Entertainment News | Trans
In honor of #TransgenderAwarenessWeek, Gaye Magazine recognizes actress, singer and writer Sandra Caldwell. You may remember her role as the fast-talking disco-loving diva Drinka Champagne in the 2003 Disney Channel original movie "The Cheetah Girls". After over 30 years within the entertainment industry, Caldwell decided to publicly disclose that she was assigned male at birth.
The catalyst for Caldwell’s coming out was due to her chance at landing a role in Philip Dawkins’s off-Broadway play "Charm" which called for a transgender actress to play the role. Caldwell was born in Washington, D.C., and was raised in the city's predominantly black Historic Anacostia district.
Caldwell told Shon Faye of the Call Me Mother podcast she had a supportive upbringing and a close-knit family who supported her.
At age 12 Caldwell moved in with an Aunt, who was a seamstress.
“She made clothes for herself and when she’d go out put her clothes on. I never thought about gender, I was having fun.”
Over the years Caldwell would find a community in the local drag scene, with many of them taking her under their wing. After experimenting with her style she became more infatuated with women’s clothing.
“You dress up a little bit more and more and that's how it developed.”
At 17 Caldwell migrated to France with a friend, eventually landing a gig at the world-renowned Paris cabaret club “Moulin Rouge.
“Every time I talk about my life it sounds a little far-fetched. But this was during a time in Europe when black faces were in Vogue” she said.
Caldwell continued to book gigs as a showgirl at places such as Casino de Paris and The Pussycat. Caldwell, more than away from home, was enarmed with all the city had to offer. “It looked like Oz to me at that age, all the feathers and beads and the music and people, back then everyone dressed up,'' she said.
Despite her continued success in Paris, Caldwell decided to return to the U.S where she decided to officially transition into a woman. “My Mother, god bless her, she was right by me,” Caldwell said.
“She went with me through all the stages.”
Following her transition, she would relocate to New York City, with dreams of performing. After landing a background spot in a film Caldwell realized she could pass, without anyone picking up on her trans identity. For Caldwell, being able to pass as a cisgender woman meant more than landing female roles but for safety. “It wasn't much of a choice, but a necessity,” she said.
After several meetings with agents, Caldwell began to be recognized and was turned down by agencies due to being transgender. With no luck stateside Caldwell traveled north to Canada settling in Toronto and has since logged over 50 roles in television and film including Maya Angelous’s directorial debut “Down in the Delta '' and “Shall We Dance” alongside Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere.
Caldwell decided to come out publicly as a transgender woman in 2017 and has since continued to advocate for the transgender community.
“I’m still learning, I’m learning that I have to embrace this 100 percent. I don't want to say I have discovered who I am because that is too cliche,” Caldwell said.
“But I have discovered a self-worth that is way beyond where I thought I could be.”