Queer representation in media is seriously lacking, and when we do appear in movies and television, we have a mysterious case of the “expendable queer character” syndrome.
There’s a nagging sense that explicitly written queer characters can never settle down and be happy, and this comes from lesbian characters dying, trans characters being portrayed as deranged or dangerous, the invisibility of asexual characters—I could go on and on.
When we do get TV shows that center our narratives like “The L-Word,” the only representation we see is a cast that is basically all white, and most of the actors fit the male gaze of attractiveness: thin and femme.
While the reboot of the “The L-Word” tries to push for diversity in the new generation of queer women who take center stage, the one trans character, Leo, feels like a diversity trope when his story isn’t as well woven into the rest of the plot. The sex scenes are gratuitous and make the viewer wonder if polyamory is also satisfying some sort of weird obsession that mainstream culture has with lesbian sex.
That’s not to mention the countless times where we see cis-gender and heterosexual actors playing trans and queer characters. Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl”, Rami Malek in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Cate Blanchett in “Carol” are only a few examples in the plethora of instances shown in movies and TV shows.
But even if we were to have Black, Indigenous and people of color fairly represented alongside true representation of LGBTQ people in the actors that played these roles, the directorial roles play an integral part too. The flop of the recent live-action “Mulan” film was a clear indication of that.
The movies that truly move me are the ones that capture the complexity and the normalcy of seeing LGBTQ and BIPOC characters moving in daily life. These movies often are led by individuals who take control of the directorial and screenwriting roles and present us with stories that are unapologetically queer interwoven with honest representations of culture.
One of my favorite movies is directed and written by Alice Wu. “Saving Face” was a huge hit even though she had chosen to ignore the advice of film industry professionals to make the love interest a white woman and to pare down the lines spoken in Mandarin. Wu chose to stay true to her story as a lesbian Taiwanese American and the authenticity of her narrative shone through.
“Pose,” a popular TV show that focuses on the ballroom culture of the ‘70s and ‘80s, is breaking ground in representation of transgender and gay men who often lived in the margins during that time period.
For the first time, we are starting to see stories on our screens that have never been shared before.
In Hollywood, it isn’t easy to break through, as ideal as it sounds. Most people get their start as a staff writer or assistant on set through the network and connections they have.
When hiring, those in the industry tend to prioritize individuals within their familiar networks, resulting in the media perpetuating white and cisgender narratives.
There is hope that we are going to see changes in the industry, though. The Oscars have been consistently seeing a lack of change in the diversity of stories being nominated for awards and have set new standards for the inclusion of underrepresented and marginalized voices.
It is a step in the right direction for the film and TV industry.
There are those who say that asking for more representation is furthering a “gay agenda,” but in reality, BIPOC and queer folks are not asking for more than just their fair share of airtime.
GLAAD has been tracking numbers for diversity in media and found that in 2018, 18% of the major films it studied had LGBTQ representation and, in 2019, of the 879 primetime TV show characters studied, 10% openly identified as LGBTQ.
Conducted in 2018, a study by Ipsos MORI found that in the UK, only 66% of Generation Z identified themselves as strictly heterosexual.
The perspectives and diversity of Western youth are not nearly matched by the representation they deserve in Western media.
I’m hopeful though, as we are seeing the numbers of BIPOC and LGBTQ grow in the media, people will begin to see themselves represented by the stories and the characters that are shared on screen.