We Want to be Visible: Queer Representation in Entertainment

At 8AM Monday on the Fan Tracks channel, the Diversity Track hosted Michael Williams, Marcus Haynes, Tracy Holt, Shae Carys, and Joy Hatcher along with moderator Jayson Graham gathered to discuss how queer relationships and people are portrayed in entertainment. Specifically they talked about their impact in the television, streaming, and movie industries. The panelists varied from authors of literature with queer characters to podcasters and educators. Most, if not all, of the panelists also had a personal stake in the topic.   

The first topic addressed was whether the panelists have seen an increase in queer representation in media in the last 40 years. Michael made the point that there has been a significant increase in what he called “intentional representation.” There was a lot of unintentional representation and “queer coding” (Shae’s term) in classic media especially in the representation of villains. However, all panelists agreed that there has definitely been an increase in the overt inclusion of characters on many areas of the spectrum. Joy pointed out that yes there is more representation, but often they are represented as broken and hopeless characters. She opined, and most of the panelists agreed, that it is time for “normal” queer characters that have regular problems. Marcus added that it is hard to “fully rejoice” about the representation because the characters are not necessarily inspiring. Many times the characters are “two steps from giving up.”  

The panelists moved on to the effect that the rise of streaming media has had on queer representation and indie content creators. There was a general consensus that the streaming media has had a huge effect on representation. Partly because there is more bandwidth to approach a wider breadth of topics. Another benefit of the streaming platform is that the content creators don’t have to appease sponsors the way traditional media sources do. Also, the traditionally conservative powers that be of mainstream media aren’t present to say “no.” The streaming services tend to play off the social media fads more than the mainstream media.   

The final topic Jayson asked the panel was, “If you were the head of a production company, what one issue would you like to highlight in a series of movies or shows?” I can’t completely sum up everyone’s opinions in this article, but each panelist was passionate that there needed more representation outside of the “gay sexual” characters. They want to find ways to represent queer characters without that character automatically assumed to be “having sex.” Jayson pointed out that Asexual characters are almost never seen. On another note, Marcus brought up that he wanted to see more gay Black characters in relationships with other gay Black characters, and, further, he wants to see that relationship visible within the Black community. The general tone and message of the panel was summed up well by Michael Williams: “We have to tell them that queerness exists.” 

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