Transgender Actress Mya Taylor Makes History With Independent Film Spirit Award Win

Photo: Getty Images

Mya Taylor made history on Saturday, becoming the first transgender performer to win a Film Independent Spirit Award.

Taylor took home Best Support Actress for her breakout role in Tangerine. It’s the first major acting award for any openly transgender performer. Previously, Laverne Cox was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for her role on Orange Is the New Black in 2014 and Harmony Santana was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2011.

While accepting the award, Taylor expressed her gratitude for how much her life has changed over the past year. "I had come from almost nothing," she said, "and then got this role in this movie and my life has just did a total 360."

Photo: Magnolia Pictures

In October, she explained to ETonline that she didn't anticipate the attention surrounding Tangerine. The film has earned accolades from critics and a Gotham Independent Film Award for her performance since it premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

“I had no idea that this movie would get to where it is now,” Taylor said. “I had no idea I'd be sitting here with diamond watch on my arm and a fur coat.”

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“I knew that I was telling the truth about this area and how it really was,” she said of the film, which tells the story of two transgender sex worker -- played by Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, who was also nominated for an Independent Spirit Award -- who discovers her boyfriend cheated on her while she was in jail. Taylor plays her level-headed best friend, who has a secret of her own. Some of the film's story was based on Taylor’s own experiences as a sex worker prior to acting.

Tangerine’s recognition also prompted Mark and Jay Duplass -- producers on the film -- to launch an Oscar campaign for both actresses.

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“We felt very bullish and confident that these girls did such an amazing job in the film and hit a new level in terms of honest portrayal,” Jay Duplass told ETonline, noting that the Academy was behind in recognizing transgender performers. The campaign even involved Caitlyn Jenner, who hosted a screening with the producer and Taylor.

While Taylor admitted that she had no idea about their plan, she does remember a conversation she had with Mark Duplass at Sundance, following the film's premiere.

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“He told me: 'We are going to turn you into a star.' And he's doing just that,” Taylor said. “Whatever that man says, he's going to do it.”

The actress is set to follow Tangerine with an on-screen portrayal of transgender rights pioneer, Marsha P. Johnson, in the short film, Happy Birthday, Marsha!

Taylor closed her speech with a call to filmmakers. "There is transgender talent. There's very beautiful transgender talent. You better get out there and put it in your next movie."