by YAB member, Saul Rivera, from Moreno Valley
As an avid Netflix binger and a gay teen alike, one of the most incentivising reasons to watch a new tv or movie is it’s LGBTQ+ representation. We all want to see ourselves on the big screen, and for some of us it’s difficult. For years, the LGBTQ+ community has only seen themselves portrayed as the gay best friend. Or the sob story. Or just the one that gets killed off. The list goes on.
Thankfully, us queer folk have been blessed by some great LGBTQ+ centered shows and movies in the 21st century. Shows like Pose and films like Moonlight all put queer storylines at the forefront. Unfortunately, not all of these projects come off as forward thinking as intended. As much as you’d expect modern media to reflect the real world, there are just some marks that TV and film producers fail to hit when trying to share LGBTQ+ stories.
The Erasure of LGBTQ+ Characters
Let’s start off with an easy one. One of the most common forms of harmful LGBTQ+ representation is the lack of LGBTQ+ characters all together.
Some stories start off with queer characters or plotlines, only for them to be left on the chopping block. Take, for example, the infamous Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). While their comic book counterparts are often all across the queer and genderfluid spectrum, Marvel has consistently chosen to omit many hints at their superheroes identity. For example, in the source material of director Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, a character, Valkyrie, is canonically bisexual. In an interview with Rolling Stone, actress Tessa Thompson shares how a scene confirming Valkyrie’s bisexuality was ultimately cut from the movie. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has never had a gay superhero confirmed on screen before, furthermore showcasing the disappointment that fans had when they learned a strong bisexual woman’s identity would be omitted from the film.
Writing Off LGBTQ+ Characters
Amongst the several LGBTQ+ characters we get on screen, a good amount of them are written off in abrupt ways. Whether it be mysteriously written off the show, or killed unnecessarily, audiences are constantly seeing their favorite queer characters get the boot. One example that acted as a catalyst for LGBTQ+ representation in the media was the death of Lexa on CW’s The 100. Her death, which happened moments after an intimate scene with another woman, angered fans as it did little to advance the plot. The internet then coined the brutal erasure of LGBTQ+ characters as the “Bury Your Gays” trope. Even consider Grey’s Anatomy, who abruptly ended their first same sex relationship of the show. Producers even went as far as to fire Hahn’s actress, a move many TV Execs agree was caused by “by her character's lesbian leaning and in-depth sexual discussions.”
Failing the Vito Russo Test
It’s not just enough to include LGBTQ+ characters and stick with it, writers need to make sure that their characters are treated properly. Queer characters need to be believable, important, and effective. To measure the way LGBT+ characters are written in media, GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) uses their own Vito Russo Test. In order for a film to pass the Vito Russo Test, it must include a character that is LGBTQ+, the character must not be solely defined by their sexuality, and the character must be tied into a plot in a way that their removal would have a significant effect. Hollywood passed with a D, as 65% of the only 20 LGBTQ+ films fulfilled all the requirements of the Vito Russo Test. Putting this in perspective of the 110 films GLAAD counted in 2018, only 13 films passed the test. That’s a little over 12% percent of films that are indicated to not mistreat their queer characters.
What We Can Do
Although diverse and prominent LGBTQ+ characters are beginning to make their debut on the big and small screen, the entertainment industry, and the general public, still has years of improvement to go through before we see equality reflected in real life. It is our responsibility as consumers, and viewers, to push for inclusivity in the media that we purchase, stream, and download. Although getting the attention of big entertainment execs can prove itself challenging, the LGBTQ+ community has power in numbers. Using our voices and our platforms through social media can help ensure that queer characters on screen get to tell their stories.