Laverne Cox has dropped out of a documentary about sex workers following public backlash to the project.
Director Sarah Jones announced on Jan. 5 she would be working with executive producers Meryl Streep, Rashida Jones and Cox on the film adaptation of her off-Broadway show, Sell/Buy/Date. In 2016, Jones played multiple characters inspired by real people during her one-woman show about the sex industry.
However, several social media users criticized Jones, a Tony Award winner, for potentially contributing to the stigma around sex work.
One person wrote, "Just what the world needs. Another movie where non SWers debate whether sex work is exploitative or empowering." The Twitter user then tagged Cox and said, "this project is everything you're supposedly against. Stop trying to tell sw stories by ignoring and doxxing them."
Another wrote, "As a sex worker-- I get being misrepresented. I mean-- people in Hollywood are still doing SWer documentaries without talking to actual sexworkers."
The Orange is the New Black alum responded directly, revealing that she is pulling out of the project. She said when she agreed to come on as an executive producer of Sell/Buy/Date, "I did so because I was so deeply moved by Sarah Jones' brilliant play and her unbelievable, undeniable talent as an artist, as an actor. I signed on to support her incredible talent," Cox wrote.
The 48-year-old actress explained, "I have so much love for her as a human being. But I am not in an emotional place to deal with the outrage by some around my participation in this project. So I have decided to pull out."
She clarified she's "no longer involved in any capacity" because "I have to take care of my mental, physical and emotional health."
Cox, who produced the doc Disclosure in 2020, replied to more critics by posting an old video in which she discusses the need to decriminalize sex work. She said it "has to" be brought up when talking about the experiences of trans women of color.
Throughout her career, the star has supported numerous organizations that benefit artists, women and LGBTQ+ people, including the New York City Anti-Violence Project and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
Jones later responded to Cox and wished her well, making it known there are no hard feelings. The creative wrote on Twitter on Jan. 6, "I'm so grateful to you Laverne for coming on the journey with me thus far, and I'm looking forward to continuing my work on the film." Her only ask is that fans "give Laverne her space" and keep "an open mind about the project before judging it."
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the documentary will focus on "inequality (criminal justice, race, sexism, poverty) through the lens of the debate around the sex industry. The documentary asks the question, 'Is sex work exploitative or empowering?'"
The outlet cites a press release reading, "The sex industry is hiding everywhere in plain sight during the pandemic, and impacting Black and brown women in particular. That said, many people support sex work, and some even argue those in the commercial sex space are essential workers."
Cox has tried to be sensitive and accurate in her on-screen portrayals, especially those involving the sex industry. The Emmy nominee told The Guardian in 2015, "I've played sex workers seven different times on television and in films. People who do sex work are human beings and deserve to have their stories told in humanising ways."
She explained that she has talked to several advocates for sex workers, noting, "for me it's about acknowledging that it is work."
It's unclear if other producers will drop out, too. Streep has previously backed Jones' Broadway solo show Bridge & Tunnel.
Jones, who has taken on the role of UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, described her Foment Productions banner as a "social justice-focused entertainment company" on her website.
After this week's outrage, she posted a statement on Twitter to defend Sell/Buy/Date and explain her point of view. She wrote, "As a Black feminist artist, I have always centered the stories of traditionally marginalized people, especially women and femmes struggling for liberation and self-determination. My sisters in the sex industry are no exception."
Jones continued, "I am committed to deep listening to folks with lived experience, not only in my interviews but also in those we hire behind the scenes."