Laverne Cox is everywhere these days and we still can’t seem to get enough. As the transgender inmate Sophia in the Netflix series “Orange Is The New Black,” Cox skillfully balances charm and depth in a role that has been both critically praised and beloved by viewers. While Cox now plays a character suited to her talents, she’s no stranger to industry sexism and its troubling racial dimension.
Cox was the first black trans woman to ever appear on reality television when she starred in “I Want To Work For P.Diddy” in 2008. But according to a March 16 Buzzfeed profile, despite her groundbreaking status, Cox faced pressure to play the “angry black woman” role — and pushed back against it.
“I remember being really conscious of not wanting to fight with another black woman on camera,” Cox told Buzzfeed’s Saeed Jones. “I did an interview and the producers were like, ‘Well, this [other black woman on the show] said this about you. What do you have to say about that?’ And I said I’m not fighting with another black woman on TV.”
“Cat fighting” has become an unfortunately common trope on reality TV. Stars like Sarah Jessica Parker have lamented reality TV’s manipulative, damaging depiction of female dynamics, but the portrayal of African-American women in particular traffics in hurtful stereotypes of the “angry black woman” (about which Melissa Harris-Perry wrote an entire book) that producers exploit for entertainment value.
The “girl fight” storyline is great for reality TV soundbites, but Cox told Jones that in her case, the stakes were too high to take the bait. “During my elimination episode, when it came down to myself and another black woman, my mother — after watching — said, ‘Why didn’t you defend yourself?’ And I just didn’t want to give television the satisfaction of seeing two black women going at it. We see that so much'” she said.
If “Orange Is The New Black,” the fictional story of a group of felonious women in prison, captures the true nature of women’s relationships more sensitively than reality TV, there is definitely a problem. Laverne Cox reminds us all what an impact visibility can have — and makes us super excited to see what happens to Sophia in “OITNB” Season 2.