Whoopi Goldberg Discusses Her Oxygen Modeling Show ‘Strut’ and Transgender Casting

Seth Kelley

“They’re the best people in the world,” Whoopi Goldberg says about the cast of “Strut,” her new Oxygen show that follows a group of models signed to Slay Model Management, an exclusively transgender modeling agency.

The first reality modeling show to focus solely on transgender artists, “Strut,” which Goldberg executive produces with her producing partner Tom Leonardis, is breaking ground in the unscripted space and marks the latest series in the recent wave of trans-centric programming.

“Our programming commitment is to showcase people on journeys to find their truth — and be their truth. This is a generation who most definitely aren’t going to be confined by yesterday’s social mores and rules,” Rod Aissa, executive vice president of original programming and development at Oxygen, tells Variety.

For Oxygen, “Strut” marks the first series to feature an all-trans cast, following in the footsteps of its NBCUniversal sister network E!, which was home to Caitlyn Jenner’s “I Am Cait.” Aissa says the cabler was especially interested in the project because of Goldberg and Leonardis’ attachment, which gave him confidence that the series would have “integrity and heart.”

Aissa adds that Goldberg’s “attention to the nuances” of the trans models has pushed the production to a new level. “If you have watched any interview Whoopi Goldberg has done, or even just a few minutes of her stand out work on ‘The View,’ you know Whoopi’s passion and drive carries over to everything she touches,” he says.

Goldberg — who, when “Strut” was announced, said “transgender is still a hot-button word that gets people hysterical” — explains she got to know and learn about the co-ed trans cast just by spending time with them. “I didn’t ask them very many questions. We just hung out,” she says.

One of the cast members is a familiar face for reality TV watchers. Isis King, who appeared on “America’s Next Top Model,” is featured on the Oxygen series. Though the reality modeling genre was carved out by “Top Model,” don’t expect “Strut” to look anything like “ANTM,” as the show has more of docuseries format, rather than a reality competition.

“Strut” is the latest series to feature transgender personalities, which has become an unscripted programming trend, following the launch of “I am Cait” and TLC’s “I am Jazz.”

Meanwhile, scripted shows like “Transparent” and “Orange is the New Black” are often praised for featuring trans characters without falling into stereotypes or using the transgender experience as a punchline. Still, controversy surrounding trans casting persists. When Matt Bomer was cast as a transgender sex worker in the film “Anything,” Mark Ruffalo, who executive produced the film, responded to blacklash over the fact that they did not cast a transgender actor. Ruffalo wrote: “To the trans community. I hear you. It’s wrenching to you see you in this pain. I am glad we are having this conversation. It’s time.”

On Sunday, Jeffrey Tambor’s performance in “Transparent” won him the Emmy. He declared, “Please give transgender talent a chance. Give them auditions. Give them their story. I would not be unhappy were I the last cisgender male to play a female transgender [character] on television.”

Speaking on the topic of casting cis people as trans characters, Goldberg says she has no problem. “White people play black people all the time. That’s acting,” she says, bringing up Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in the 2008 comedy “Tropic Thunder.” With a laugh, Goldberg points out if there is a butcher character in a TV show or movie, she doesn’t expect a butcher to play that role. “So no, I don’t think you have to be transgender,” she says.

As for Goldberg’s other project, “The View,” which recently kicked off its 20th season with some new panelists, Goldberg hasn’t given much thought to how long she’ll stay on the ABC talker, saying she’s “taking things one day at a time.”

“Strut” hails from One Hoe Productions and 44 Blue Productions. It premieres tonight on Oxygen at 9 p.m.

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