For ‘Transparent,’ Accusations Against Jeffrey Tambor Burst an Idealistic Bubble

For ‘Transparent,’ Accusations Against Jeffrey Tambor Burst an Idealistic Bubble

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Perhaps most wrenching of all, the cast and crew grieved over the idea that a workplace they had thought of as part utopian experiment, part family — a “wonderful cult,” some members of the cast called it — had been compromised.

“Even in the safest of sets, where there were people who were really thinking constantly about how do we make sure we’re heart-connected at work, things happened, or things may have happened,” the show’s creator, Jill Soloway, said on a panel a few days after the second of three women, the “Transparent” actress Trace Lysette, came forward with accusations about Mr. Tambor.

Jill Soloway, the creator of “Transparent,’’ tried to make the show’s art indistinguishable from a broader social mission.

Credit
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Mx. Soloway, whose production company is called Topple — as in “topple the patriarchy” — had made the show’s mission and its art virtually indistinguishable. (In the last few years, Mx. Soloway came to identify as gender nonbinary — neither woman nor man — and prefers gender-neutral language.)

Mx. Soloway dotted the set with at least 60 transgender and gender nonconforming writers, actors and crew members, as well as many more extras, through what Mx. Soloway called the show’s “transfirmative action” program. A pair of transgender artists-turned-producers vetted the story lines to ensure authenticity. There were sessions to teach set decorators, drivers and other staff members how to speak and write sensitively about transgender issues.

“We all feel like we’re part of a greater good,” Andrea Sperling, an executive producer, said. “It’s there to entertain, but it’s part of something bigger than all of us.”

Writers referred to Mx. Soloway’s writers’ room, with joking affection, as the “writers’ womb,” a nurturing yet unpasteurized space where the intimate details of their own lives — including sexual proclivities, extramarital affairs and more quotidian memories — were discussed and then stirred into the show.

Their willingness to explore any personal experience, no matter how graphic or private, gave the story lines some of their emotional rawness and sexual frankness, and the set its warm, freewheeling atmosphere.

Yet the absence of boundaries could also create uncomfortable moments for anyone less willing to share; one former writer, speaking anonymously to discuss private work sessions, recalled texting a friend out of unease when the writers were asked about their masturbation habits. (Mx. Soloway said in a written response to questions that sex was just one of many things the writers talked about, and that it was common practice among television writers to mine personal experiences for content.)

In interviews with writers, producers and an actress arranged by Mx. Soloway’s personal publicist, Mr. Fitzerman-Blue was one of the few to say he believed the women’s allegations against Mr. Tambor; most others would not discuss them.

The first accusations surfaced last month when Mr. Tambor’s former assistant on the show, Van Barnes, wrote in a private Facebook post that the actor had sexually harassed and groped her.

Then Ms. Lysette, the actress who played Shea, told The Hollywood Reporter that Mr. Tambor had once thrust his pelvis against her hip while on set, kissed her on the lips several times and repeatedly made sexually suggestive remarks to her.

Two of Ms. Lysette’s friends — Rain Valdez, an actress who worked as a producer on “Transparent,” and Mindy Jones, a singer — said in interviews that Ms. Lysette had confided in them about Mr. Tambor’s actions at the time. Another actress, Alexandra Billings, said in a statement to The Times that she had overheard Mr. Tambor tell Ms. Lysette, “My God, Trace. I want to attack you sexually.”

In an interview with The Times, Ms. Lysette said she hoped the show would evolve to focus on transgender experiences beyond those of Mr. Tambor’s character. “Like, come on,” said Ms. Lysette, who is transgender. “We have a lot to share, and the world wants to see it, and I just think that it sucks that so much rides on these leading men.”

A third woman, a makeup artist named Tamara Delbridge, told the website Refinery29 last month that Mr. Tambor had forcibly kissed her in 2001 on the set of the film “Never Again.”

Mr. Tambor, who dedicated his best actor prize at the 2015 Golden Globes — the first ever given for a transgender role — to the transgender community, said in his statement that he regretted “if any action of mine was ever misinterpreted by anyone as being aggressive,” but has denied the accusations.

Mr. Tambor, too, produced a supporting account. In a statement provided by the actor’s publicist, Allan Mayer, a hairstylist on the show, Terry Baliel, said that he had never witnessed the actor doing anything of an “inappropriate sexual” nature.

In his own statement, Mr. Tambor referred obliquely to his own sense of discomfort with what was happening on “Transparent,” saying that a “politicized atmosphere” had afflicted the set. “This is no longer the job I signed up for,” he said.

A few days later, in a new statement provided to The Times, Mr. Mayer expanded on Mr. Tambor’s position: “What he said was that given the toxic atmosphere and the politicization on the set, it’s very hard for him to see how he can possibly return. But no final decision for next year has been made, either by Jeffrey or by Amazon.” He declined to elaborate on what Mr. Tambor meant by toxic atmosphere and politicization of the set.

Responding to questions, Mx. Soloway wrote, “I take what Van Barnes and Trace Lysette are saying very seriously,” but declined to discuss the accusations, citing Amazon’s internal investigation.

“Transparent” may not have been the most popular series streaming on Amazon or its chief rival, Netflix. But it was among the most decorated, amassing awards and rapturous reviews and helping Amazon Studios burnish its reputation in the area of original content.

Sarah Kate Ellis, the president of Glaad, the L.G.B.T.Q. media advocacy group, said “Transparent” had “broken the mold, or created the mold” for hiring transgender actors and other industry workers, who have historically faced barriers to employment in Hollywood.

Yet it never quite outran concerns aired by transgender critics, some of its fans and even some of its own staff, that the showrunner and its lead star were not transgender and therefore unfit to tell transgender stories.

Mx. Soloway had become “deeply aware” of the issue, but had “hoped that being able to invite mainstream audiences into this family using a well-known actor was worth the trade-off,” Mx. Soloway wrote in response to questions.

Like Ms. Lysette, some viewers and critics have called for the show to shift the camera lens from Mr. Tambor’s character onto her transgender friends and other supporting characters.

“We cannot let trans content be taken down by a single cis man,” Our Lady J, one of the show’s transgender writers, wrote in an Instagram post after the accusations against Mr. Tambor emerged.

Rhys Ernst, a producer, said he had argued to friends that Mr. Tambor was a “socially responsible exception” to the principle of casting transgender people in transgender roles, given the show’s overall benefit to the movement.

But Mr. Ernst, who is transgender, said he thought “Transparent” had made casting transgender people in transgender roles a more urgent issue.

“If we were to start this whole thing all over again,” Mr. Ernst said, “it would probably go a different way.”

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