#BehindTheLens - Why this year's LGBT+ History Month theme matters
The theme for this year’s LGBT+ history month is #BehindTheLens – a subject very close to our hearts. We work with a number of great media and creative organisations, and we have seen, first hand, the difference representation makes to a creative process. Given the work we do, we also frequently find ourselves embroiled in conversations about LGBT+ representation throughout the creative process. It turns out that, as much as “you can’t be what you can’t see”, it’s also pretty tricky to see accurate representation if you don’t have that representation reflected behind the camera (or microphone!) in the off-screen/ off-mic roles as well.
There are a few clear reasons why authentic representation is so important on and off the screen:
1. Representation really does matter – imagine how it feels to only see stereotyped representations of yourself on TV – as Holly Mallett says in a recent article:
“the fabulously fashionable yet vapid gay man, the boring lesbian who dies, the greedy indecisive bisexual, the predatory trans woman and the non-existent trans man”
are just not enough. One of the things we’ve loved about a recent series of workshops we’ve carried out with an amazing creative team is the enormous list of recommendations we’ve received for shows which provide so much more than just the same, tired stereotypes;
shows like Sex Education, where being gay is just a part of someone’s character, rather than their entire story, or multiple very different representations of gender queer kids, instead of just one stereotype to tick a box. It’s no coincidence that Laurie Nunn, one of the writers for the show credited the LGBT+ writers and consultants for the authenticity of its queer characters in a recent award win, saying:
“we literally could not write these characters, or these storylines without their bravery and the joy and the authenticity and the specificity that they bring to creating these characters and putting them on screen”
Nunn goes on to say
“it was very much our ambition with this show to try and show a world where young people could turn on the TV and no matter what their background or their identity or their sexuality, they could see something of themselves reflected."
2. In the absence of representation, stereotypes are all that remain – and we see the damage this does time and time again. The amazing documentary “Disclosure” on Netflix makes a really explicit link between the ways trans characters are portrayed on TV, and the public perception of trans people. If we are continually seeing cis men like Jared Leto, Eddie Redmayne and (the recently disgraced) Jeffrey Tambor playing trans women, then the message the world’s consciousness receives is that trans women are just cis men “pretending”. This does enormous damage to the trans community, feeding directly into the rhetoric of the likes of JK Rowling of “trans women as predators”.
3. Representation and authenticity are inherently impacted by off-camera positions. For there to be sustained and sustainable change, it’s essential to have LGBTQ+ people in decision-making positions.
“It is 100% important that we have queer actors in front of the camera,”
says Jasmine Johnson, the senior vice president of development at the entertainment company Crypt TV in a 2019 interview. “But it is just as important that we have that representation behind the scenes.” Representation and authenticity are inherently impacted by those off-camera positions. The people in higher positions are the ones who can enact actual change. Johnson adds:
“We as an entertainment industry need to pick up the pace when it comes to making sure that we have those voices in those authority positions behind the scenes.”
Speaking to other creatives, we also know that there is a feeling of safety which comes for a writer from a marginalised group if they know that their story will be brought to life by people who understand their experience, or at least understand the importance of plugging the gaps in their own knowledge. When we’re talking with our creative clients, we always encouragr them to notice who isn’t in the room when a story is being brought to life – whose perspectives are missing? How can we find those perspectives?
Whilst there's still a lot to be done, there's also a lot to be happy about, whether it's shows like Sex Education, It's a Sin, Heartstopper or the wonderful Hot White Heist (brought to life by our wonderful client Audible!), or this list of amazing LGBT+ Directors who are changing the world of film and TV. We all need to vote with our remotes though - every stream demonstrates that this wonderful content is valuable for the execs making the decisions, and that's how we change the world for the better.