The LGBTQ+ community has made major strides on TV screens across the United States. Subjects that were once considered taboo even just a few years ago, including two same-sex people embracing on-screen, now dominate small-screen storylines. Behind the scenes, writers, producers and directors who identify as LGBTQ+ are also taking the reins of series, often mining their own lives for material. And all of this new content could mean more awards buzz for this marginalized community — if Hollywood is serious about vying for inclusivity.
“The entertainment business, considering how successful it is and how much money it makes, does an amazing job of overlooking the particular interests of particular communities,” says Jonathan Taylor of Robertson Taylor Partners, a communications and awards consulting firm. “I saw more LGBTQ+ representation than ever at this year’s Emmys. But still not as much as there could have been.”
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Taylor says there has been a glass ceiling to how well LGBTQ content and performers have fared in awards seasons’ past. Such critically acclaimed shows as “Queer as Folk,” “The L Word” and “Looking” were shut out at the nomination level of major ceremonies such as the Golden Globes and Emmys, for example. When series centered on LGBTQ characters did get awards attention in the past, those accolades were often relegated to comedic projects (such as “Will & Grace”) or unscripted (the original “Queer Eye”). But times have changed.
Taylor points to Billy Porter’s recent Emmy win for “Pose” as “a significant step for the LGBTQ community.” Porter made history at the 71st annual Primetime Emmy Awards in September as the first openly gay, black man to win the lead drama actor trophy. He portrays a gay, black man living with HIV in 1980s and 1990s New York City in the FX drama that also boasts multiple ensemble performers who are transgender, including lead actress MJ Rodriguez and supporting actresses Indya Moore and Dominique Jackson. The women have yet to be nominated individually, but the show also picked up drama series noms at last year’s Globes and this year’s Emmys. Now they are all eligible for Globes again, for their second season.
“Pose” is just one example of a series that is putting LGBTQ performers and characters front and center. According to this year’s “Where We Are on TV” report from GLAAD Media Institute, 10.2% of characters in scripted broadcast series identified as LGBTQ+. New series for 2019, including Showtime’s “The L Word: Generation Q,” HBO’s teen drama “Euphoria” and Amazon Prime Video’s anthology “Modern Love,” are helping boost the numbers, which are up to record-highs, even if the percentage is still small overall.
“There has to be some perspective to how far we’ve come. The fact that the original ‘The L Word’ even made it on TV when it did was a miracle,” says Marja Lewis-Ryan, showrunner of “The L Word: Generation Q,” which premieres just in time for Globes eligibility this year. “I think we are a forward-moving society. It may be incremental, but it still feels progressive.”
As representation on-screen rises, it automatically creates more opportunities to see an increase in representation on awards ballots. But awards are a byproduct: first and foremost the attention must be on inclusivity at the storytelling level.
“One of the problems people have who are advocating for inclusion of all kinds is that awards are as far downstream as you can get. The real problem is upstream, when these shows are being conceived by writers and producers, and even in casting,” says Taylor. “You really need to have that inclusion at that level in the beginning.”