As if Rocky Horror Picture Show fans were not already doing a mind flip over the news that Fox is planning to remake the cult classic musical for television, the announcement that trans icon Laverne Cox will star as "sweet transvestite" Dr. Frank-N-Furter was enough to really drive them insane. Reaction has ranged from stunned to horrified to thrilled.
A Fox press release calls the new production a "re-imagining" of the 1975 stage production and film that for 40 years has become a staple of Saturday night theaters and a popular, while still avant garde, example of audience participation.
The two-hour "event," as Fox is billing it, is set to air this fall, following in the high-heeled footsteps of a BBC production.
Other members of the cast have not been announced.
Although Cox was not available to comment, she posted on Instagram, "I am so excited that the news is out. I am so honored to be a part of the Rocky Horror legacy."
Casting a transgender woman in the a role of a man who dresses in women's clothes for a sexual thrill may be problematic for Rocky Horror purists as well as some trans activists. But it also could be seen as a response to criticism leveled against the Hollywood industry for what's been dubbed "transface" -- a term that, as The Advocate has reported, conjures the culturally taboo practice of "blackface" -- in which a cisgender actor will "take" a role from a transgender actor. In the case of Rocky Horror, however, Cox will be playing the part typically performed by a male, who is seen wearing a surgical gown, a corset, garterbelts and fishnet stockings.
In a phone conversation with The Advocate on Thursday, Cox's agent brushed aside the question that the transgender actress would play the part of a cross-dressing man. Agent Paul Hilepo of the Hartig Hilepo Agency Ltd. in New York told The Advocate, "it's a role, and she, like every other actor, plays a role. There's nothing more to it."
Here's a sample of reaction from social media and online comments to mainstream media reporting.
Comments on Logo's report on the casting included these observations:
Phillip: "Absolutely horrible. Have these people even seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show or have they just seen one or two numbers? Frank-N-Furter is a sweet transvestite from the transsexual planet Transylvania."
Mike: "A female Frank-N-Furter ruins the entire premise of the movie."
Lee: "You mean the premise of "Don't dream it, be it" or the premise that sexuality and gender are fluid and that to middle america (Brad and Janet) being something other than a straight american is alien (Aka Frank, Magenta, Riff)... unless there's another premise in this movie I'm unaware of."
Read transgender writer Rebecca Juro's take here.