Marvel’s First Trans Character Debuts in New Season of ‘Jessica Jones’
The third season of Jessica Jones released this week, concluding Netflix’s four-year-long, uber-successful partnership with Marvel. The series, with its feminist lead and all-female lineup of directors, is known for its inclusive representation of people of color and sensitive handling of queer relationships, sexuality, rape, and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Pushing the diversity envelope even further, Jessica Jones‘ new season stars transgender actress Aneesh Sheth, who plays superheroine Jessica’s sassy and resourceful new assistant Gillian — Marvel’s first ever trans character.
While this is a big move for trans representation on screen, the way the show portrays the character of Gillian is significantly refreshing. In a promotional interview with Marvel, Sheth says: “I’m transgender, and the character of Gillian is also trans. But there is no mention of her being trans within the show, nor kind of a narrative around her identity, which I think is wonderful because trans people exist in the world and it’s not always about their [trans] narrative.”
Sheth was born in Pune, India, and moved to the U.S. to pursue a career in acting. She graduated from New York University and kicked off her career as Sweetie, a character in A.R. Rahman’s musical Bombay Dreams. Today, she is an actress, a singer and a trans activist, with a Master’s degree in social work, who spends her time between the stage, the screen and working with LGBTQIA+ youth groups.
“I think it’s important in terms of representation to have people out there recognize that you’ve got a South Asian trans person on television who’s kind of creating representation, but also how wonderful it is for that person to exist in a show without having to hit [everyone] over the head and avoid sensationalism,” Sheth says, speaking to Marvel.
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Speaking to iNews, Sheth says that she had a big discussion with showrunner Melissa Rosenberg about Gillian’s character and her background in Jessica Jones‘ new season. “That’s very exciting as an actor, to be able to have a say in where I want this story to go. Marginalized actors are getting the power to create narratives within shows like this. I think that’s really important,” she adds. Speaking to Marvel, Sheth says that she has tried very consciously to create an authentic backstory for Gillian: “I think that the position that she’s found was hard to come by [as a trans woman of color]. I think she’s had to work really hard to get there.”
In May 2019, Marvel’s executives had said the production studio will start becoming more diverse, with a goal to represent every member of their global audience on screen. Speaking to Vulture, Victoria Alonso, the studio’s executive vice-president said: “We’re just determined to have it be how we do it. And if we do it, maybe somebody else will do it. I encourage every studio, every indie production company, every filmmaker out there to make an effort.”
In the same interview, Sarah Halley Finn, the casting director for all Marvel films since Iron Man adds that the studio is very serious about increased and authentic representation for actors who have traditionally been ignored in mainstream movies. “You’re gonna see even more new faces — and faces from all different backgrounds, all ages, all ethnicities, LGBTQ, people who are differently abled…. It’s a priority.”
We’d say: it’s about time.