Nickelodeon to feature first trans-identified teen on kids' show after 'Trans Youth Acting Challenge'

Nickelodeon Studios, Olive & Victory, Burbank Olive & Victory in Burbank, California, on March 1, 2018.
Nickelodeon Studios, Olive & Victory, Burbank Olive & Victory in Burbank, California, on March 1, 2018. | Wikimedia Commons/Cbl62/Public Domain

Six months after launching a “Trans Youth Acting Challenge,” the children’s programming network Nickelodeon is set to feature a trans-identified teenager as a guest star on one of its live-action television shows.

In an exclusive interview with Variety, trans-identified actor Michael D. Cohen announced that 13-year-old Sasha Cohen (no relation) has been cast on an upcoming episode of the TV series “Danger Force,” which will air on June 19. Sasha Cohen’s appearance on “Danger Force” comes six months after Michael D. Cohen first launched the Trans Youth Acting Challenge.

Michael D. Cohen, who stars as the character Schwoz on “Danger Force,” announced the Trans Youth Acting Challenge in December. The initiative invited trans-identified and nonbinary-identified youth living in the United States and Canada to submit an audition tape to Nickelodeon and allowed those who submitted a tape to participate in a webinar featuring Cohen and the network’s casting team. Twelve of the participants in the webinar were invited to take part in a “Zoom master acting class” with Cohen.

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Speaking to Variety, Michael D. Cohen praised Sasha Cohen (a girl who identifies as a boy), who was one of the participants in the Trans Youth Acting Challenge: “I want Sasha to see his (sic) own power as an actor and as a human. I want him (sic) to feel proud of his (sic) work and feel real confident in himself (sic) in every aspect and to know that he (sic) will help change kids’ lives by being the first kid of trans experience on Nickelodeon in live action.”

“I had never felt comfortable about who I am, and I always thought that I would never play a transgender role. 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 Cohen said.

Paul DeBenedittis, Nickelodeon’s executive vice president of programming and content strategy, described Sasha’s casting as consistent with “Nickelodeon’s mission to be a home for all kids, and to authentically represent them in their full diversity.” DeBenedittis expressed his gratitude to everyone involved in the June 19 episode, which he described as “a relatable story of friendship, openness, and trust.” 

The entertainment magazine reported that “[Michael D.] Cohen’s initiative has blossomed into a private Facebook page for parents and kids,” adding, “Casting directors are also turning to him for leads.” Cohen recalled how when there was a casting director “looking for a trans kid for a commercial for a major director,” “we were able to give him a list of 75 young actors.”

In addition to working to increase the number of trans-identified actors through the Trans Youth Acting Challenge, Cohen is launching an initiative to recruit more transgender writers to work in the industry. According to Cohen, “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 Trans Youth Acting Challenge and the casting of a trans-identified actor to play a trans-identified character on a live-action TV show are the latest examples of Nickelodeon’s outspoken LGBT activism. Over the past week, the network’s Twitter account has featured multiple overtures to the LGBT community in recognition of what they call "Pride Month." 

On Monday, the Nickelodeon Twitter account declared that the network was “proud to celebrate #Pride month with the LGBTQ+ community and their allies.” The 30-second video accompanying the tweet included historic pictures of LGBT marches in the U.S. and around the world, as well as a picture of the White House emblazoned with the rainbow colors. 

On June 1, Nickelodeon posted a video on its Twitter account documenting the creation of pancake art depicting the Nickelodeon logo bathed in rainbow colors. As The Christian Post has previously reported, Nickelodeon’s LGBT activism has extended into its children’s programming on multiple occasions.

Earlier this year, an episode of the reboot of the children’s educational series “Blue’s Clues” featured a song introducing children to the letters of the alphabet. The anthropomorphic dog and namesake of the popular show sang “P is full of pride” as a rainbow-colored letter “P” appeared on screen surrounded by the "pride" flags of the various groups within the LGBT community. 

Ahead of the relaunch of the children’s cartoon “Rugrats,” the actress playing the character Betty told The A.V. Club, another entertainment website, that her character would be portrayed as a lesbian single mother in the reboot of the series centering on the everyday lives of a group of toddlers. Nickelodeon first introduced LGBT characters into its programming in 2016, when a same-sex couple was featured on the cartoon series “The Loud House.” 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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