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TELEVISION Marvel's first openly trans actor on Pride, BLM and Hollywood
by Emily Reilly
2020-06-24

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Zach Barack made cinematic history as Marvel's first openly trans actor in the 2019 film Spider-Man: Far from Home. He talked with Windy City Times about his experiences in Hollywood, his stand-up comedy, current social issues and Pride Month.

Windy City Times: You've said before that you were 17 the first time you saw a transgender person on TV, and it was really meaningful moment. How does it feel to be that same representation for young LGBTQ fans watching you in Spider-Man: Far From Home?

Zach Barack: It was really meaningful. It's kind of weird because I think everything is happening on a different scale now. There's a movie about to come out on Netflix about trans representation and it was bizarre to see how many people could interview for it. I think when I was in highschool I could count on two fingers how many trans actors' names I knew. It's still reasonably small but I think being part of that has been monumental in my life and I hope it is meaningful for other people.

WCT: As a trans man who has worked in Hollywood and has experience in the industry, do you believe that Hollywood is becoming a more welcoming place for the LGBTQ community?

ZB: Yeah, there's this movement and I think it felt like a really slow process as a young person, watching the roles happen, because they started out more or less the same. It's a lot of tragedy. And it sometimes still is. I get that they're trying to reflect some truth there but the oversaturation of it can be traumatizing. We need to start being humanized in the media. It feels like we've been working out the kinks with the people in power but I really do want to see folks being represented.

WCT: It's Pride Month, but also a pivotal time for civil rights. Many people in the LGBTQ community are elevating Black voices in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. What are your thoughts on the current BLM movement and how many are keeping its momentum going with Pride?

ZB: I think the really beautiful thing about being queer is that you can have an intersectional identity. Because of that, we have a responsibility to lift up Black voices right now. There are Black queer people a part of our community; it's our responsibility. The gay rights movement was started by Black and Brown trans people and queer people on the front lines.

Across the nation, a lot has changed for the gay community, and for what it's worth I've had it pretty damn easy in terms of the way the world has been; to be privileged enough to be born in this time, I see it as a responsibility to be an advocate. Someone once said the best way to be an ally is to not always be speaking into the microphone, but to build the stage, put the microphone on it and let the person who most needs to speak, speak. That's what we need to be doing as non-Black queer people right now: building stages for Black queer people. Just this month, we've lost three trans women of color, [and] it's the same month we've had our healthcare protections repealed and the same month that a popular children's author [Harry Potter's J.K. Rowling] spoke against the movement.

WCT: What are some social issues you consider yourself an activist in?

ZB: The intersection of queerness is so broad, it hits a lot of points in my identity. Another thing I'm passionate about is my mental health journey in high school; I struggled a lot. I ended up transferring high schools and doing one of those quirky wilderness therapy programs for delinquents. I had an interesting journey; the layers to being a person who's queer, and unpacking that in therapy for years of your life is a privilege. I think every queer person should have access to therapy. Trauma and being queer in a lot of ways can often go hand-in-hand.

WCT: Regarding other forms of entertainment, I know you also do stand-up comedy. What drew you into the comedy scene?

ZB: I was in college and I started as a music industry major, but I just really liked performing. I saw there was a stand-up class at USC. As soon as I got on stage, I thought it was fun because there's nothing more humiliating after something doesn't work. After that, nothing is scary. I think it's really fun to watch other people then to get up and do it. The other thing that really drew me in was how creative people can be with what they say. It's also a really good way to be educational as a trans man, and I see it opens the closed doors when you approach it with comedy.

WCT: Some people feel that, when it comes to comedy, nothing is off-limits. What's your stance on that?

ZB: As comedians, we have opportunities to create what kinds of audience we want. I see a lot of cultural cues that I've taken as a Jewish person, like self-deprecation to work through pain. But, when I see people punching down at the expense of others, it doesn't feel healing to me. A group is now excluded from enjoying this—why would you want that as an entertainer? It's more about knowing in your gut who you're making laugh when you tell a joke and what they're laughing at.

WCT: Are there any upcoming movie roles or stand-up venues you hope to pursue once the pandemic calms down?

ZB: I hope to get back into it in LA. More immediately, I'm doing a podcast that's coming out in the fall called The College Kids; it'll be coming out on Luminet. It's a really cool podcast about atypicals, with a twist. It's been loads of fun to work on and there's another trans person involved, which is really rad. I have an animated project I can't talk about yet but I will be keeping people updated on my Instagram.

WCT: Finally, do you have any words of advice for young transgender people trying to get their foot in the door in the film industry?

ZB: Do something that makes you really uncomfortable because it makes you more willing to take risks. I love stand-up but it scared the crap out of me when I first started. Push yourself as much as possible and consistently as possible. It sharpens your skills and creates new ones. I'm not a good dancer, but that's my next step and I'm working on new things.


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