TRANSPARENT, the Amazon Prime series, has arguably been through nearly as many shakeups as its characters. Jill Soloway, who identifies as non-binary, created TRANSPARENT as a comedy/drama about how the Pfefferman family of Los Angeles, with grown children, responds when their father Mort comes out as transgender and will now be Maura. Soloway drew inspiration for the story from her own parent’s transition. TRANSPARENT won two Emmys and a Golden Globe for Jeffrey Tambor’s performance as Maura, as well as a Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical and two Emmys for Soloway’s direction of individual episodes, plus a truckload of other awards and nominations.

The series ran on Amazon for four seasons, 2014 through 2017, to great acclaim and a bit of controversy, including some transgender people questioning the casting of cis-gender man Tambor as a transgender woman, no matter how effective his performance. Then two women working on TRANSPARENT stepped forward with claims of sexual harassment by Tambor. In February 2018, Soloway fired Tambor, who has maintained his innocence.

In addition to great emotional turmoil, this raised the issue of how TRANSPARENT could or would continue without Tambor’s Maura. The answer arrives on September 27, with the TRANSPARENT MUSICALE FINALE. Maura has passed away, and family and friends deal with their emotions in songs written by Soloway’s sibling, Faith Soloway.

The following interview combines a one-on-one conversation with Jill Soloway and comments they made at a Q&A panel for the TRANSPARENT MUSICALE FINALE.

JILL SOLOWAY: I remember being here [at the Television Critics Association press tour] five years ago, and launching the show, and being in a risk space saying we don’t even know how to make a TV show, and we’re entering this risk space for Amazon in terms of what a streaming show is, and we’re getting out there in front of this big, huge story for this country about trans-ness and turning it all into content. We were all just flying in our risk spaces. Today, we are still flying in our risk spaces by having made a musical as a way to say farewell to this family. It is called the TRANSPARENT MUSICALE FINALE. People are like, “Is that a mistake?” No mistake. It’s meant to be awkward, like us, so many things we do. For me, one of the most heartwarming feelings of return to be here today is to have two new members of our family with us. First, this is my sibling, Faith Soloway, who is my creative soul mate. Since the age of two or three, we’ve been sitting around hatching plays together, and musicals, sitting on the floor of our parents’ house, dreaming of our own JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, our own HAIR, our own musical … and also, introducing Shakina Nayfack [a transgender woman who runs her own theatre company and appears in the TRANSPARENT MUSICALE FINALE]. We are so filled up with joy and excitement to have a member of our family like Shakina. We feel like we’ve been waiting for her for a long time.

ASSIGNMENT X: What have you learned in the last year in the conversation about transgender that’s been useful to you as either a creator or just as a person in daily life?

SOLOWAY: Well, I’m thinking a lot about non-binary pronouns these days. A lot of people say that they find the “they” pronoun very confusing, and one of the things I remind people is that we use the “they” pronoun all the time. If you said to me that you had to leave because you had to pick up your friend at the airport, I might say, “Oh, what time do they land?” If I didn’t know if they were male or female, I would refer to them as “they.” So “they” is used commonly as a pronoun in the English language when you don’t know somebody’s gender. There’s a huge precedent for it. So I just try to remind people to be open to understanding that somebody might not be exactly who you thought they were or want them to be. It’s a really awesome way of being a normal citizen. I don’t think it’s up to the observer. I think people can identify and name what their own identity is, and how they feel, and how they want to be seen, and what their gender is.

AX: What was the most exciting thing on TRANSPARENT Season 4 for you?

SOLOWAY: Going to Israel. The whole family goes and it’s really deep. And it’s funny, of course, but we try to go straight into the heart of the struggle for Palestinian human rights with one of the characters. I assume that that’s going to be pretty exciting for audiences.



AX: Did you get to go into what the trans experience is like in Israel?

SOLOWAY: No, not really.

AX: What made you decide that you wanted to do a musical movie for Season 5 rather than a full final season?

SOLOWAY: I think when people talk about musicals, when people turn to song instead of conversation, it’s because there are certain things that can’t be said with words, and so the character must sing. And I think all of you know about what we went through over the past couple years, and realizing that if we were to come back, we needed to find a new way to enter this story. And [Head of Amazon Studios] Jen Salke has been amazing. I went to see her, and she said, “What do you want to do to end it?” And I’m like, “I don’t know.” She’s like, “We should do a big event.” At that time, Faith was workshopping songs. Faith has been writing these songs that come from the heart of the Soloway family saga. So it wasn’t just like we stuck some songs onto TRANSPARENT. In fact, Faith had a residency at Joe’s Pub. We had been dreaming of a Broadway musical one day, and we were starting to imagine the Pfefferman family singing. And so I pitched to Jen, “What if it was a musical movie?” And she said, “Great.” And here we are.

AX: Did you ever think you might not do TRANSPARENT Season 5 at all?

SOLOWAY: Yeah, there were many pauses. I remember Jay [Duplass, who plays Josh Pfefferman] kind of talking me off the ledge once and saying, “Up, up and away.” I remember my son said, “Mom, just swing for the bleachers,” because we could have just said goodbye and backed away and waved and been grateful for the love and the transformation around trans liberation. But as storytellers and as artists, I think this was actually not just the finale, but it was our chance to heal together. And everything we did, every time we got together and we choreographed or we danced or we sang or we improvised, we were just trying to find our way back to that holy belief that what we were doing mattered, and that it was important. And yeah, I think making it into a musical in some ways just rescued it from being overly serious. We didn’t want to tell a story of Maura’s death that was a complete mourning, that was a sad farewell. We had to come back to joy, and the musical allowed us to do that.

I’ve heard somebody call it “vigorous tonal shifts,” like if you’re watching TRANSPARENT, you’re laughing, and then you’re crying, and then it’s sexy, and then it’s sad again. It’s like kind of a thrill ride for neurotic people. You just get thrown around, shaking the anxiety out of you. And of course that occurred to us. “Is this going to be taken as a celebration?” But in fact, when you watch the movie, there are so many unbelievably painful, heartfelt moments where our characters are mourning Maura, and as actors and as creators, we’re morning what happened with our show. And the Pfeffermans are always talking about Jewish pain. There’s kind of a Jewish pain through-line running through here, including that evil eye Jewish question of, if we’re having too much fun, something bad is going to happen. This is too good. Golden Globes and Emmys. It’s coming for us. And it did feel like that for a minute. Like we celebrated too much. We had too much fun. That’s such a Jewish question – if things are too good, is there pain coming? And this movie goes straight at that question with songs that Faith wrote. This idea that our legacy of pain, our legacy of feeling like we deserve it, like it’s our fault, needs to be exploded. And the movie just attempts over and over and over again, and finally succeeds, I hope, in offering something other than a legacy of pain and self-blame.

AX: Speaking of legacy, do you have a parental feeling about shows like POSE? Do you sort of feel like, “Okay, TRANSPARENT helped with that”?

SOLOWAY: I feel more like a child in awe than I do parental. I came to all of this so late in my life. I wasn’t even queer until I was in my late forties. So I wouldn’t take responsibility for this revolution. I have always felt just in awe – in awe of my parent for coming out, for living as a trans person, in awe of all trans people who face daily the question of whether or not they’re safe. I’m in awe of the trans kids and everybody who lives this life. I feel so excited for POSE, and for any and all of the shows that have so much more trans representation than ever before. Yeah, mostly it’s wonder. It’s just awe and wonder.

This interview was derived from Amazon’s portion of the Summer 2019 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.

Related: Exclusive Interview with Shakina Nayfack on the TRANSPARENT MUSICALE FINALE

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Article: Interview with TRANSPARENT creator Jill Soloway on the MUSICALE FINALE

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