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Aneesh Sheth of Marvel's 'Jessica Jones' on trans visibility in entertainment | Famous Cast Words


<b>"Think Mindy Kaling,</b> <b>think a bitchy Mindy Kaling,</b> <b>Mindy Kaling type,</b> <b>Mindy Kaling-like presence,</b> <b>kind of Mindy Kaling"</b> <b>This hits home

</b> <b>♪♪</b> <b>Hi Welcome to</b> <b>"Famous Cast Words"</b> <b>I'm Lynne Marie Rosenberg</b> <b>I am here today at the home</b> <b>of activist, writer, actor,</b> <b>singer, producer</b> <b>Aneesh Sheth</b> <b>And this is her boss,</b> <b>Ella

</b> <b>You might know</b> <b>Aneesh as Gillian</b> <b>on the most recent season</b> <b>of "Jessica Jones"</b> <b>You might not know her</b> <b>from a series of popular</b> <b>software-company commercials</b> <b>that aired</b> <b>only in Washington,</b> <b>one of which was directed</b> <b>by a man who broke my heart</b> <b>And that is how small</b> <b>the entertainment industry is</b> <b>-Yes, it is</b> <b>-Hi, Aneesh

</b> <b>Hi, Lynne</b> <b>This is truly probably</b> <b>the best day of my life</b> <b>I'm sitting with you</b> <b>with a dog,</b> <b>and then people are</b> <b>filming me</b> <b>It doesn't get any better</b> <b>No, it doesn't get</b> <b>any better than that

</b> <b>-No, it doesn't get any better</b> <b>-Does it?</b> <b>So "Jessica Jones"</b> <b>recently dropped,</b> <b>on which you play Gillian,</b> <b>Jessica's assistant, right?</b> <b>Personal assistant,</b> <b>basically</b> <b>Yes</b> <b>Can you tell me a little bit</b> <b>about Gillian,</b> <b>both in the season</b> <b>and in the Marvel Universe</b> <b>in general?</b> <b>I believe Gillian is new</b> <b>to the Marvel Universe</b> <b>Okay

</b> <b>She was not previously</b> <b>in the comics or anything</b> <b>She's very fashionable</b> <b>She's wearing couture</b> <b>the entire season,</b> <b>which was a joy for me</b> <b>She's really smart,</b> <b>and she's a really tough chick</b> <b>She didn't take any BS</b> <b>from anyone

</b> <b>Yeah Something I particularly</b> <b>like about Gillian,</b> <b>and I think we'll talk</b> <b>a fair amount about this today,</b> <b>is what is not focused on</b> <b>is the fact that</b> <b>she is transgender</b> <b>-Yeah, it's great</b> <b>-It's really amazing

</b> <b>And you realize, I think,</b> <b>there's been so much</b> <b>wonderful, positive press</b> <b>about your character –</b> <b>about your performance,</b> <b>but particularly about</b> <b>the character's presentation</b> <b>in the show</b> <b>Yeah</b> <b>And you realize how little</b> <b>we get to see</b> <b>transgender human beings</b> <b>just being human beings</b> <b>Just being, yeah</b> <b>not in regards to</b> <b>their story

</b> <b>I'm lucky that</b> <b>a lot of my career</b> <b>has built on non-roles</b> <b>that were specifically trans,</b> <b>but this was the first time</b> <b>that I was in a capacity</b> <b>where I could develop</b> <b>a character</b> <b>where it wasn't</b> <b>just, like, somebody</b> <b>who was a guest spot</b> <b>on an episode</b> <b>You know, there was,</b> <b>like, an arc</b> <b>that was happening</b> <b>through an entire season</b> <b>And so as the season</b> <b>started going on,</b> <b>I started noticing</b> <b>that there was no story</b> <b>involving her identity,</b> <b>that she was just simply</b> <b>there as this assistant</b> <b>She was bad ass</b> <b>Oh, can I say that?</b> <b>-Yeah

</b> <b>-Okay</b> <b>You know, and that she was</b> <b>really tough</b> <b>and, you know,</b> <b>and she just existed</b> <b>And as an actor,</b> <b>it was really amazing</b> <b>to be able to</b> <b>go to work every day</b> <b>and not have to add</b> <b>educating people</b> <b>on top of</b> <b>my job description</b> <b>I could just go in</b> <b>as every other actor</b> <b>and be an actor</b> <b>and focus on my craft</b> <b>and focus on</b> <b>my storytelling</b> <b>So, in addition to representing</b> <b>the transgender community,</b> <b>you get to represent the</b> <b>South Asian community as well

</b> <b>I do</b> <b>And something</b> <b>we have talked about</b> <b>is the discussion</b> <b>and casting of accents</b> <b>Yes</b> <b>What have you dealt with</b> <b>in terms of expectations</b> <b>of accents and?</b> <b>Well, at this point</b> <b>in my career,</b> <b>I don't do anything</b> <b>that has an accent</b> <b>If anything comes in,</b> <b>that's like,</b> <b>"Oh, it requires an accent,"</b> <b>I'm like, "Well, first of all,</b> <b>there's other actresses who have</b> <b>a much more authentic accent"</b> <b>If the role requires the person</b> <b>to have an accent,</b> <b>if the role doesn't require</b> <b>someone to have an accent</b> <b>and the accent</b> <b>is there for a joke,</b> <b>I clearly am not going to be</b> <b>a part of that</b> <b>But, like, kind of tying into</b> <b>what I said earlier</b> <b>about the kind of roles</b> <b>that I've been blessed</b> <b>to play in this business</b> <b>have not been written</b> <b>for trans folks,</b> <b>a lot of the roles that</b> <b>I've also played have not been</b> <b>specifically written</b> <b>for South Asian folks as well

</b> <b>So being able to then also bring</b> <b>my identity into those roles</b> <b>where it wasn't</b> <b>specifically written in</b> <b>makes me feel really proud</b> <b>about my identity</b> <b>-Yeah</b> <b>-Yeah</b> <b>And specifically</b> <b>with Gillian, too –</b> <b>she was not supposed</b> <b>to be South Asian</b> <b>And she is because I am

</b> <b>Yeah</b> <b>Yeah</b> <b>I looked back through</b> <b>a few months worth of casting</b> <b>that is out</b> <b>in the world</b> <b>Mm-hmm</b> <b>And, generally,</b> <b>the only times the words</b> <b>"South Asian" or "Indian"</b> <b>appear for women</b> <b>is when they are lumped in</b> <b>with other ethnicities

</b> <b>Yep</b> <b>There's very little</b> <b>written explicitly</b> <b>for South Asian characters</b> <b>Yeah</b> <b>Now, on the one hand,</b> <b>I do think it's wonderful</b> <b>that you have done parts</b> <b>that, like,</b> <b>you being you allows</b> <b>representation to occur</b> <b>Right

</b> <b>On the other hand,</b> <b>it was very educational</b> <b>to really see starkly</b> <b>Yeah</b> <b>

how rare it is</b> <b>that these roles</b> <b>are being written for women</b> <b>Absolutely This community</b> <b>is so small, right?</b> <b>So I know so many</b> <b>Indian actresses who –</b> <b>we all show up</b> <b>at the same auditions</b> <b>because those roles are</b> <b>so few and far between

</b> <b>And sometimes</b> <b>they're not even good</b> <b>You know,</b> <b>they're just like,</b> <b>"We made this character</b> <b>South Asian,"</b> <b>and there's, like,</b> <b>no thought put into</b> <b>why this character</b> <b>is this specific race</b> <b>or, you know,</b> <b>why their culture</b> <b>is important</b> <b>to their character</b> <b>It's just usually because we're</b> <b>trying to be more inclusive,</b> <b>which is a disservice</b> <b>to everybody around</b> <b>Right? It's a disservice</b> <b>to the actresses</b> <b>who come in for the role</b> <b>'cause it's like,</b> <b>that's the kind of stuff</b> <b>we have to play</b> <b>And then it's also a disservice</b> <b>to the creators</b> <b>who aren't creating</b> <b>authentic characters, you know,</b> <b>and then it's a disservice</b> <b>to the audience</b> <b>who's really looking for</b> <b>that type of representation

</b> <b>♪♪</b> <b>You mentioned everyone</b> <b>you know</b> <b>showing up</b> <b>for the same auditions</b> <b>Yeah</b> <b>I wonder if you could talk</b> <b>that this happens</b> <b>in some</b> <b>transgender casting,</b> <b>where people will show up</b> <b>for the same roles</b> <b>Mm-hmm</b> <b>But you have trans men,</b> <b>you have gender-nonconforming</b> <b>individuals,</b> <b>you have trans women

</b> <b>Yeah</b> <b>That the industry sometimes</b> <b>seems to think</b> <b>that transgender</b> <b>is this massive umbrella</b> <b>Yes Yeah</b> <b>What has your experience</b> <b>been with that?</b> <b>You know, it's the same of,</b> <b>like, I'm — you know,</b> <b>"I'm casting character</b> <b>A, B, C, and D</b> <b>and they all just need</b> <b>to be of a certain age

"</b> <b>You know?</b> <b>That's one thing</b> <b>But then there's also</b> <b>the problematic side of it</b> <b>where people do</b> <b>where, like, they say,</b> <b>"I'm looking for</b> <b>transgender people,"</b> <b>and they'll cast</b> <b>a wide net</b> <b>because they think that</b> <b>being trans is a type</b> <b>And you know,</b> <b>within my own community,</b> <b>I see my friends</b> <b>going to these auditions,</b> <b>and, like, neither of us</b> <b>are this type</b> <b>But we're still here,</b> <b>you know</b> <b>We know</b> <b>the girl or the guy</b> <b>or the non-binary person</b> <b>who is totally right for this

</b> <b>But somehow we all</b> <b>ended up here</b> <b>because they think that</b> <b>trans is just</b> <b>this "type"</b> <b>to be fulfilled</b> <b>-Right</b> <b>-Yeah</b> <b>So, in addition to being</b> <b>an actor and a singer,</b> <b>you also have</b> <b>a social-work degree</b> <b>I do

</b> <b>So you were</b> <b>in the industry</b> <b>Mm-hmm</b> <b>

and then you left</b> <b>to pursue a social-work degree,</b> <b>and you worked</b> <b>for The Trevor Project</b> <b>That's right</b> <b>I wonder if you could tell us</b> <b>about how you wind up</b> <b>deciding to leave</b> <b>in that time of your life</b> <b>and then how</b> <b>it informed back

</b> <b>Yeah</b> <b>on your time</b> <b>in the industry</b> <b>So, I came off of</b> <b>the national tour</b> <b>of "Bombay Dreams,"</b> <b>and I was kind of</b> <b>in this place</b> <b>where I did play</b> <b>a trans character in the show,</b> <b>and it definitely</b> <b>got into my head</b> <b>about my own</b> <b>gender identity</b> <b>And for a long time,</b> <b>people had been like,</b> <b>"Are you sure?"</b> <b>'Cause I'd presented</b> <b>very femme</b> <b>for many, many years,</b> <b>people were saying,</b> <b>"You sure you don't want</b> <b>to be a woman?</b> <b>Are you sure you don't</b> <b>want to be a woman?"</b> <b>And the thing that</b> <b>I kept saying was, like,</b> <b>"No, because of my career"</b> <b>Right?</b> <b>Oh

</b> <b>And as my self-expression</b> <b>grew</b> <b>and my kind of</b> <b>self-exploration grew,</b> <b>I realized how little,</b> <b>how less room the industry</b> <b>was making for someone</b> <b>like me,</b> <b>as so much so that I had</b> <b>an agent who was like,</b> <b>"I can't find you work</b> <b>as a gay South Asian male</b> <b>How am I gonna find you work</b> <b>as a trans South Asian female?"</b> <b>So, after that,</b> <b>I obviously left the agency,</b> <b>and I kind of did</b> <b>some exploring with my life</b> <b>I said, "Well, what do I do?"</b> <b>Someone said,</b> <b>"Well, why don't you look</b> <b>for a place to volunteer?"</b> <b>And The Trevor Project</b> <b>was opening</b> <b>their New York call center</b> <b>So I applied to be a counselor,</b> <b>and so that's how I started</b> <b>And I was a counselor</b> <b>for a couple months there,</b> <b>and then there was</b> <b>a position opening</b> <b>within</b> <b>the program department

</b> <b>So I became</b> <b>the program intern</b> <b>and I was there for about</b> <b>two and a half years</b> <b>By the time I left,</b> <b>I was associate manager</b> <b>of the call center,</b> <b>and it was during that time</b> <b>I had felt such a passion</b> <b>for helping other people</b> <b>And I saw how little room</b> <b>there was for a trans person</b> <b>in the — in show business,</b> <b>that I thought,</b> <b>"Let me pursue</b> <b>something else</b> <b>It's time for me</b> <b>to move on</b> <b>and pursue a different</b> <b>career path,"</b> <b>not knowing that</b> <b>in a few years' time</b> <b>the industry would open its arms</b> <b>up to trans representation</b> <b>Prior to me</b> <b>being a social worker,</b> <b>in the entertainment</b> <b>industry,</b> <b>I felt like</b> <b>I had no confidence</b> <b>in speaking up for myself</b> <b>or anything else</b> <b>that was kind of happening</b> <b>in the industry

</b> <b>I just let things happen,</b> <b>and I wasn't forthcoming about</b> <b>what I wanted</b> <b>out of my career</b> <b>and what kind of opportunities</b> <b>I really wanted to be seen for</b> <b>I was just kind of grateful</b> <b>to be existing</b> <b>And then as a social worker,</b> <b>you really learn</b> <b>not to only advocate</b> <b>for your own needs</b> <b>as a social worker</b> <b>within the system,</b> <b>but as somebody who has</b> <b>to advocate for somebody else</b> <b>♪♪</b> <b>Aneesh, over the course</b> <b>of your career,</b> <b>I imagine you have</b> <b>auditioned for roles</b> <b>defined as transgender,</b> <b>defined as South Asian</b> <b>So I thought we would look</b> <b>at some casting language</b> <b>for each of those</b> <b>demographics

</b> <b>Okay</b> <b>As a reminder,</b> <b>these come from breakdowns,</b> <b>which are little bits of text</b> <b>character descriptions</b> <b>that help the casting world</b> <b>find who they're looking for</b> <b>As far as transgender female</b> <b>characters are concerned,</b> <b>there seems to be</b> <b>one area of employment</b> <b>for which writers</b> <b>would like to hire you</b> <b>Uh-huh?</b> <b>Sex worker Yeah

</b> <b>Yep Sex worker</b> <b>Prostitute Sex worker</b> <b>Though some might be</b> <b>confused about</b> <b>what they're actually</b> <b>looking for

</b> <b>"Transgender</b> <b>call-girl types,</b> <b>male"</b> <b>Mm-hmm</b> <b>Ooh Ooh</b> <b>[ Laughs ]</b> <b>The job does come</b> <b>with perks, though,</b> <b>mostly a lot of</b> <b>outdoor time

</b> <b>"The streets</b> <b>are her life</b> <b>Worked several blocks</b> <b>for the past four years</b> <b>Selling herself</b> <b>on Sunset Boulevard</b> <b>has toughened her up</b> <b>beyond her years"</b> <b>You know, I want to say</b> <b>that I'm surprised</b> <b>and I'm shocked,</b> <b>but I'm actually not</b> <b>because you know –</b> <b>yes, you know –</b> <b>how many times you see this</b> <b>-Yes

</b> <b>-Oh, my goodness</b> <b>And, of course, sex work is</b> <b>a thing that you could do</b> <b>Yeah</b> <b>But when you're –</b> <b>constantly the only role</b> <b>that seems to be</b> <b>popping up is for that</b> <b>Yes, and you know that</b> <b>when these characters –</b> <b>these sex-work characters –</b> <b>are put in these scripts,</b> <b>they're not telling</b> <b>a nuanced story</b> <b>that's going to really</b> <b>bring empathy,</b> <b>to that community</b> <b>because we need to</b> <b>because there's</b> <b>such a stigma around it</b> <b>These are the topical,</b> <b>"We need to be</b> <b>sensationalistic"</b> <b>Okay I'm gonna –</b> <b>Well, and half</b> <b>the time they die</b> <b>And then yes!</b> <b>But not only</b> <b>transgender roles</b> <b>are singularly focused</b> <b>on your sexual prowess</b> <b>Apparently,</b> <b>as a South Asian woman,</b> <b>you'll be just as in demand</b> <b>for a certain expertise</b> <b>"Uses ancient religious</b> <b>rituals to rise to the top</b> <b>of the high-end-escort</b> <b>business

"</b> <b>-I mean, it is</b> <b>-Oh</b> <b>-

it's high-end</b> <b>-Wow This is –</b> <b>I see intersectionality's</b> <b>happening here

</b> <b>So progressive</b> <b>Though you might be needed for</b> <b>additional skill sets as well</b> <b>"A beautiful, hypnotic</b> <b>snake charmer"?</b> <b>Obviously</b> <b>Obviously</b> <b>Obviously, I do that</b> <b>on my Saturday mornings

</b> <b>[ Laughs ]</b> <b>Just Ella, a snake</b> <b>-Oh, yeah</b> <b>-

and a flute</b> <b>And a flute</b> <b>But if you wanted</b> <b>to play anything else,</b> <b>I'm afraid you only have</b> <b>one idiom to work toward

</b> <b>"Think Mindy Kaling,</b> <b>think a bitchy Mindy Kaling,</b> <b>Mindy Kaling type,</b> <b>Mindy Kaling-like presence,</b> <b>kind of Mindy Kaling"</b> <b>This hits home</b> <b>Do you know how many times</b> <b>people — ugh</b> <b>I do, because</b> <b>this is what pops up</b> <b>Wow</b> <b>over and over</b> <b>and over again</b> <b>It's like</b> <b>there's only one person</b> <b>There's one type</b> <b>You could either be</b> <b>Padma Lakshmi or Mindy Kaling</b> <b>-Yep

</b> <b>-And there's nothing in between</b> <b>Nope</b> <b>There's nothing in between</b> <b>You go to India,</b> <b>and that's all you see –</b> <b>a bunch of Padma Lakshmis</b> <b>and Mindy Kalings</b> <b>But in general,</b> <b>you can't really count on</b> <b>playing yourself at all

</b> <b>"Needs to be able</b> <b>to play South Asian,</b> <b>but open to</b> <b>all ethnicities"</b> <b>Ouch!</b> <b>That one hurts</b> <b>I know</b> <b>It's like, "How?!</b> <b>How do you play South Asian</b> <b>if you're not South Asian?"</b> <b>Right</b> <b>I did "Bombay Dreams

"</b> <b>Do I need to tell you?</b> <b>The question for the ages</b> <b>Yeah</b> <b>And lastly,</b> <b>just for fun</b> <b>Mm-hmm</b> <b>since your character name</b> <b>on "Jessica Jones" is Gillian

</b> <b>Yeah</b> <b>I thought I'd go looking</b> <b>for what the casting world</b> <b>has to say about</b> <b>other characters named Gillian,</b> <b>spelled the same way,</b> <b>with a "G"</b> <b>Okay</b> <b>And just to make you feel</b> <b>really good,</b> <b>this is what</b> <b>I came up with</b> <b>"Gillian is severely lonely</b> <b>and hunched with depression

"</b> <b>Wow Read me</b> <b>Read me, Lynne</b> <b>[ Laughing ]</b> <b>I'm sorry</b> <b>It's awful

</b> <b>But it was so funny</b> <b>Oh, man</b> <b>And this is actually</b> <b>the only character</b> <b>I found</b> <b>spelled that way</b> <b>Everything else was, like,</b> <b>Jillian with a "J"</b> <b>Right

</b> <b>-So, hunched</b> <b>-We are a special type</b> <b>Something that you've</b> <b>been involved in</b> <b>that I've watched you</b> <b>be involved in in the industry</b> <b>is the development</b> <b>of new work</b> <b>Mm-hmm</b> <b>I wonder how you feel</b> <b>that might be shifting</b> <b>representation</b> <b>and inclusion</b> <b>in the industry</b> <b>in terms of new film</b> <b>and television,</b> <b>just reading new scripts,</b> <b>and new theater

</b> <b>Yeah</b> <b>It's not where it should be</b> <b>You know?</b> <b>Yeah</b> <b>That's the thing that I come</b> <b>across every single time</b> <b>You know, and it's not</b> <b>just in development

</b> <b>I see it on social media,</b> <b>you know, with –</b> <b>there's so many people who are</b> <b>working on new things</b> <b>And I see so many –</b> <b>like every day,</b> <b>just new project, new concert,</b> <b>new reading, new this</b> <b>And I don't see</b> <b>the kind of inclusion</b> <b>that we see in the world</b> <b>You know, I see these casts</b> <b>that are either entirely white,</b> <b>or they're entirely cis</b> <b>There's this notion</b> <b>that trans people</b> <b>all of a sudden</b> <b>came on the scene,</b> <b>and all of a sudden</b> <b>we all just want to be stars</b> <b>because it's such</b> <b>a hot topic now, right?</b> <b>And the reality is that</b> <b>there are many, many, many of us</b> <b>who have been in this industry</b> <b>for many, many, many years</b> <b>and are only getting</b> <b>the visibility now</b> <b>because the industry is allowing</b> <b>us to have that visibility

</b> <b>So when I see all of these</b> <b>entirely cis casts, I wonder,</b> <b>"Was there any thing done</b> <b>to really think about, like,</b> <b>including trans people</b> <b>in your casts?"</b> <b>And I most often come across</b> <b>the answer is no</b> <b>It's not even a thought</b> <b>to them</b> <b>Yeah

</b> <b>because I think that,</b> <b>particularly in new works,</b> <b>when people are having</b> <b>their creative teams,</b> <b>and they're putting</b> <b>their cast together,</b> <b>they don't think about trans</b> <b>people in a larger aspect,</b> <b>other than using them</b> <b>solely in trans roles</b> <b>and trans worlds</b> <b>I think the same goes for the</b> <b>disabled community as well

</b> <b>Yeah</b> <b>where you — there is</b> <b>just this assumption</b> <b>that all roles have to be</b> <b>able-bodied, and it's –</b> <b>they don't have to</b> <b>all be cis</b> <b>No</b> <b>They don't have to</b> <b>be able-bodied</b> <b>They don't have to be white,</b> <b>you know?</b> <b>No

Yeah</b> <b>Something I talk to a lot</b> <b>of young writers about is</b> <b>you've got to start</b> <b>at the tiniest,</b> <b>tiniest beginning</b> <b>of your project –</b> <b>the little table read you have</b> <b>in your living room</b> <b>Yeah

</b> <b>that you've got to make sure</b> <b>that the room you're in</b> <b>is inclusive</b> <b>Is inclusive</b> <b>or else</b> <b>as the project grows –</b> <b>It won't be</b> <b>And you never know</b> <b>where it's gonna grow</b> <b>Right</b> <b>Thank you for</b> <b>having us here today</b> <b>I love you

</b> <b>I love you</b> <b>Thank you for watching</b> <b>Take care of each other,</b> <b>and be professional</b> <b>♪♪</b> <b>♪♪</b> <b>♪♪</b>

Source: Youtube

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