This real life gay character got rewritten as straight so he is more ‘relatable’
A leading real-life gay character in a new NBC drama has been rewritten as straight to make him more “relatable”.
Rise is a new show coming to NBC based on the real-life story of gay theatre teacher, Lou Volpe.
Volpe worked for 40 years as a high school teacher and his life was written about by Michael Sokolove in Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theatre.
Volpe worked tirelessly in his career to help revitalise the working-class town school while also coming to terms with his sexuality.
Rise is based on Volpe’s story, however, his re-written character Lou Mazzucchelli is straight.
Producers behind the show have now defended the decision to rewrite the character, who is played by How I Met Your Mother actor Josh Radnor.
Executive producer Jason Katims explained that they decided to write the character as straight in order to help people “connect with the story”.
Speaking on a press tour he said: “We took [the book] as an inspiration, and then I really felt like I needed to make it my own story.”
Katims added that they had reimagined the character in ways other than his sexuality.
“With Lou’s family life and Lou’s family itself, there’s a lot of reimagination. Not just in terms of gay or straight, but in terms of the family structure.”
The producer tried to explain that the decision to change a person’s sexuality on screen to make them more relatable was in fact not homophobic because the show will have two other minor LGBTQ plot lines.
One of the students in the show will be transgender, while another will question their sexuality.
The decision to rewrite the character as straight will also have a direct impact on the true story of Volpe.
Volpe became known for having his students take on difficult plays, one of which was Spring Awakening – his first show for the school.
Volpe’s choice of that play was significant because it deals with the challenges of sexuality and by not having the lead character portrayed as homosexual it takes a lot of context away from the story.
A recent report released by GLAAD found that LGBTQ+ people were either rendered invisible or used as punchlines in Hollywood.
The report analysed 125 films released since 2016 and found that just 23 had some LGBTQ+ characters.
President and CEO of GLAAD, Kate Ellis, said that the film industry needed “to step up and show the full diversity of the world that movie audiences are living in today instead and end the outdated humour seen in many films.”
She added that “films like Moonlight prove there is a huge opportunity to not only tell LGBTQ stories worthy of Oscar gold but to open the hearts and minds of audiences here and around the world in places where these stories can be a lifeline to the people who need it most.”
Last year LGBTQ+ people saw success in the awards season.
Black Mirror’s iconic lesbian love story San Junipero picked up two Emmy awards, while Kate McKinnon won for best-supporting actress in a comedy.
Season four of Black Mirror was released recently but viewers were disappointed to find that the show lacked queer representation compared to previous seasons.
It was hinted that episode four, Hang The DJ, would include some representation but a fleeting five seconds of lesbian action left viewers unsatisfied.
On Twitter, fans complained that the show had let itself down since it’s San Junipero days.
One person wrote: “i love @blackmirror but out of the entire 4th season (about 6 hours total) there was about 5 seconds of lgbt+ representation… san junipero didn’t exempt you from having any representation for the rest of the show’s run.”
Another said: “Abt black mirror s4,,, it’s like such queerbait to put the gays in s3 and then NOTHING in season4, right?”
A third wrote: “San Junipero had me really hopeful for making an effort to tell LGBT stories until season 4 of Black Mirror consisted entirely of straight people not trusting each other.”