Lavernee Cox is best known for her role as Sophia Burset on the Netflix show “Orange Is the New Black.” That was the role that catapulted Cox into the LGBTQ zeitgeist and mainstream conversation. And it was for good reason. It was only 6 years ago that this revolutionary and radical show was brought to the masses. Until 2013, audiences didn’t see a show about women who were incarcerated. The stories, the heartache, and the hardships that came from “OITNB” were unlike anything American audiences had ever seen. And Laverne Cox was front and center all the way through.
AwardsCircuit had the opportunity to speak with Cox about the culmination of Sophia’s narrative and “Orange Is the New Black,” her recent cover for British Vogue, and politics. Yes, politics.
Toni Gonzales/Awards Circuit: How are you this morning?
Laverne Cox: I am… oh, girl (laughs). I am a lot of things this morning. We have another mass shooting, I am just so insanely sad, and then there is nobody doing anything about it in terms of our politicians. Toni Morrison passed away today…It’s been an emotional morning.
TG: Congratulations on your Emmy nomination and for ending up with this role on “Orange Is the New Black.” When you started the landscape of television looked nothing like it does today. Now, you’ve got “Euphoria” and “Transparent,” could you have imagined all of this change and representation for the community when you started?
LC: Um, yeah! You know it’s weird. I always wanted to see people like me with experiences like me on television. I longed to see it for a long time and I think that someone had to visualize it before it could actually happen. So, yeah, it was something that I certainly dreamed about. It just feels so amazing that a show like “OITNB” was the beginning of all that. And telling these stories through Sophia that touched people all over the world is such an incredible amazing thing and that I got to be a vessel for that feels like an honor of a lifetime.
And now that the show has wrapped up and I just want to celebrate all the things that are “OITNB” and how we changed television. And not just for trans folk but for representation in general. For LGBTQ class representation, for women of color, for women of different shapes and sizes and ages. The political conversations we’ve taken on on our show around mass incarnations; I am really proud to be a part of something that is truly groundbreaking and trailblazing.
TG: Speaking of trailblazing, just today Victoria’s Secret came out and announced their first-ever trans model in the company’s history. What’s your reaction to that? Is it too late, not enough, or, are you like ‘finally!’
I am being very candid with you this morning. I was at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show last year, I went for the first time. And, I honestly thought that I was being invited because they were finally going to have a trans model on the runway. I said to my girlfriend Mila, ‘Girl I think they are gonna have a trans model on the runway. I mean this is going to be major!’ I was sitting at the show and I was waiting and going like, ‘Is she trans? Is she trans?’ And of course it didn’t happen.
So when I saw Valentino’s post I was like, ‘Wow!’ The interesting thing is that one of my first bras that I bought was from Victoria’s Secret. It was a company that I had shopped at for many years. When I lived in New York I would always go to Victoria’s Secret on 34th and it was the place that I shopped. And so it was very heartbreaking when I saw the statement that was made about trans models.
A lot of us are customers of Victoria’s Secret and we were patronizing a place that does not want us on their runways. And I think for me, I thought that was a company that I probably shouldn’t patronize anymore (laughs). But then it was so exciting that people like Nakita Dragon and all these trans folks started posting videos and photos saying that we are the fantasy. Like, we trans folks have been the fantasy for a very long time but people just didn’t know (laughs). If you didn’t know, now you know (laughs). It was so beautiful to see trans folks celebrating themselves and celebrating each other.
I am so excited for her. You know, she made history as well a few years ago when she was the first openly trans model to be on the cover of Vogue Magazine, she was on the cover of Vogue Paris in March 2017. I am super excited for her and I am excited for all the young trans folks that she is going to inspire.
TG: This leads perfectly into your cover for British Vogue. Tell me how that came about.
LC: Oh my goodness, what a moment! (Laughs) The British Vogue cover, so Edward Enninful, the Editor-in-Chief of British Vogue, we had met many years ago and I’ve been a fan of his work for a long time, he is just a genius. I did something with British Vogue almost a few years ago, the ‘We Won’t Be Erased’ campaign, where they were celebrating trans folks in response to the leaked memo from the current administration about erasing trans folks. And so he (Edward) DM’d me. It was probably February or so and he asked if he could call me. We follow each other on Instagram and then he DM’d me.
Then he called me and he said we (Vogue) would like you to be on the cover of the September issue of British Vogue. I was like, ‘Woah.’ He said they were doing an issue called ‘Voices of Change’ and we are going to include other women and we would like you to be one of them. And I was just….You know I am very ambitious and I’ve wanted to be on the cover of Vogue Magazine since I knew such a thing existed.
I remember talking to my publicist many years ago and asking about how to get on the cover of Vogue. And apparently it’s through the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle. And when Edward asked me I thought it was just him asking me and I was honored. Then I went to New York, I think we shot it in June and Grace Coddington styled me and Peter Lindbergh photographed me. It was just an incredibly magical day.
And it wasn’t until a week before the issue dropped that Edward texted me and he asked if he could call me that day. He said it was very important. I was working. I was like I was already on the cover, what more could there be? And so he called me and told me there was a guest editor for the issue and she is on the line and can he said, ‘Can I introduce you to the Duchess of Sussex?’ And I was like, ‘Ok, that’s pretty good Edward. (Laughing). Ok, you got me (laughing).’ But it was true. She was lovely. I mean sometimes I am like, ‘God my life, what is this life that I am living?’ This poor black girl from Mobile, Alabama and now I am on the cover of British Vogue talking to the Duchess of Sussex – who are you? It was a dream realized for sure. And to share it with other incredible women, I am literally next to Jane Fonda! I mean, who am I? And with that I think there’s a responsibility. And I think what is beautiful is that Meghan and Vogue wanted to do something around change and wanted to inspire the world and think about how we can all be the change in our world and in our lives. It’s a beautiful call to action.
TG: When you say there is a call of action – what can we do? What is the single biggest thing that you think everyone can do?
LC: I mean it’s not just one thing. First of all, whenever I see people ask me what they can do in terms of activism or advocacy I think that everybody has an issue that they are drawn to more than another. One person can’t tackle everything. So, if there is one issue that you are super passionate about go there and figure out what you can do.
Then, we have to have politicians in place that work on behalf of the people and not for the corporations and special interests. Money and politics is what is killing the world right now. I am a registered independent. I don’t like binaries in terms of politics or gender. But I think that we need to have progressive democrats in office who are not bought and paid for. Then we can begin to save the planet, save reproductive rights, and save our elections. Voter suppression is a big deal.
There are people who are struggling in serious ways. Teachers need supplies. If you have a little bit of money that you can give then you should, but those are little things that we can do in our lives. We need structural change. There is a structural change that has to happen and I think that what we have to ask ourselves individually is, ‘Are we allowing people in power to pit us against each other?’ The whole concept of tribalism – the ‘are you with us or against us’. It’s not even about race anymore, it’s about are you a Republican or Democrat, are you progressive or liberal? Then people divide themselves based on that. We cannot let people in power do that to us.
We are still human beings. Each of us in our daily lives can begin to interrogate the ways in which we use dehumanizing language to speak about those that we disagree with. We have to stop that. Dehumanizing language leads to genocide. I think because folks have been dehumanized by our government who are just coming to seek asylum – when they are dehumanized, then our government feels they have a right to put them in cages, to starve them, to let them die because they don’t think of them as human.
We have to RE-humanize every single person whether we agree with him or her or not. I do not dehumanize the President of the United States because I disagree with him. We can be critical of policies, we can be critical of the language, but he is still a human being. We must resist the signaling that forces us to dehumanize each other. Because when we do that then we have no problem enslaving people, we have no problem killing masses of people and that is part of the history of this country. We have enslaved people. We wiped out huge portions of the Native American population because apparently, our forefathers thought they were not fully human. We cannot allow that to happen. We are on the precipice of that right now. We can’t let people use our fears against us.
TG: Wow! Have you ever considered running for political office?
LC: No girl, I am an actor. But I do what I can and I use my voice when I can and I think that everyone can do that.
Laverne can be seen in the last season of “Orange Is the New Black” streaming now on Netflix. She is the only cast member nominated for an Emmy this year.
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