Laverne Cox to FDU’s WAMfest: ‘I Feel That I Am Always a Student’

By Naniyah McClain

Staff Writer

As the first openly transgender person to be nominated for Emmy Awards, Laverne Cox has a lot to say and the background to say it.  

For starters, she’s a four-time Emmy-nominated actress, Emmy-winning producer for the MTV documentary Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word and LGBTQIA+ advocate. Now she’s recognized for giving her specialized voice during this political climate focusing on racial inequity. 

“As a culture, we are collectively traumatized by repeatedly seeing Black people being murdered on camera by the police,” she said during a virtual roundtable Saturday, Oct. 4, as a star speaker for the finale of FDU’s WAMfest: “Words, Arts and Music Festival.” 

“As a Black trans woman, seeing the proliferation of videos of Black trans women being beaten up and brutalized on camera, I don’t know how we can go forward if we don’t address that trauma,” she said. 

Cox was in high spirits throughout the virtual roundtable. While there were many moments of seriousness, she also flipped her hair, spoke with her hands and laughed with the interviewers. 

She rose to fame in her role as Sophia Burset on the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black”, which made her the first openly transgender actor to be nominated for an Emmy. 

She has also graced magazine covers such as Time and Cosmopolitan

Cox is in a place to be far more open about trying to make the shift toward valuing minorities in America and making elected officials more accountable for their actions. 

“We also have to find out who our prosecutors are, that we vote for on a local level too. Prosecutors are huge in this, when we think about what happened with Breonna Taylor and now finding the prosecutor only presented so much evidence,” she said. “It is not enough to have Black faces in high places as Cornel West says, we have to have folks with a vision around justice.” 

How Cox Stays Connected During Quarantine

Cox explained during the Saturday roundtable event — hosted by Florham Campus’s Associate Professor of Theater Studies Stacie Lents; Alexander Cook, senior double majoring in education and acting; Janine Brown, senior film major; and alumna musical theater major Tori Sheffer —  how she and other actors stay connected to the arts during quarantine. 

One of the main ways is by being part of a virtual brunch with her friends every Sunday since the start of quarantine. “We laugh together. We cry together. We do everything together,” Cox said.  

“I’ve taken quarantine to really reassess what I’m doing in my life concerning the levels of how stress is playing in my life and trying to sort of eliminate that and what that begins to look like. I’ve taken time to think about my health and what I need to do to be healthier going forward,” said Cox. 

In addition, Cox enjoys taking her voice lessons via Skype. Cox has studied opera on and off for 20 years, and also relieves stress by singing and dancing daily.

According to Cox, “It is important for artists to have a creative outlet that isn’t necessarily tied to making a living. My love for acting has not diminished, but it shifts when you have to show up and deliver a performance.” 

She feels that as an actress it is important to dig deep into one’s emotions. 

Cox was asked what inspires her to engage with college students, such as joining this virtual program at FDU.

“Getting to travel the country and getting to meet young people and hearing from you about what you are struggling with. It keeps me grounded. It keeps me connected in a way that it becomes very difficult to not be. I love hearing from you and connecting with you because you inspire me,” she said. 

Education Is Key to Understanding Trans World 

Cox went into depth about being a transgender actress navigating the entertainment industry. 

“I had so many negative experiences such as being misgendered on set. There would be many times when I would audition for things and the breakdown would say ‘drag queen,’ and I would just go in. They didn’t know the difference between a drag queen and a trans person, but I just needed the job,” she said. 

Cox feels that the education of trans matters at the casting, producing and writing level is crucial to accurately and sensitively addressing the topic.

“It starts with writers wanting to write trans and non-binary characters,” Cox said. “If the writers are not trans or binary themselves, hopefully they can bring in someone who is trans or non-binary into their writer’s room so that we have people have the experience of telling those stories.” 

Cox is the executive producer of the documentary “Disclosure,” which included a fellowship requiring qualified lighting crews and screenwriters who were trans and/or non-binary to be hired.

According to Cox, “That is a huge part of what needs to continue to happen, so that we can have diverse stories because we need to have diverse people telling those stories.”

Cox explained how she brings her characters to life on the screen.

“When I read something, I look for the emotional hit of the script and how it hit me emotionally for the first time,” she said

“The emotional life is very much my own and the shell of the character can be something different.” 

She said that she encourages people to know that training never stops. 

“That’s the most exciting thing about being an actress, I feel that I am always a student,” she said. “Acting is something that you can always get better at.” 

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 Actress, activist and first openly transgender person to be nominated for four Emmy Awards Laverne Cox shares her journey during a live roundtable during FDU’s WAMfest.