters.'
Eric McCandless/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Tom Phelan on 'The Fosters.'

Tom Phelan joined The Fosters as a young transgender man in the midst of his transition who befriends Callie (Maia Mitchell) in a group home during season one. Fans were ecstatic too see the actor return during the show's LGBTQ prom two seasons later.

Saved by the Bell

Casey Durkin/Peacock Josie Totah on 'Saved By The Bell.'
Casey Durkin/Peacock Josie Totah on 'Saved By The Bell.'

Josie Totah was everything as hilarious mean girl Lexi on the Saved by the Bell reboot.

Supergirl

The CW Nicole Maines on 'Supergirl.'
The CW Nicole Maines on 'Supergirl.'

Nicole Maines made history on Supergirl as Dreamer, television's first trans superhero.

9-1-1: Lone Star

Jack Zeman/FOX Brian Michael Smith on '9-1-1 Lone Star'
Jack Zeman/FOX Brian Michael Smith on '9-1-1 Lone Star'

As Paul Strickland, 9-1-1: Lone Star viewers get to watch Brian Michael Smith save lives on a weekly basis.

Y: The Last Man

Brendon Meadows/FX Elliot Fletcher on 'Y: The Last Man.'
Brendon Meadows/FX Elliot Fletcher on 'Y: The Last Man.'

Elliot Fletcher gave a great performance as Sam Jordan on Y: The Last Man, modernizing the beloved comic book series the show was based on.

The L Word: Generation Q

Nicole Wilder/SHOWTIME Leo Sheng on 'The L Word: Generation Q.’
Nicole Wilder/SHOWTIME Leo Sheng on 'The L Word: Generation Q.’

The L Word: Generation Q's Micah Lee played by Leo Sheng was a great friend and therapist that was wonderful to watch.

Good Girls

Jordin Althaus/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Isaiah Stannard on 'Good Girls.'
Jordin Althaus/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Isaiah Stannard on 'Good Girls.'

During the early days of filming Good Girls, Isaiah Stannard came out as transgender and it was perfectly incorporated into the show where he played the child of Mae Whitman's Annie Marks.

Star Trek: Discovery

Michael Gibson/Paramount+ Ian Alexander on 'Star Trek: Discovery.'
Michael Gibson/Paramount+ Ian Alexander on 'Star Trek: Discovery.'

Ian Alexander took representation into a whole new galaxy as the Star Trek canon's first transgender character played by a trans actor. Plus, we love watching Gray and Adira together!

The Politician

NICOLE RIVELLI/NETFLIX Theo Germaine on 'The Politician.'
NICOLE RIVELLI/NETFLIX Theo Germaine on 'The Politician.'

Theo Germaine was a breakout star of Ryan Murphy's The Polician as high-school-student-turned-political-campaign-adviser James Sullivan.

Sort Of

HBO Max Bilal Baig on 'Sort Of.'
HBO Max Bilal Baig on 'Sort Of.'

What creator-star Bilal Baig does as Sort Of lead Sabi Mehboob is just as impressive as the show they created.

Pose

Michael Parmelee/FX Dominique Jackson on 'Pose.'
Michael Parmelee/FX Dominique Jackson on 'Pose.'

Dominique Jackson's Mother of the House of Abundance is not one to be messed with. In a show full of trans excellence, Elektra had us begging to be read.

Tales of The City

Alison Cohen Rosa/Netflix/Everett Jen Richards on 'Tales of The City.'
Alison Cohen Rosa/Netflix/Everett Jen Richards on 'Tales of The City.'

Jen Richards was a standout, bringing the historic Compton's Cafeteria Riots of 1966 to Tales of the City as a younger Anna Madrigal, the character originated by Olympia Dukakis.

Gun Hill Road

Daniel Patterson/Motion Film Group/Everett Harmony Santana in 'Gun Hill Road.'
Daniel Patterson/Motion Film Group/Everett Harmony Santana in 'Gun Hill Road.'

Harmony Santana's role in Gun Hill Road made history, but her performance brought an emotional family dynamic to the big screen and provided a window into the transgender experience at a time where trans actors were often not in trans roles.

American Horror Story

Kurt Iswarienko/FX Angelica Ross on 'American Horror Story: 1984.'
Kurt Iswarienko/FX Angelica Ross on 'American Horror Story: 1984.'

Pose scene-stealer Angelica Ross got spooky on American Horror Story season 10 as Donna Chambers, who moonlighted as "Nurse Rita" on the anthology series.

Anything's Possible

Tony Rivetti Eva Reign in 'Anything's Possible.'
Tony Rivetti Eva Reign in 'Anything's Possible.'

Eva Reign is magic as Kelsa in Billy Porter's directorial debut Anything's Possible.

Together Together

Bleecker Street
Bleecker Street

A scene-stealer in I Think You Should Leave, Theater Camp, Shrill, and more, comedian Patti Harrison rose to the occasion to lead indie gem Together Together, playing an adrift young barista who becomes a surrogate for Ed Helms' fortysomething app designer who wants to become a dad.

Heartstopper

Netflix Tao (William Gao) and Elle (Yasmin Finney) go on their first date in 'Heartstopper' season 2
Netflix Tao (William Gao) and Elle (Yasmin Finney) go on their first date in 'Heartstopper' season 2

Alice Oseman brings her iconic coming-of-age tale from graphic novel to screen in Netflix's beloved LGBTQ story Heartstopper. Among the inclusive bunch of young friends is the artistic and bold Elle Argent, played by breakout star Yasmin Finney.

Monica

IFC Films/Everett Trace Lysette in 'Monica'
IFC Films/Everett Trace Lysette in 'Monica'

In Andrea Pallaoro's family drama Monica, Trace Lysette stars as a trans woman who returns home to take care of her dying mother (played by Patricia Clarkson) after being estranged from her family. The film had its world premiere at the 79th Venice International Film Festival.

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