Amazon's 'Transparent' fuses 'art and a political movement'

Michael Swartz

The fourth season of Amazon's critically acclaimed series "Transparent" has arrived, and Emmy-winning creator Jill Soloway visited BUILD Series to promote the show's newest offering. Cast members Judith Light, Gaby Hoffman, Rob Huebel, Amy Landecker, and Jay Duplass, joined her onstage to discuss the show's unique creative process.

"Transparent" begins with the revelation that the person the Pfeffermans knew as the patriarch of their family is transgender. Jeffrey Tambor plays Maura Pfefferman, a retired college professor who finds the courage to reveal to her family that she identifies as female. The series explores gender identity, and what it means to be trans, as Maura, her ex-wife, and children, Sarah (Landecker), Josh (Duplass), and Ali (Hoffman), embark on a journey of self-discovery together. "We consider it this incredible honor," said Soloway, "that we get money from Amazon to make this thing called a television show that to us is art and a political movement."

The series tackles, as Duplass puts it, "really deep stuff that operates in all families and all relationships. It's something that, for some reason, the way Jill has built this world, we can explore those things and laugh our asses off while it's happening. I don't understand it!"

Judith Light, who plays Maura's ex-wife, Shelly, attributes the success of the series to the universal qualities in each character: "On an energetic level, on a human level, we all understand these iconic characters. They are very specific in the show, but they are very much a family person that we know. We understand and know these people and we relate to them. The specifics of the humanity is what takes [the show] up to a whole other, connected level."

The world has changed since the series premiered, and Soloway feels the Trump presidency has only strengthened the need for shows like "Transparent." When Trump announced his ban on transgender people serving in the military, the show's creators questioned their assumptions about progress:

"To see that the world is getting more tolerant, and we're part of that, but that there is also a backlash— an opposite reaction to that tolerance that involves a kind of closing down— it just feels absolutely more urgent than ever to keep making art, not only for ourselves, but also to empower women, people of color, queer people, all people who get 'otherized' by this administration in this patriarchal, white way of centering whiteness, and centering patriarchy."

The cast says they feel like a real family, and that Soloway promotes a level of trust that is rare on other TV and film sets. Without the threat of judgment, the actors have space and freedom to give their best performances, and they collaborate with the creative team to make a show that is truly special. Jay Duplass explained why it all works:

"It starts with Jill. The first day we did the table read, Jill said, 'We are making a piece of art in service of changing the world.' Jill's first mission was to make the world a safer place for her parent, and then as the seasons have progressed, it's become about making the world a safer place for all LGBTQ people, and then we started to include all marginalized voices, and now we're, in this season, moving it beyond America to Israel and Palestine. I'm getting chills when I'm talking about it right now, but that ethos is something that is present in us at all times, that we are making art in service of a greater good."

All 10 episodes of season four of "Transparent" are streaming now on Amazon.