Pixar is seeking 'authentic' young performer to voice its first transgender character

'Inside Out' heroine Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) in the hit 2015 Pixar film (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Pixar is seeking a young actor to voice a new transgender character. Here, 'Inside Out' heroine Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) is seen in the hit 2015 Pixar film (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)

One year ago, Pixar introduced its first LGBTQ+ character — voiced by openly gay writer and actor Lena Waithe — in the Oscar-nominated feature Onward. Now, the animation studio is looking to break another barrier. A casting notice first posted by the official Twitter account for the annual San Francisco Trans March earlier this week reveals that Pixar is seeking a transgender performer to provide the voice of a transgender girl in an upcoming animated project.

In a follow-up tweet, SF Trans March said that they had confirmed the authenticity of the casting notice with the project's casting director. "We talked to the casting director and they sent us this flyer," the group's statement reads. "They're reaching out to other orgs as well, but we got the sense we're the first to post about it."

Although the casting notice doesn't provide any details about the plot of the project, or whether it will be a full-length feature or a short film, it does offer a compelling sketch of this pioneering Pixar character. Jess is described as a 14-year-old transgender girl who is "compassionate, funny and always has your back." The notice goes on to say that Pixar is looking for an actress between 12 and 17 years old who is "enthusiastic, outgoing, funny and energetic" and "can authentically portray a 14-year-old transgender girl."

That emphasis on authenticity is part of a broader sea change in animation when it comes to casting. The Black Lives Matter protests last summer brought a renewed attention to the industry's lack of diversity both in writers' rooms and recording booths, with white actors frequently voicing characters of color — a practice that has been called "spoken blackface." In response, shows like The Simpsons, Central Park and Family Guy have recast a number of roles, at the behest of producers and white performers like Hank Azaria, who had preciously voiced such popular Simpsons characters as Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Carl Carlson and Julio for decades.

Hank Azaria at the 2020 Winter TCA Press Tour in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

During a recent appearance on the Armchair Expert podcast, Azaria apologized for his part in maintaining the industry's status quo for so long and called on animated shows to match the role with the right performer. "Here's the thing: if it's a character of color in particular, there's not the same level of opportunity there," he remarked. "So if it's an Indian character or a Latinx character or a Black character, please let's have that person voice the character. It's more authentic, they'll bring their experience of their culturalization to it, and let's not take jobs away from people who don't have enough." The Simpsons producers have already recast several of Azaria's roles with performers of color: Alex Désert now voices Carl, and Tony Rodriguez recently took over the role of Julio.

Pixar's casting notice is already being enthusiastically shared on Twitter, with many expressing hope that the studio will commit to authenticity by casting a transgender performer. And just as Rodriguez landed his Simpsons gig thanks to the podcast Gayest Episode Ever, social media may just play a role in making Pixar history.

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