Parity and Representation of Queer Characters in the Entertainment Industry

Anyone who’s watched TV, movies and/or plays/musicals and paid attention knows there’s an issue with parity in entertainment, especially when looking at how many LGBTQ and female characters exist in leading roles. That’s not really the worst part of the situation though; what’s more troubling than the lack of leading roles is how these two groups are portrayed. Often women are portrayed as submissive and, if they ARE a strong lead, most often they are portrayed in a way that makes them seem…well…like total bitches (though it is definitely improving lately).

It’s worse for those in the LGBTQ group. Too often we are viewed as stereotypes–men dressed in “womens” clothes, flamboyant gay men–and as comic relief, as comedic tropes. Rare glimpses are still the normal, however. As things are improving for representation and diversity in Hollywood, too often the standard tropes and stereotypes continue to be used, because they are easy to use.

Admittedly, queer people like me are–FINALLY!–starting to be recognized. Transgender actors are hitting the mainstream. Pose, Transparent. These are the shows we need in order to boost our profiles. Some TV shows and movies have had prominent Trans/GNC (T/GNC) characters, Orange is the New Black is one such show. The Conners has a gender nonconforming character too. The character, a young boy, wears a dress and likes boys. In this case, the gender nonconforming character is a child, and my guess is that the writers will have them “grow out of that phase” rather than embracing the beauty of being ones self. This is the predicament we face in the LGBTQ community when it comes to parity, to adequate and proper representation on TV, in movies and on stage.

Then there are those working on increasing queer visibility. Pooya Mohseni is fundraising for her Transit: A New York City Fairy Tale. Gabriel Furman and and his crew are shopping around a gem of a show about a GNC child; it’s titled Wonder. Neil Patrick Harris did Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

All this is an uphill battle. As you might have gathered, there is a profound lack of Trans/GNC characters on Broadway. While shows like Southern Comfort, Red Emma and the Mad Monk, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and a few others all have a focused main character who’s T/GNC, these aren’t Broadway. They are off-off- and off-Broadway. Granted, Hedwig made it to Broadway briefly…but it took 16 years to do that. It opened on off-Broadway in 1998, and was revolutionary. It didn’t parody the T/GNC community; it showed them (us) as persons dealing with unique issues. It was revived in 2014 on Broadway. During its run, it won and was nominated for several awards…yet, it was the last high profile play or musical featuring a T/GNC character.

But the times do seem to be changing. There is an increase in movement towards and desire to bring more T/GNC voices and characters to the stage and film.

So that’s good.

But we need more. Thankfully there are advocates like Pooya, Parity Productions, Shakina Nayfack and a growing cast of other diversity advocates in show business who are pushing for equity and parity within the entertainment industry.

I hope we will soon see an exponential increase in work that tells our stories.

If you’re a manager, producer, agent or director interested in reading my work with primary LGBTQ, specifically T/GNC, characters, drop me an email at mygerlparts@gmail.com. We’ll talk. 🙂

Learning By Doing: Getting Involved is the Best Way to Learn

There’s a saying, thought originally to be a Chinese proverb, but often credited to Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Few statements are truer when it comes to learning how to do something, do anything.

When I taught, I made every effort to do the last on this list, involve my students. I also prefer to learn by doing things hands on too. Few people can just be told what to do and learn. Most of us learn by jumping right in. And that’s what I’ve done with my writing. Jump right in.

Not long ago, I had a rare opportunity for a fledgling TV, play and film writer. I had the opportunity to discuss my 30-minute TV comedy with a fairly well-known actor, writer and producer who is a huge ally of the LGBTQ community.

I was able to get 45 minutes of undivided attention with him over the phone. We discussed Kushy’s concept, characters, logline and more.

For all the books and sites and coverage I’d bought and feedback I’d gotten from peers, nothing was more enlightening than actually diving into the Kushy’s Treatment/Bible with this actor. 

His enthusiasm for my work was unexpected too. Comments like, “This is fucking genius, Avery. This has everything that’s relevant to today.” To clarify, Kushy’s pushes the “envelope” by honestly looking at racism, religion, LGBTQ, drugs in the U.S. in a dark comedic manner. There is a battle between family members over religion, drugs (marijuana) and queerness, for example.

But talking with him, being involved in a truly collaborative process, not just reading and writing and getting feedback without interaction, but actual “we’re talking all this out” and being involved, opened my eyes to not only what I was doing exceptionally well as a self-taught writer, but what my characters and plot were missing.

As writers, we tend to get attached to our writing. We have egos. And writing is most definitely a solitary venture. Let’s just be honest, eh? We are creatives and creatives are a pain in the ass to deal with quite often. It’s hard hearing that something doesn’t work. Creatives often don’t take criticism well, even if it truly is constructive criticism.

Add that here are sooooo many opinions on each topic, and we get to a point that we often just say “Fuck it” and move on.

For example, I recently had a former Hollywood pro give Kushy’s–which was a quarter-finalist in Scriptapalooza’s Fall 2018 Television Writing Competition–say that he didn’t know if Network TV would even consider the script because of the one nude scene in the Cold Open. He also wasn’t fond of the racist language and he apparently missed the reason the main character and his brother are arguing.

However, he did point out that the main place in which the story takes place is a main character too. Since that coverage, I’ve worked on revising the script to better showcase the main setting of the 30-minute TV comedy.

But I shirked at the other stuff because an active actor, a current writer and producer, GOT IT. He understood, just from my treatment, what it was lacking and what was “genius” in the script and concept. He loved the nude scene, seeing it as relevant since the character was about to undergo a re-birth, a new chapter in his life and it was because he was about to hit rock-bottom with only one place to go: Home.

That’s the take-away from my years of working on TV shows, plays and features: Get involved with active writers, actors, producers, etc. Talk to them as much as you can. Even if that means donating $150 to a crowdfunding campaign to do it–like I did–then do it. Hearing from them, literally engaging with them verbally, will alter your view of your own work.

But first: Take the ego out of it.