In a recent interview with WNYC podcast Nancy, Transparent showrunner Jill Soloway spoke about mishandling claims of sexual harassment on set and how their desire to protect the Amazon series initially superseded their desire to protect the women who came forward.
Three women have accused Transparent star Jeffrey Tambor of sexual harassment since last November: Van Barnes, who worked as Tambor’s assistant; Trace Lysette, who plays recurring character Shea; and Rain Valdez, who worked as a director’s assistant and coordinating producer. Alexandra Billings, who plays recurring character Davina, corroborated Barnes’ and Lysette’s claims in a HuffPost op-ed. Tambor, who denies the accusations, was fired from the show in May following an internal investigation into the allegations.
Speaking to Nancy co-hosts Tobin Low and Kathy Tu, Soloway says that, despite their enthusiastic involvement in Time’s Up and their production company Topple’s longheld “intersectional” values, they didn’t enact those values when put to the test:
I felt like I was in a very particular position, being somebody who was vigorously waving the Time’s Up flag… I sort of had this [reaction, like] “We’re the only [show about queerness and Judaism] that has ever been and maybe will ever be and now it’s about to be gone…” I really wanted to protect the show. It was really hard for me to get past my feelings to protect the show [and relate] humanly to the women who were coming forward. I got there, but I wish I had been able to get there instantly.
In one of the later chapters of Soloway’s new memoir, She Wants It (excerpted here in Andrea Long Chu’s review for Affidavit), the showrunner explains those feelings they needed to get past in more detail. They write that they began crying during a one-on-one meeting with Trace Lysette, upset that Transparent’s legacy and the “beautiful symbol of transness” Jeffrey Tambor portrayed onscreen would be tarnished by Lysette’s claims of harassment. In other words, their first instinct was to protect a fictional trans woman played by a cis man over an actual trans woman who worked for them.
Soloway tells Low and Tu that eventually they were able to process how sexual harassment can still happen on a TV set, even when a man isn’t in charge:
At first, I was feeling really, “Wow, does this mean that all of our principles were bullshit if this could still happen on our set?” And then I really reminded myself that this is a reckoning, this is a tsunami, that this is happening on the entire planet. It’s not just happening to us… For me, as somebody who’s been saying “Topple the patriarchy!” for all of these years, and for me, as somebody who’s been believing in this revolution, I had to eventually find a way to [look past] my own personal feelings of hurt… It was such a cultural shift, such a huge moral reckoning for every single person in the country… Of course, it could happen to us, as well.
Elsewhere in the interview, Soloway acknowledges criticism of Tambor’s casting while standing by the decision (“There are a lot of cis people out there for whom this was the perfect way to understand transness.”), the future of the series, and why Broadway might be next for Transparent. Listen to it here.