LGBT representation on TV…what showrunners can learn from Sense8’s J. Michael Straczynski and The Wachowski siblings

Having just finished Sense8 the first thing that came to my mind was YIPEE!!!! None of the queer characters died and they weren’t defined solely by either their sexual orientation or gender identity.

What JMS and the Wachowski siblings have done with this series is astounding in its scope, scale and message about humanity. Right from the beginning of episode one we are introduced to Nomi, a trans woman, and her girlfriend Amanita (who live in San Francisco). Not only are they a queer couple, Nomi is white and Amanita is Black and this is never commented on throughout the series.

Nomi does experience transphobia at the hand of her mother who insists on calling her by her birth name Michael and later to a lesser degree from an old friend Bug (who hasn’t seen her since she transitioned) who after being told that her name is Nomi still makes sexist jokes directed at her but makes up for it by giving Nomi and Amanita the tech gear they need. Bug shows another level of growth when he comes to their apartment in a later episode and slips and calls her Michael but corrects himself and calls her Nomi twice just to make sure that Nomi and Amanita know that he is accepting of Nomi’s gender identity.

Just over two thousand miles south of Nomi and Amanita we find Lito, a closeted gay telenova actor, and his boyfriend Hernando living in Mexico City. Now people may quibble that having a closeted gay man on a show is retrograde but we also need to remember that there are many closeted gay actors (more men than women) in Hollywood and elsewhere so this story is still relevant. Their story includes Daniela who is Lito’s beard but she isn’t a stereotype either. There is never any jealousy coming from Hernando and the three of them form an unlikely trio. What I love about their story is that by the end of the season Lito has decided that he doesn’t care what people think and will live his life openly.

The fact that all of these characters aren’t just defined by their orientation or identity is also a great development for LGBT representation. Too often LGBT characters are marginalized, used to service their straight counterparts and/or killed off. We’ve seen this happen time and time again on many shows both here in the United States and on TV shows from other countries. As far as killing off LGBT characters, just in the past five years we’ve seen this happen to lesbian and bi-women characters on Chicago Fire, Last Tango in Halifax, Los hombres de Paco from Spain, Sons of Anarchy, True Blood, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, Boardwalk Empire, Lost Girl, Lip Service, American Horror Story: Asylum, Pretty Little Liars (which killed off two lesbians of color), Skins: Fire, Orange is the New Black, Tierra de Lobos from Spain, The Walking Dead, Under the Dome, The Killing (US), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Matador and Arrow. I haven’t been able to find a list of gay or bi-men or trans characters killed off of TV shows but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. Also, this list doesn’t even count all the LGBT characters killed off of TV shows prior to 2010. With acceptance of LGBT people rising in all western countries this trope is unnecessary and so retro. This is why I appreciate the fact that JMS and the Wachowski’s didn’t fall into that trap with Sense8.

Every main character on Sense8 are fully fleshed out human beings with both personal and professional lives including both the LGBT characters and their straight counterparts. I especially liked the way that the show depicted not only Nomi and Lito but also Sun (the South Korean businesswoman who is also a star in the underground kickboxing world from Seoul), Kala (the Indian pharmacist who is also a devout Hindu from Mumbai) and Capheus (the Kenyan van driver who also has a strong sense of justice from Nairobi). I did like Wolfgang’s (the German locksmith and safe-cracker from Berlin) arc but it didn’t move me the way that the characters mentioned above did. I also wasn’t as drawn to Will (the white cop from Chicago) and Riley’s (the white DJ from Reykjavik, Iceland by way of London) stories until about half-way through the season. I also was disappointed that Will was the one who saved Riley. I wish that one of those characters would’ve been a person of color but I guess you can’t have everything you want when watching a TV show.

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Revisiting The L Word- Ten Years Later and I’m Still Irritated (But I Love it Anyway)

For whatever reason that I can’t conceptualize, I started watching The L Word again and the same things still irritate me years later especially Tina’s lack of a back story. I hate that Ilene fucking Chaiken made her a cypher to Bette for six years. While most everyone else (that was in the opening credits in the first three seasons) got a back story the only thing we know about Tina is Bette was her first relationship with a woman, she had two abortions and she grew up in the suburbs. I don’t count what was revealed about Tina in the interrogation tapes that were released online following the sixth season because we never met anyone from her past like we did with Alice, Dana, Shane, Jenny, Carmen, Helena, Kit, Marina, Tasha and Max.

Other stories that got on my nerves…

Dana’s cancer although Erin Daniels knocked it out of the park. Really Ilene she was the heart of the show!!!

Jenny’s hideous tights, numerous mental breaks, constant self-absorption and that damn manatee sub-plot. I hated going through her writing process and I’m a writer so WTF?

Bette and Tina’s toxic relationship. Why did they have to cheat on each other??? It’s a wonder that they ultimately ended up with each other.

Mark videotaping everyone in Jenny and Shane’s house (so creepy).

The Lez Girls movie plot.

Dawn Denbo and her lover Cindy and that awful She Bar because no one messes with The Planet.

Kit Porter being relegated to one-liners and her cluelessness about technology.

The entire sixth season (ENOUGH SAID)

Betty and that damn song (once you hear it the song stays in your head for weeks and not in a good way)

Having said all that, The L Word (along with the Otalia story line on Guiding Light) helped me realize that I am a lesbian (I still can’t believe I didn’t see the signs before my 30’s) so I will forever be grateful to Ilene fucking Chaiken and Crystal Chappell/Jessica Leccia aka Otalia for awaking my sexuality. Also, Ilene should be applauded for giving queer women a platform for our stories, however messed up they are.

What I did love was her subtle and overt railings against the Bush administration’s anti-LGBT stand and censorship in the media with Bette’s art gallery story arc. The show tackled a lot of issues that many LGBT people still face today like lack of family acceptance with Dana and Carmen’s stories, subtle discrimination in the workplace, marriage equality since the couples on the show couldn’t legally marry, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell with the Tasha story (which thankfully got repealed though without trans protections), transphobia with the Max story and lack of acceptance for bisexuals among the gay and lesbian community.

Stuff I really liked:

Lara’s sexuality caper with the ladies trying to find out whether Lara is a lesbian so Dana could ask her out on a date

The Dinah trip

The Olivia Cruise trip

Alice’s chart and her ridiculous radio show because it is true that lesbians are incestuous with each other. I’ve seen it among the lesbians in Chicago and we see it all the time among celesbians.

The love they all had for each other no matter how many times they disappointed each other.

Helena’s transformation from an imperious woman who used money to manipulate people into a caring, warm person. Her time in jail and being cut off financially by her mom Peggy only made me love her more.

Alice and Shane’s unwavering friendship.

The fact that every actress actually kept their fingernails short because no lesbian or bisexual woman has long nails. I really appreciated that touch of authenticity even though the show was criticized for casting so many femme actresses.

The overall message that our stories are important.

Watching the show now, with all of the positive changes that we’ve seen since the show ended, was a reminder of how far we’ve come as well as how far we have to go to achieve full equality. Shows like Orange is the New Black, Orphan Black, The Fosters, Pretty Little Liars, Faking It or Modern Family or any number of other queer inclusive shows wouldn’t be on the air without The L Word and for that matter Queer as Folk but there is still a resistance to our community among many Americans. By showcasing our stories Ilene and the other amazing showrunners of queer inclusive shows should be applauded. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for creating these amazing flawed characters that we can cheer on and yell at when they make stupid mistakes.

Long live LGBT representation in the media!!!

Oh and if you haven’t read these recaps done by the talented scribegrrrl already go to this archive link and have fun. http://www.afterellen.com/tag/the_l_word_recaps/.

 

 

 

Oscars 2014- when Hollywood finally found diversity (just a little)

It’s been 86 years since Hollywood first gave out awards to honor their own and until last night there hasn’t been near enough diversity among nominees and winners. Hollywood still has a lot of work to do not only in movies but also in television, however, last night was a good start. See this article for more information http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/03/oscars-diversity_n_4889293.html?utm_hp_ref=entertainment. (Full disclosure I am a white lesbian so I to these issues from two marginalized groups while also being a part of a majority group)
I blame the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the lack of diversity since 94 percent of the members are white while 6 percent are members of other racial groups and 77 percent of members are male while only 23 percent are female. Also, they are overwhelmingly older which translates into a lack of understanding of the multicultural world that we live in today. As for television the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences that votes for the Emmy’s has the same problem. If membership in these two organizations keeps skewing white and male and execs at movie studios and television networks keep putting media out that doesn’t represent the world around us they will lose out to the web. Look at how the Veronica Mars movie got made. Producers, writers and directors are increasingly bringing content directly to the web so their stories can get told without studio and network influence. The ability to get financing via Kickstarter and other means has also freed up creators in ways that society is only beginning to grasp.
Last night the Academy showcased a group of young filmmakers (3 women and 3 men) from colleges around the country and what struck me was their diversity. This is what the country looks like and what the Academy needs to work towards. See this article for more about them http://www.arabnews.com/news/532306. I hope the new Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African-American president, stays strong and commits to diversity among the membership of the Academy.
Also, a study was recently done that showed among the Oscar nominated films male leads averaged 85 minutes of screen time, while female leads averaged only 57 minutes. One only has to look at television credits to see how many males are on shows VS females. One network that reverses these numbers is ABC Family with their female fronted shows Switched at Birth, The Fosters and Pretty Little Liars.
While I take issue with a Woody Allen movie being recognized by the Academy (due to Dylan Farrow’s molestation accusations- which I believe BTW), I did appreciate Cate Blanchett calling out Hollywood to make more female fronted films. They should take note of the fact that The Hunger Games-Catching Fire (with Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role) was the highest grossing film of last year. The movie also passed the Bechdel test which should be an important part of how films are constructed.
They say that culture moves society faster than legislation and the courts and if that’s the case we still have a long ways to go regarding representation in movies and TV. I hope that the next ten years sees a sea change in representation similar to the advancements that the LGBT community has made since former President Bush waged a war on my community with his call for a ban on same-sex marriage across the country in 2004.

The awesomeness that is Sleepy Hollow

When I first read about Sleepy Hollow this past summer I was drawn to the show for so many reasons including my love of history and science fiction/fantasy as well as fish out of water stories. The show hits all the right notes with all of these aspects of storytelling, however, the best part of the show is how the creators/writers have crafted every character.

What I mean by this is that the lead characters Ichabod Crane (played by British actor Tom Mison), who is a white man, and Leftenant (what Icabod calls her) Abbie Mills (played by Nicole Beharie), who is an African-American woman, are treated equally with compelling back stories and each of them getting to be each other’s heroes/sheroes throughout the season.

In the interest of full disclosure I am a white woman who happens to be a lesbian.

On most shows the African-American characters are given supporting character status but this show bucks that trend. It took me awhile to realize this but in one of the scenes in the 11th episode “Vessel” this past season (the one where Macey is being rescued by a demon who has possessed her) the only white person in the scene is Icabod. The rest of the characters are African-American: Abbie, her sister Jenny (played by Lyndie Greenwood), and Macey’s (played by the Hunger Games Amandla Stenberg) parents Captain Frank Irving (played by Orlando Jones) and his estranged wife Cynthia (played by Jill Marie Jones). Most shows would never dare to show that many strong African-American characters in one scene.

Asian-Americans and Latino-Americans also have representation on the show with Officer Andy Brooks (played by John Cho) and Detective Luke Morales (played by Nicholas Gonzalez). So far there haven’t been any LGBT characters but I wouldn’t be surprised if that didn’t happen in the second season beginning this coming fall.

Ichabod’s wife Katrina (played by Katia Winter), Abbie’s mentor Sheriff August Corbin (played by Clancy Brown) and Icabod and Katrina’s son Jeffrey/Henry (played by John Nobel) round out the rest of the cast (they are all white) and everyone’s stories for the most part are woven seamlessly into each other.

Only a few other shows get this kind of integrated casting correct which is a sad comment on our media culture. They are Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Orange is the New Black, and The Fosters.

Recently the writer/creator of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy received the Diversity Award from the Directors Guild of America and she expressed her irritation that there even needs to be a diversity award. More of her comments can be found here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/27/shonda-rhimes-diversity-award_n_4674147.html.

While shows like Sleepy Hollow and the others I mentioned above should be applauded for their inclusive nature I feel like we shouldn’t even be talking about this anymore, however, just like with LGBT representation in the media we will never achieve full parity until the executives in charge of the networks, cable outlets and movie studios get their heads out of the sand and realize that it is 2014 and they should wake up to the reality of the world around them.

Why visibility and representation matters!

I’ve been away for quite some time doing some soul searching about the direction I want to take this blog. I will continue to talk about LGBT issues as they relate to pop culture and politics, however, I will also be expanding my reach to include representation of women and POC in all areas of life.

As I’ve been reading online articles and blog posts its becoming clear to me that unless we continue to speak out places like twitter will get away with not having any women on its board of directors (they finally added one woman to their ranks late last year but it took people pointing it out for twitter to make that change). Business, politics and the media are still mostly run by white straight men and unless we speak out things won’t change so I will be dedicating this space to that effort. I hope to be a catalyst for change so young people can focus on other things when they get older.

Stay tuned for my first official blog post of the new year in the next few days. Think Hollywood and award season. Also, you will still hear from me about my latest pop culture obsessions.

The Fosters on ABC Family, marriage equality and visibility

On the second episode of The Fosters a conversation took place between Lena (one of the mom’s on the show) and one of the new foster kids that Lena and Stef (Lena’s partner) took in. Jude (the foster kid who is 12) asked Lena if she was married to Stef. Lena explained that they weren’t legally married, however, they were married in their own hearts. Jude commented that being married in their hearts is the same thing. Now I don’t expect a 12 year old boy to be able to grasp all of the ways that his statement was false on a legal front. I am glad that the show addressed the fact that since they live in San Diego and same-sex marriage isn’t legal in California because of Prop 8 that their relationship will never be treated the same way as an opposite sex couple’s marriage is treated.

This brings me to the current debacle going on in Illinois regarding marriage equality. The IL House, specifically Rep. Greg Harris (who is openly gay and the bill’s sponsor) didn’t call the vote for marriage equality on May 31st as promised. In numerous conversations with LGBT leaders since the IL Senate voted to approve marriage equality I have gotten nothing but encouraging news that the bill had enough votes and that it would pass. I am so disappointed with LGBT leaders in IL since I did my part to reach out to my state representative Alan Turner who eventually came out and said he would vote yes on the bill. Recently, I read a great editorial here http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/EDITORIAL-Marriage-and-Equality-A-Way-Forward/43240.html and I agree wholeheartedly with what Tracy Baim had to say.

In her editorial Tracy explains that the only way forward is through grassroots activism. Another example of grassroots movement that worked was when American women got the right to vote.

Without the likes of Alice Paul, Lucy Burns and other members of the National Women’s Party protesting outside of the White House (during World War I when Wilson was president) demanding the right to vote with signs that said “We women of America tell you that America is not a democracy. Twenty million women are denied the right to vote. President Wilson is the chief opponent of their national enfranchisement” we wouldn’t have gotten the right to vote in 1920. They got arrested and were sent to Occoquan workhouse. Alice went on a hunger strike and the prison officials force fed raw eggs to her so she would stay alive. That action along with continued protests and media coverage shamed the Wilson administration to act. If it were left up to the likes of Carrie Chapman Catt (who spent time currying favor with Wilson and who disagreed with Paul and Burns tactics) we would’ve waited even longer for the right to vote.

We need the same kind of commitment now to achieve full LGBT equality nationwide.

Golden Globes 2013…or the night when Jodie Foster upstaged Bubba

Setting aside the winners in each category, the 2013 Golden Globes will go down in history as the most interesting, funny and newsworthy awards ceremony in recent memory.

As others have mentioned on twitter and other social media/blog sites, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler should host the Golden Globe, Oscar and Emmy shows for as long as they want to do the job. Their humor was timely and appropriate for the occasion and they also didn’t have a problem poking fun at themselves when necessary. For all the naysayers who say that women aren’t as funny as men, they need only to look at all the ways in which Fey and Poehler and later Wiig kept the Golden Globes from turning into three hours of self-congratulatory narcissism. My only complaint- I really wish they were used more throughout the ceremony.

Also, in a moment that almost always falls flat during these ceremonies (when awards officials take the stage) Dr. Aida Takla-O’Reilly, president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, made the most of her three minutes on stage. In an almost grandmotherly fashion, she chided the control booth when they didn’t follow her instructions to pan the audience, called out industry people for not knowing who she was in the first place and name checked Bradley Cooper at the end of her speech imploring him to “Call me maybe?”. She changed the game and effectively made it harder for other awards officials to just come out and make a bland statement during awards ceremonies. Rock on Dr. Aida for adding to the funny!

I also noticed that with women at the helm the ceremony was almost free of the usual testosterone filled bluster that pervades most of society including Hollywood.

It was also a night full of surprises. First Bubba aka Mr. Hillary Rodham Clinton introducing a clip from “Lincoln”. For most of the people in the room his arrival was like the second coming of Jesus…except for Tommy Lee Jones. Bitter much? I guess he’s still mad that Bubba didn’t help Al Gore enough in the 2000 campaign (Jones and Gore were college roommates). It was amusing to see Hollywood celebs snapping pictures and fawning all over him.

Also, Bubba is so damn mesmerizing. He can make the most mundane of topics the most exciting thing you’ve heard all day. For all of his faults (DOMA, DADT and Monica) he still has it.

Only in the United States would Jodie Foster upstage a former President but she did it. In what will go down in history as the most non-coming out coming out speech ever, Foster finally acknowledged what most of Hollywood, her closest friends and family and the wider LGBTQ community already knew. That she is a lesbian (of course in pure Jodie fashion she didn’t utter the word nor did she say the word gay) and has been raising two boys with her former partner Cydney Bernard (they started dating in 1993 and broke up in 2008).

Many people have already weighed in on her coming out speech and the opinions are all over the map. I personally believe that every person’s journey towards coming out to the public is as unique as the person coming out. My coming out was vastly different from everyone I’ve met or read about. Look at how long it took for Meredith Baxter, Kristy McNichol and Kelly McGillis to come out to name just a few slightly older women in Hollywood.

Also, Foster has had to deal with being a public figure for 47 years (she is 50 now) and is the only person to have a someone (John Hinckley) try to assassinate a president (Ronald Reagan) in order to impress her. Ironically, Hinckley shot Reagan at a time when Foster was out of the limelight attending Yale (Hinckley began stalking Foster while Foster was at Yale). I think these two incidents, being a working actor beginning at the age of 3 and the Hinckley situation, have caused Foster to retreat from society in a way that other celebs haven’t.

Prior to posting my thoughts on the Golden Globes I read Alison Arngrim (she is a former child star aka Nellie Olson from Little House on the Prairie) twitter feed since she had some very cogent points about being a child star and the effects it has on your pysche. I agree with everything Arngrim said. Her twitter feed is https://twitter.com/arngrim.

The one message I want to convey to the LGBTQ organizations who are itching to give Foster some award. Wait until she does something meaningful for our community. I’m looking at you HRC and GLAAD!