Much to the excitement of millions of fans, the third and final season of the Netflix series, “Jessica Jones,” is finally here. But the third installment of the Emmy-winning superhero saga is also winning accolades for representing transgender people through a character played by a transgender actor.
Joining the superhero world is Indian American transgender actress-activist Aneesh Sheth. On Season 3, Sheth plays the role of Jessica’s assistant, Gillian, an impeccably dressed, no-nonsense, tough person.
In the drama series, haunted by a traumatic past, Jessica Jones, played by Krysten Ritter, uses her gifts as a private eye to find her tormentor before he can harm anyone else.
Gillian, whom Sheth described as “sassy” and “snarky” to Marvel.com, helps Jessica manage her hero business.
Sheth told Marvel.com that one part of herself that she is bringing to Gillian is her gender identity. “I’m transgender and the character of Gillian is also trans, but there is no mention of her being trans within the show nor kind of a narrative around her identity, which I think is wonderful because trans people exist in the world. It's not always about their narrative. So I think it's just really great to have her exist and see where that story can take us.”
Sheth continued: “I think it’s important in terms of representation to have people out there recognize that you’ve got a South Asian trans person on television who’s kind of creating representation, but also how wonderful it is for that person to exist in a show without having to hit (everyone) over the head and avoid sensationalism.”
Sheth told Inews.co.uk that she is so glad to be included in the process of shaping this character.
“I had a big discussion with Melissa Rosenberg (the creator of ‘Jessica Jones’) about where we thought Gillian came from, and her background. That’s very exciting as an actor, to be able to have a say in where I want this story to go,” she told the British publication. “Marginalized actors are getting the power to create narratives within shows like this. I think that’s really important.”
Originally from Pune, Sheth moved to the U.S. as a child. At 6, she began studying piano and by middle school she had also picked up the flute and began voice training, according to her website. Having sung classically up through high school, she then attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for Musical Theatre.
After receiving her BFA, she enjoyed the tour life performing in various musicals, including the Broadway national tour of A.R. Rahman’s “Bombay Dreams” as Sweetie in 2006.
She returned to studying in 2008, completing her master’s degree in social work from New York University which she put to use working as a youth counselor with LGBTQ people at The Trevor Project.
Sheth made her network debut as a guest star on NBC’s “Outsourced,” and has since appeared on Hulu’s “Difficult People,” HBO’s “High Maintenance” and NBC’s “New Amsterdam.” She also had a cameo in “A Kid Like Jake” alongside Jim Parsons.
Another trans actor who is making waves in the Marvel Universe is actor Zach Barack, who plays a classmate of Peter Parker in “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”
“It’s about separating what people know about you and what they don’t,” Barack told The Associated Press. “And I think that’s something I kind of live with every day. And on top of that, I don’t see a lot of trans-masculine people on television or trans men specifically, and getting to be part of that is beyond unreal.”
Having representation on TV and in films is extremely important, said Barack.
“The truth is you have to put out there what people want to see and what people need to see,” he told AP. “And as a young person who is trans, I didn’t see a trans man on TV ever, ever, really, until I was like, 17. So having a fun movie about a class going on a trip together, and I get to be part of that, I can’t even ...”