When Euphoria first premiered last June, it instantly became the talk of the town. Writer-director Sam Levinson brought the trials and tribulations of an oft-overlooked generation to the mainstream and validated their emotions and experiences without hesitation; in doing so, he broke barriers for television and started conversations that modern American audiences hadn’t even yet considered. From themes surrounding debilitating drug addictions to cycles of sexual violence to burgeoning queer identities, there was no topic too tricky for Euphoria to tackle. However, above all else, the show’s revolutionary representation of transgender teen Jules Vaughn (played to perfection by newcomer Hunter Schafer) left the largest impression, and Schafer’s passionate portrayal should earn her a presence amongst the nominees for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series at this year’s Emmy Awards.
From her first scene, Schafer’s Jules is a blinding beam of beauty and brilliance, radiating jovial joy and jubilation as she gracefully guides her bike down the side of a road without a worry in the world. She’s almost angel-like (and this subtext is outright solidified with her angelic attire at the Halloween party in Episode 6), oblivious to the enmity that awaits her in this new environment and luxuriating in her last seconds of stillness and serenity. Just as Zendaya’s Rue is hypnotized by her holiness, so too are we; from the liveliness that Levinson lovingly lingers on to the earnestness that Schafer effortlessly exudes, Jules simply shines through the screen and secures her status of the soul of the series.
And yet, for all her enigmatic elegance, Jules is no mere “manic pixie dream girl” to be fantasized about or fawned over. Levinson’s complex characterization provides Schafer with a solid structure to stand on, but she takes Jules to provocative and thought-provoking places all on her own through her perceptive performance – most notably, by inventing an individual who refuses to let anyone else write her destiny. For years, transgender characters in entertainment have existed to be sexualized or brutalized for the sake of shock value, but Schafer never allows Jules to become a simple-minded sex object or a stereotypical sob story.
This is most apparent in Euphoria’s first episode, when Jules is contentiously confronted by a combative male classmate at a party (who forces himself into her face and tells her that “nobody who looks like [her] is minding their own business”). To defend herself, she suddenly snatches a steak knife before barking at the boy to “back the f**k up,” paralyzing all the partygoers with panic with this abrupt act. Jules crowds her abrasive aggressor into a corner, raises her arm, and slices her skin ever-so-slightly with the knife (oblivious to the blood dripping off her body), while illustrating her invincibility to any and all evils she may encounter. When the boy is scared out of his mind – suitably so – she sets the knife down, switches tones on a dime, and states, “By the way, I’m Jules! I just moved here!” before strutting off as if nothing happened.
Aside from FX’s Pose, and its transgender protagonists, there are no titles on television at the moment that take on transgender representation in such a fierce and fearless fashion, and Euphoria’s Jules wouldn’t be half the woman she is were it not for Schafer’s spunk and spirit. Schafer shapes Jules into an unabashedly self-assured and shameless trans teen who counters all clichés and hurtles herself through her peers’ presumptions like a hurricane. She doesn’t ask to be accepted; she demands it. For trans audiences who have become accustomed to dreary (and deathly) depictions of trans characters in the past, Jules is a welcome surprise who shows that life as a trans woman doesn’t have to be scary or somber. Schafer’s effervescent energy and enthusiasm offers opulent optimism to those both in and out of the closet for their own futures, and that feat cannot be forgotten. Jules is an incredible role through and through, but she has inspired so many of the show’s supporters solely because of Hunter Schafer’s affecting and ardent acting abilities, and she should receive the appropriate accolades for her accomplishments.
All eight episodes of Euphoria are currently streaming on HBO Max.
Zach is a part-time film critic and a full-time film fan based out of Omaha, Nebraska. When they aren’t focused on trying to fervently finish their collegiate studies in English and communications, you can find them either writing for Loud and Clear Reviews or mourning Margot Robbie’s Best Actress loss on Twitter at @zachbgilbert.