Nickelodeon introduces ‘trans youth acting challenge’ with transgender actor

Actor Michael D. Cohen, who stars in the Nickelodeon live-action sitcom "Henry Danger" and its spinoff "Danger Force," announces the "Trans Youth Acting Challenge," Dec. 1, 2020. | Screenshot: Facebook/Nickelodeon

Nickelodeon has teamed up with a transgender actor to unveil the “trans youth acting challenge,” an initiative designed to enable transgender or nonbinary youth with dreams of acting to “realize their dreams.”

Michael D. Cohen, who plays the character Schwoz on Nickelodeon’s live-action sitcom “Henry Danger” and its spinoff “Danger Force,” announced the “trans youth acting challenge” in a Facebook Live video last Tuesday. “In 2019 I shared my story with Time magazine, that I had transitioned. And since then, I’ve been getting a lot of DMs and e-mails from trans kids who like me when I was a kid had dreams of becoming an actor,” Cohen said.

“So I went to Nickelodeon and said I really want to help make it possible for these kids to realize their dreams. So together we are partnering to create the Michael D. Cohen Trans Youth Acting Challenge.” 

The challenge invites parents of transgender or nonbinary youth living in the United States or Canada to help them put together an audition tape. Everyone who submits an audition tape will be invited to participate in a webinar featuring Cohen and the Nickelodeon casting team. Additionally, 12 of the participants will be invited to take part in a “Zoom acting master class” with Cohen.

“I’m so excited to see these auditions. This is a dream come true for me too,” Cohen remarked.

Speaking to Time Magazine in 2019, Cohen acknowledged publicly that he was born female and transgendered to male nearly 20 years earlier: “I was misgendered at birth. I identify as male, and I am proud that I have had a transgender experience – a transgender journey.”

“In my experience, I was born male. What my body said about it was irrelevant. No matter how hard I tried, it was not up for negotiation. Believe me, it would have been so convenient if I was actually a woman.”

According to Cohen, “My chromosomes do not dictate my gender. I’m a man. It’s not that hard.”

Cohen pushed back on the idea that the inclusion of LGBT storylines in children’s programming is about “pushing an agenda on kids.” Instead, Cohen argued, “what it does is send a message to kids that whoever they are, however they identify, that’s celebrated, and that’s OK.”

“I think I loved acting so much that I didn’t want to do it as a woman,” Cohen said. Cohen, born in Canada, played female roles until 2000.

In recent years, Nickelodeon, like many other television networks, has worked to incorporate LGBT characters into its programs. In 2016, an episode of the cartoon series “The Loud House” featured a same-sex couple. The children’s network previously faced criticism more than a decade earlier after one of its most notable cartoon characters, SpongeBob Squarepants, was featured in a music video where popular animated characters sang the 1979 Sister Sledge song “We are Family.”

Officials from socially conservative organizations Focus on the Family and the American Family Association noted that the We Are Family Foundation, which assembled the video as part of a purported effort to “foster greater understanding of cultural differences,” had expressed a desire to redefine the concept of “family” to include homosexual couples raising children. At the time, the idea of same-sex marriage was unpopular in the U.S. and many states had voted in favor of constitutional amendments that would ban such unions.

The announcement of the Trans Youth Acting Challenge came the same week that actress Ellen Page, who had previously come out as a lesbian, declared that she was “trans,” preferred the pronouns “he/they” and wanted to be called Elliot. Three weeks before the launch of the Trans Youth Acting Challenge, HBO Max released a documentary called “Transhood,” which raised concerns that many parents are influencing their children to become transgender.

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