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.

Why Mad Men’s ending was both satisfying and frustrating…

Last night Mad Men ended its seventh and final season and for the most part I was satisfied with Matt Weiner’s vision for the show and each of the characters. As the seasons came and went, it became clear that viewers were supposed to be dropping into these characters lives across a decade’s (1960’s) worth of life and all that happened to them and around them. It was almost dreamlike in the way it was presented to the viewers since the real world only seeped into the characters lives at certain moments, not all the time. Knowing that I was happy, even though it would’ve been cool to have a flash forward to everyone in let’s say 1980, that Weiner showed each character carrying on with their lives at the close of 1970 which happens to be a few months before I was born.

For years viewers and critics have been ruminating about the opening credits and whether or not that was Don dying by suicide but ultimately that’s not what Weiner wanted to convey. The credits start with a man (Don) walking into a tastefully decorated early 1960’s office and over time that falls away until the man is seen falling from a building (with ads flashing on the side of the building) and then the man is sitting on a couch looking away from the audience. The credits perfectly encapsulates Don’s journey from the beginning of the show where, no matter the location of his office, everything is neat and tidy and then over the past year all of that is stripped away as the company that Don helped build is swallowed by McCann. Working at McCann was everything that Don wanted but also feared and in the end he  felt the need to flee NYC and discard other material possessions as he traveled further away from NYC. It’s as if Don had to let go of everything to become the man he should be. We got hints of how he will be in the future with the Coke ad that played at the end of the show. The question remains…did he reconnect with his kids in any meaningful way or did he just figure out how to be a better ad man?

As for the women on the show including Sally. What a journey for all of them! It’s interesting to note that the three characters who got the most growth were Sally, Peggy and Joan. The way Sally stepped up after finding out about her mom’s lung cancer and eventual early death was a thing of beauty and one can’t heap enough praise on Kiernan Shipka for her nuanced portrayal of a young woman in an era where women had so much less agency. Remember Sally was born in 1954 so she would be 61 this year. Although I said upthread that I was OK with no flash forwards, the one I would’ve loved to see was Sally in 1980 as a 26 year old. Would she have become the typical 1980’s money hungry person or go against the grain? One can only ponder this since I doubt Weiner will ever let us know what he saw for Sally down the road.

Peggy’s arc was really satisfying. From a meek secretary to hopefully the creative director at McCann or another ad agency. She called her own shots and refused to play the games that Joan, who was born eight years before her, had to in order to get ahead. As syrupy sweet as her and Stan’s declaration’s of love were I loved it that she finally found a measure of professional and personal happiness at the ripe old (for the time) age of 31.

I love that Joan finally got to run her own company and call the shots in all aspects of her life in the finale. After spending years having to please the men in her life, both personally and professionally, she got the last laugh. When we leave her she is chugging along with Holloway-Harris productions proving that a woman can reinvent themselves no matter how old they are, even in 1970. Joan is 39 when we last see her handing Kevin off to her mom and starting her work day.

The same cannot be said for Betty’s arc but I think everyone watching knew that she wouldn’t grow as a human being so her early death was inevitable. She showed flashes of growth but it was limited by her vanity and sense of propriety which was the polar opposite of how Sally, Peggy and even Joan walked through life.

The only frustrating things about the ending of the show was the feeling that we didn’t get enough time with certain characters only to spend time with new characters that the audience, including myself, didn’t care about. One character that was missing entirely in the finale was Henry and it I would’ve loved to have seen Sally and Henry cooking dinner together.

Oh and Gene speaks LOL…so glad we got some words out of that kid finally.

I’m sure I will have more to say about this show. Stay tuned for a new post sometime down the line.

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/.

 

 

 

The connection between Orphan Black and the #YesAllWomen hashtag movement

I was reading the #YesAllWomen posts and they got me thinking about the show Orphan Black. For anyone who hasn’t seen the show it’s about women clones (played by the fabulous Tatiana Maslany) and their fight for a voice and ownership over their minds and bodies. I believe that is the crux of the show and the creators, writers and actors have alluded to this in numerous interviews. One of the creators Graeme Manson has said that a story about women clones is far more interesting than a show about male clones.

See these articles about the show for more on the issue of ownership of women’s bodies

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/television/2014/04/season_2_of_orphan_black_starring_tatiana_maslany_reviewed.html

http://www.nerdist.com/2014/05/the-orphan-black-radical-why-every-clone-club-needs-its-helena/

http://www.bbcamerica.com/orphan-black/2014/05/12/hive-recap-governed-chance/3/

http://www.bustle.com/articles/4553-orphan-black-star-tatiana-maslany-relates-clone-body-ownership-to-the-modern-woman

Each clone on Orphan Black has been used by their creator and until recently didn’t have autonomy over their movements and decisions because of who raised them and the monitors that were employed to keep track of them. Now that they know each other and are finding out about their origins they are becoming empowered and fighting back. By banding together to share information and fight for each other they are showing the power that women have when they are in control even when outside forces are still trying to claim ownership over their bodies and minds. That’s why I love the show…because it empowers women to think and act for themselves and not be controlled by the men and sometimes women around them.

How does this connect to the #YesAllWomen hashtag movement?

The #YesAllWomen hashtag movement stemmed from the recent mass shooting at near the University of California Santa Barbara campus because of the vitriolic Youtube rantings that surfaced of the alleged shooter blaming women for all of his problems. This resulted in thousands and thousands of tweets including mine of instances where we’ve been maligned, harassed, censored, scared, and/or assaulted/raped. (One way where I fall into this category is the fact that I still don’t feel comfortable using my real name or image on twitter for fear of retribution due to the things I say and the people I follow)

For women’s entire lives we are taught that we have to take precautions in order to stay safe in and outside our homes/schools/workplaces/transportation as well as how to dress or react to comments made by men and in some cases other women.

Which gets me to the issue of how women are treated in all aspects of society as well as how women see themselves in society.

How many women raised in conservative religious movements have been told that they have to submit to the men in their lives a la Michelle Duggar and their ilk?

How many women have had to face an employer that asks whether they will be starting a family soon?

How many women have lost their lives just for the right to leave the house, go to school, vote, go out unchaperoned, hold political office?

How many women were taught that how they dressed would determine how they are treated by the world?

How many women have been told to wait their turn in school or the work world?

How many women in the media have been dismissed due to their opinions, education, world experience?

This all begs the ultimate question. When will women be treated as equals everywhere? I fear that it will not happen in my lifetime (I’m 43) and that is sad and tragic.

Why I’m grateful for Fred Eyechaner and WCPT

Chicagoans like myself are lucky in so many ways including our access to great cultural institutions, impressive architecture, a thriving print media and a variety of sports teams, however, the thing we have that not many other cities have is a progressive radio station- Chicago’s Progressive Talk WCPT.

As a liberal/progressive, I’m glad I live in a city that has a place for me on the radio dial.

With liberal/progressive radio stations folding and changing formats in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and other locations around the country; WCPT stands as a bastion of liberal/progressive talk radio outside of the Sirius/XM Progress channel. The reason why WCPT and its sister stations (that air the same programming) in northern Illinois haven’t gone the way of KTLK in Los Angeles and WWRL in New York City is due to one man- Fred Eyechaner.

Chicago’s Progressive Talk is owned by Eyechaner’s Newsweb Corporation and is one of the last independently owned radio stations in the country. This fact alone keeps the station from having to tow a certain corporate line or have a singular voice.

I’m so glad that WCPT streams worldwide and is available on a variety of phone apps so liberal/progressive people can hear the likes of Bill Press, Stephanie Miller, Ed Schultz, Thom Hartmann, Norman Goldman, Democracy Now, as well as local shows Out Chicago, Hal Sparks, Dick Kay and much more.

Thank you Fred Eyechaner for WCPT and everything else you do to promote liberal/progressive causes.

 

 

 

 

What Chicago Fire and Chicago PD have over The Good Wife…and it’s not what you think

As a big fan of continuity on TV shows it irks me when some shows get things so wrong. Case in point The Good Wife. Whereas for the most part Chicago Fire and Chicago PD get details about Chicago correct The Good Wife production team doesn’t even use the internet to research even the most basic things about Chicago like street names, locations of establishments, neighborhoods, the Chicago Public School system, the distance between Chicago and the northern suburbs and many many other things.

Two things that Chicago Fire and Chicago PD need to work on are the coats or lack thereof that characters are seen in during cold weather months and syncing the production schedules so if they do crossover stories the weather matches. FYI both shows shoot exclusively in Chicago.

Getting back to The Good Wife (which shoots in NYC exclusively), in the first season when Alicia and the kids move to Chicago Alicia mentions that they moved into an area that had a good school district. Anyone who knows Chicago can tell you that the entire city of Chicago falls under one school district so the correct lines should’ve been “We moved to an area where Zack and Grace will be able to attend the best Chicago Public Schools.”

Also, there is no way that Zack and Grace would be attending the private school in the suburbs that they transferred to after their stint in public school in the city because of two things: the length of time it takes to get to the northern suburbs would negate their attendance at the school and the fact that even if the school admitted them there are plenty of non-religious private schools in Chicago that they could’ve used as a template and changed the name.

Kalinda’s move to another apartment is another example of the show getting it wrong. There is no way that Kalinda would’ve moved to the cross street that they used for her new address. That neighborhood is on the west side and Kalinda is more of a Streeterville, Gold Coast, Old Town or Lincoln Park kind of woman.

Just a few episode ago they used 5th Avenue as a location when in fact there is no 5th Avenue in Chicago. I could go on and on but in this day and age where we have google and more specifically google maps with street views there is no excuse for a show with as high of standards as the Good Wife to get these details wrong.

Maybe they need to hire me (I live here in Chicago) to do this kind of research and pay me a monthly fee as a freelance production assistant.

 

The Importance of Independent Truthful Media Outlets

Democracy Now, Free Speech TV, WCPT, Previously TV, Windy City Times. What do they have in common? They are all independent media outlets that operate outside of corporate influence.

I’m sure there are more like this across the country, however, it’s telling that these are the only ones that I could think of without doing any additional research. As more and more media outlets get swallowed up by corporations such as when CNN/Turner Broadcasting was first sold to Time Warner and later AOL its is so important for independent media outlets to have a voice in our national discourse.

The amount of misinformation that the media spews daily is mind-boggling and when people can’t trust what they are hearing, seeing or reading how will we be able to make informed decisions. The bifurcation of media is also a problem and today is a great example of that. On the Huffington Post (liberal leaning) main page they highlighted the fact that 7 million people signed up for Obamacare while over at the Drudge Report (conservative leaning) they showed the Obamacare website as inaccessible. If people only read the homepage of either website they will either believe that Obamacare has 7 million signups or that Obamacare is a failure due to system overload at the Obamacare website. The lack of nuanced reporting and the gotcha article title descriptions has clouded real reporting.

I worry that future generations will not be able to sift through the noise and find out the truth of any story as more and more corporations swallow up independent media outlets around the country.

 

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.