The hit TV show “Modern Family” is living up to its name with the decision to cast a transgender child actor in an episode that aired on Sept. 28, marking a crucial moment for the future of the entertainment industry. Eight-year-old Jackson Millarker stars as Tom, a transgender child, who has recently befriended Lily, played by Aubrey Anderson-Emmons. Lily is the daughter of the show’s homosexual couple, Cam and Mitchell, played by Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, respectively.
This announcement comes after a giant push from Jeffrey Tambour—who recently won an Emmy for his work on “Transparent”—to hire more transgender actors in transgender roles. Tambour, who is cisgender, urged casting directors to give “transgender talent a chance” in his acceptance speech.
He stressed that it is important to “give them auditions. Give them their story” before adding that he “would not be unhappy if I were the last cisgender male to play a female transgender on television—we have work to do.” Tambour’s own show took his advice by hiring a transgender young actress during the third season.
“Modern Family” has always been about acceptance, tackling issues like LGBTQ+ recognition, divorce and adoption. But with this episode even the most progressive characters, Cam and Mitchell, must “have to take a quick look in the mirror before they teach [Lily] a lesson about acceptance.”
Director Ryan Case is extremely proud of the show’s inclusive decision, posting a photo with Millarker on Instagram with the caption, “This is Jackson Millarker. He’s eight years old, from Atlanta, and just happens to be transgender. He plays Lily’s friend Tom in this week’s ‘Modern Family’ and he’s wonderful. One of the many reasons I love being a part of this show.”
The issue of diversity in Hollywood, or lack thereof, has long been at the forefront of criticism directed toward the industry and has effectively started a conversation about roles for minority actors and the existence of stereotypes in media.
The lack of roles allocated for minority actors contrasts sharply with the use of minority cultures as the basis for entertainment. Minorities are often depicted as stereotypes and producers fail to cast actors who belong to minority cultures, robbing them of the opportunity to accurately represent themselves.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community often experience such disrespect. Transgender characters are often distorted and used to highlight specific aspects of the community that might not necessarily cover the entire transgender perspective. Or cisgender actors are often hired to portray transgender individuals, repeatedly leading to a shallow portrayal of the trans experience.
These practices perpetuate a cycle of misunderstanding. In effect, we believe trans individuals to be the stereotypes that we see portrayed in the media. It is this that has become the focus of many critics.
“Modern Family’s” progressive decision takes the future of the entertainment industry in a different—and perhaps long overdue—direction. To see Millarker in action, check out this season’s second episode titled “A Stereotypical Day.”