Eighteen months after revealing publicly that he transitioned about two decades before, Nickelodeon star Michael D. Cohen launched the Trans Youth Acting Challenge in December to help trans and nonbinary youth break into the business. He received 200 applications for 15 spots in a virtual master class he teaches.
And now, for the first time, Cohen reveals that one participant, 13-year-old trans actor Sasha A. Cohen (no relation) has been cast on his series “Danger Force” along with his twin sister Natalie R Cohen. The teens will appear on the June 19 episode, which Cohen also directed and co-wrote.
“I want Sasha to see his own power as an actor and as a human,” Cohen tells Variety. “I want him to feel proud of his work and feel real confident in himself in every aspect and to know that he will help change kids’ lives by being the first kid of trans experience on Nickelodeon in live action.”
Sasha tells Variety: “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.”
Nickelodeon’s executive vice president of programming and content strategy Paul DeBenedittis praised Sasha’s casting. “It has long been Nickelodeon’s mission to be a home for all kids, and to authentically represent them in their full diversity,” he says. “This episode of Danger Force ultimately tells a relatable story of friendship, openness and trust, through the lens of sitcom. We’re incredibly proud of it and of everyone involved.”
Cohen’s initiative has blossomed into a private Facebook page for parents and kids. Casting directors are also turning to him for leads. “I was talking to a casting director the other day who is looking for a trans kid for a commercial for a major director,” Cohen says. “We always ask the parents first, but we were able to give him a list of 75 young actors.”
Next up is a similar program for trans television writers. “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,” he says. “I have been in conversations with a number of places, including The Writers Guild Foundation, and they are excited to be involved in the initiative.”