Six months after Nickelodeon launched its "trans youth acting challenge," the network cast a trans-identified teen to guest star on one of its television shows. This is the first time a transgender child actor will appear on Nickelodeon.
As Christian Headlines previously reported, Nickelodeon and transgender actor Michael D. Cohen created the challenge last December as an effort to help transgender and nonbinary kids pursue their dreams of becoming actors.
Cohen, who plays the character Schwoz on the show "Danger Force," told Variety in a recent interview that 13-year-old Sasha Cohen (a biological female who identifies as male) has been cast for an upcoming episode which will premiere on June 19. Cohen bears no relation to the teen despite having the same last name.
"I want Sasha to see his own power as an actor and as a human. I want him to feel proud of his work and feel real confident in himself in every aspect and to know that he will help change kids’ lives by being the first kid of trans experience on Nickelodeon in live action," he told Variety.
Sasha Cohen, who was also interviewed by Variety, told the entertainment magazine that the upcoming role is an opportunity to motivate other trans kids to pursue their dreams.
"I had never felt comfortable about who I am, and I always thought that I would never play a transgender role," the teen explained. "But there are so many kids out there who need to see someone like them — a role model who has the ability to put themselves out there."
Sasha's casting was praised by Nickelodeon's executive vice president of programming and content strategy Paul DeBenedittis as part of "Nickelodeon's mission to be a home for all kids, and to authentically represent them in their full diversity."
"This episode of Danger Force ultimately tells a relatable story of friendship, openness and trust, through the lens of sitcom," he continued. "We're incredibly proud of it and of everyone involved."
Variety noted that Cohen's initiative has expanded into a private Facebook page for parents and kids, while casting directors are turning to him for leads on transgender actors.
"I was talking to a casting director the other day who is looking for a trans kid for a commercial for a major director," Cohen said. "We always ask the parents first, but we were able to give him a list of 75 young actors."
In addition to the trans youth acting challenge, Cohen plans to launch a similar program for transgender television writers.
"We're focusing on university students and grads to find stellar writing talent of trans experience so that we can have a database for producers and networks to draw from," the actor explains. "I have been in conversations with a number of places, including The Writers Guild Foundation, and they are excited to be involved in the initiative."
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Elizabeth Lara
Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer and content creator. He is a contributing writer for Christian Headlines and the host of the For Your Soul Podcast, a podcast devoted to sound doctrine and biblical truth. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.