Hollywood creators and film fests highlight LGBTQ stories

“My whole life, I’ve been told you can’t centre LGBTQ stories. You have to have the nice straight person who is the ‘everyday’ person to identify with,” according to transgender filmmaker Silas Howard.

“That’s been this tired, old line that TV and Hollywood has said for a long time,” he continued.

“I think that that’s starting to change.”

Creators like Howard, along with other LGBTQ artists and organizations such as the Toronto International Film Festival and the Inside Out Festival, are working to shift current conventions by highlighting and bringing more diverse content to the fore.

On June 2, TIFF and Inside Out will kick off a new partnership with the virtual reality experience Queerskins: a love story, presented by Aurora. The interactive installation explores fact versus fiction in exploring the story of a Catholic mother and her gay son who dies of AIDS. 

Ongoing initiatives between the two festivals will include onstage discussions and special presentations.

“It is incumbent on TIFF to underscore the importance of diverse voices and create a permanent platform for challenging narratives that help people re-imagine contemporary society and everyday life,” TIFF’s artistic director Cameron Bailey said in a release announcing the collaboration. 

Changing prevailing narratives in the entertainment industry is a work in progress. 

For instance, there’s been a decrease in LGBTQ characters in major studio films, according to a GLADD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) report released last week. The organization found that of the 109 movie releases in 2017, only 14 (12.8 per cent) included LGBTQ characters, the lowest percentage since GLADD started tracking in 2012 (in 2016, the figure was 18.4 per cent). 

In terms of television, however, a GLADD report from November 2017 showed that LGBTQ representation had increased last year, with 6.4 per cent of characters on prime time TV identifying as gay, lesbian, bisxualtransender, and/or queer. 

‘A human experience’

“I’ve spent my whole life watching shows that [have] characters that don’t reflect me,” Howard, who directed the new movie A Kid Like Jake, told CBC News in a recent interview.

“But, I’ve done the math and connected emotionally to centred stories, so the reverse can be true… Somebody can watch my world and — if it’s centred and if it’s an honest and fully rendered character — then that person can connect because it’s about a human experience.”

A Kid Like Jake revolves around a gender-nonconforming four-year-old boy, with prominent TV stars Claire Danes and Jim Parsons portraying the child’s parents. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and opened Inside Out last week. 

Having collaborators from the LGBTQ community involved in the film added complexity, Howard noted.  

“I think it’s interesting that Jim being gay, the writer [Daniel Pearle] being gay, myself being trans — a lot of us that were really involved in this adds something different,” he said.

“It adds something different to the anatomy of a marriage and looking at societal pressures around parenting.” 

Howard is also a co-executive producer and director on the upcoming FX series, Pose, which launches on June 3.

The cast and creators of Pose are pictured above at a television critics event in California in January. The show is being heralded as groundbreaking TV for the number of LGBTQ collaborators in front of and behind the camera. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Co-created by Glee‘s Ryan Murphy, the drama series explores the ballroom dance culture in late-1980s New York and stars five black trans women. The project is being heralded as groundbreaking TV for the number of LGBTQ collaborators both in front of and behind the camera. 

That Pose is putting trans people in the main spotlight is something historic, Howard said.

“I’d be on-set watching a scene and realize this character’s not going to be disposed of by the next episode, or cast aside… I think it’s going to open up a lot of hearts.”


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