It is Pride Month! A month to celebrate the accomplishments and the continued struggle the LGBTQ community have had to and still face in the pursuit of equal rights and treatment. The struggle of this community is finally being acknowledged on a much more broad level. While this is the case there is still an incredible amount of work to be done, but something that can be changed more easily than the minds of people is in the people involved in Media. The Vast Landscape of Media that is consumed by individuals on a daily basis is staggering. There’s an incredible amount of content and because of the internet that content is diversified. There generally is something for everyone, but I have noticed that within larger forms of media there is a staggering lack of diverse people making the films, video games, and television that we love. More specifically there is a lack of LGBTQ+ voices being given the opportunity to express themselves on a wider platform and this lack of creative voices has left so many projects intended to bring positive light to the LGBTQ+ community feeling empty. The Entertainment industry is sorely lacking in allowing LGBTQ+ Filmmakers/Writers, Game Developers, and Actors a place to express their craft and since we are in the middle of Pride Month it is a perfect time to see why this is and how things can ultimately change for the better.
Video Game Developers
While often overlooked the Video Game market is a massive industry and queer individuals aren’t often fairly represented. Last year during Pride Month I wrote an article discussing the Gaming Industry and its often poor track record with LGBTQ+ inclusion, but what I didn’t mention as much was the need for the people making these games to also be a part of the community. Without that perspective these games including Gay, Bisexual, or Gender variant characters can often feel like stereotypes.
There are Queer characters in gaming and sometimes they can be done right, but the vast majority have been negative examples as poorly written stereotypes that don’t reflect reality even if they are well meaning. The need for diverse voices developing these characters and more specifically these games can allow for a broader, more realistic form of representation because the LGBTQ+ community knows what it’s like to live life knowing that people hate you for the simple act of existing. Game Developers are by and large mostly white, straight men and this is a thread that is common within all of media. LGBTQ+ individuals are often not given the same space for the same opportunities, especially if they are open about their identity and according to a study conducted by Alexander Ruiz at Gamasutra the companies mainly focus on meeting the bare minimum requirements of Queer acceptance to check off their mark for diversity to gain a share of publicity so that their sales can increase. Ruiz’s study also mentions that these policies the company holds don’t extend to the treatment of their employees when he stated,
Because these organizations use diversity policies for marketing purposes, they often do not follow up on these diversity policies with steps to ensure that their LGBTQ employees actually feel included in the organization. Several participants told stories of covert instances of discrimination that they faced because of their sexuality. For example, Marshall, a gay QA tester for a large video game company, explained: “So, certain guys didn’t like working with a gay guy. They didn’t want to go to lunch, they didn’t want me on. I wouldn’t be uninvited, but my invite, let’s say to an after work event, might get lost. And I would find about it the next day. My whole team, my whole row went and they would say ‘Oh, where is Marshall?’ But I didn’t get invited because the person organizing it was a homophobe.
These attitudes are dangerously common especially in the gaming industry, which is why a shift needs to occur. Queer people not only need to be treated better, but given the space to create. Their unique perspective and talents can lend so much to creating games that avoid feeling generic. Their personal experiences mixed in with their knowledge of their identity is so crucial to finding new things to tackle and to do so in new ways. Without a range of diverse voices leading these games they will be stifled creatively.
This same outcome can be seen in other mediums including the Film Industry, which faces so many of the same issues as the Gaming Industry.
The art of filmmaking is a powerful, creative tool. This visual medium is excellent at using its limitations to tell deeply engrossing and engaging stories with intriguing characters, but it still has its problems with representation of LGBTQ+ people both in the work itself as well as behind the camera. There are more diverse voices telling their truths through film now than ever, but it is still far behind in giving space for this community to tell their own stories on a wider level.
As time goes on more storytellers want to include LGBTQ+ characters in their art and that is seen most prominently on television. Television has allowed for a huge portion of its shows to feature gay, Trans, and other gender nonconforming characters. There have been even more positive examples, but they can also be really mishandled especially if the filmmaker handling the content doesn’t truly understand or hasn’t lived the experiences that is needed for accuracy. The need for Queer creators to take control of a project is exceedingly high because not only could we get better representation, but we also could have new voices telling stories that reflect a wider range of concepts that have yet to be explored. The best examples of those Queer people that have told new stories include Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar being Non-Binary whose work on the series has broadened the spectrum for representation with characters who don’t fit to defined gender roles and constructs. In addition to Rebecca we have the hit series, Pose which has prominent Transgender writers and directors telling stories about Trans women of color. These two shows and more so Pose is a rarity. Their presence is a great sign of changing attitudes, but they are just a small percentage of the filmmaking landscape.
Films on the other hand have had a much more difficult time at expressing LGBTQ+ identities because of the Hollywood system. The white, cisgender filmmakers who make bigger budget projects have been more hesitant to tell diverse stories about this wide range of people and when Queer stories are told they are told they are often minimized or not created with people who are a part of the community. While there may be good intentions in a lot of these projects they often unknowingly don’t know how to capture the truth because it isn’t their truth to tell. The straight, cisgneder filmmakers so often attached to these projects ends up putting hard working LGBTQ+ writers and directors who may be struggling out of work. The lack of opportunities is often times overwhelming. The neglect of these people harm everyone. It robs these people of being able to have work, but it also robs the audience of getting to see art that is made as a result of what it has been like to have struggled from oppression. This is such a sorely missed opportunity that is a result of privilege from those that didn’t have to face the same challenges to get into the position that they are in.
With these restraints in place it not only LGBTQ+ hurts filmmakers and writers, but also the talented actors and actresses.
It’s often easy to see the actors and actresses in a project as just tools for the filmmakers to mold and there is a lot of truth to that, but the actors in a way are also storytellers. They use their personalities and their acting abilities to breathe life into the characters that they are inhabiting and in a sense help to create that character. This is one of many reasons why it is so important that LGBTQ+ people be given the opportunity to portray characters based on their sexuality or identity.
The biggest place where I see a need for Queer actors to be given a fair chance is when films, tv shows, and games create Transgender characters. Most of the time when this happens it is either for a cruel comedic purpose or sometimes trying to be genuine, but not quite getting the experience correct. Often times when filmmakers want to make stories about Trans women and men they turn to popular Cisgender actors to play the roles. This in many ways feels very insulting to the Trans community especially those who are also struggling actors who aren’t given the chance because of who they happen to be. The most recent example of an event that caused a fair amount of backlash was when Scarlett Johanson was set to play Dante Tex Gill, a real Trans man who was also a crime kingpin. His story was utterly fascinating, but the choice to have her portray the role was an incredibly dense decision that came from trying to have a Hollywood star for name recognition pretend to be a Trans character, but not giving the role to a Trans man who could more accurately portray the real life struggles that Gill faced. This sort of casting in addition to Cisgender men portraying Trans women often rub the Trans community the wrong way due to the fact that it can reinforce the perspective that Trans people aren’t the gender they say they are. It removes potential Trans actors from these parts and in turn reinforces the harmful stereotypes that this community has been striving to get past.
The best example to look at in how to do Queer characters can be seen on Pose, Orange Is The New Black, and the upcoming Batwoman series. The former with Orange and Pose both have Trans women of color being portrayed by actual Trans women. Their casting not only lends a sense of legitimacy to the role, but it also expresses these people for who they are rather than what people perceive them to be. The latter with Batwoman will have Ruby Rose portraying a lesbian character in a major network television show, whch is a rarity when more often than not LGBTQ+ characters aren’t put into the lead role and they aren’t played by people who really live that experience.
The main argument that people often take against this need is that acting is inherently pretending so a straight or cisgender actor portraying these roles isn’t wrong, but what they fail to see is that when people ask for broader representation with the talent it comes at the back end of an oppressive system. LGBTQ+ people deal with bigotry on a regular basis and asking for some more representation to combat ignorance isn’t entitled. It’s seeking some form of positive acknowledgement that who they are is valid.
The need for more creative voices in all forms of media is a fight that will not stop anytime soon. There needs to be some major changes along the way and work needs to be put in for these systems that oppress people to be toppled. Times are changing and people are becoming more accepting, but there is also a massive amount of backlash from those that don’t want to see progress. Pride Month is a perfect month to celebrate not only good in the LGBTQ+ community, but also the work that still needs to be done.
So to all of those that fall under the LGBTQ+ Community, Up Your Geek Wishes you a Happy Pride Month! You are loved.