A Black, lesbian woman won the Emmy award for Writing. For the first time in history. Maybe people in power can learn a lesson or two from that.
We recently did an interview with the editor of Humans of Cinema, Harshit Bansal, where we asked him the all-important question: When does representation seem genuine and when does it seem like it is just corporate tokenism? Of course we weren’t the right people to answer it. Does it really matter if two straight men discuss the trials and tribulations of people whose shoes they have never been in? Does it matter if Tom Hanks plays the role of a gay, AIDS-stricken victim of corporate indifference to appease America about queerness? Does the conversation matter or the representation?
The best way to answer that is to look at one of our all-time comfort shows, Master of None. It was already a seminal show before its Thanksgiving episode came out. An Indian American exploring food, love and friendship in the Big Apple was a welcome change from the decades of white, young men’s exploits. But Aziz Ansari and his production team decided to go even further when it came to representation.
One of his co-stars on the show had great ideas, but she hadn’t written anything professional ever. It would be a big risk to bring her on-board as a writer. But after all, what was this show if not an autobiographical re-telling of the experiences shared by the creators? That was it. Lena Waithe and Aziz Ansari wrote the very special episode where Lena’s character, over years, realises and accepts her sexuality. The intricacies of American life, of the friendship between their characters, and more importantly, how parents view their children and vice versa elevated this episode to something never seen before on television.
No cinephile worth their salt will deny having ever heard of Pedro Almodóvar. One of the most acclaimed directors in the world, his stories have touches of the life he has lived and seen: homosexuality, Catholicism and family dynamics. He has been openly gay for years and not a single critic can distinguish his stories from the very best of the best. These are a few examples of queer stories being told, but there are thousands of young creators who fail to get their voices heard.
A recent Vox article reached out to diversity consultants in Hollywood to see how stories are being shaped in rooms across the networks and platforms. Because no matter how well intentioned a white straight male may be, there are so many LGBTQ points of view that it would be difficult for him to paint the experiences of a queer woman of colour. Zee Stokes, the vice president of programs at GLAAD said that “generally bet we were involved at the outset in helping them ensure that they weren’t falling into outdated tropes, that a character wasn’t just there to support everyone else’s storyline, that they have a well-developed storyline of their own and sort of a reason for being indispensable.”
But what about India? Films like Badhaai Do and Aligarh are wonderful stories that have humanised queer folk in the eyes of the broader Indian public but the problem yet remains. For every Made in Heavne, there is a Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui that uses outdated tropes of “honey traps” and “the male accepting the trans” to move the plot forward.
The only way to make representation real is to allow queer creators, who have actually lived those stories, tell them on-screen. Because it can have the power to change the very fabric of our society. That is why, to ensure our efforts were successful to raise awareness about the films that have touched our hearts, but may not have been brought to mainstream attention, we only selected movies and TV shows which are set around the lives of and created, performed or developed by LGBTQIA+ people.