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LGBT+ writers eviscerate Hollywood for ‘problematic’ queer stories: ‘Do the work to educate yourself’

Patrick Kelleher June 12, 2021
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Call Me By Your Name Hollywood

Call Me By Your Name tells the love story between 17-year old Elio and 24-year old graduate student Oliver. (Sony Pictures Classics)

LGBT+ writers have penned a searing open letter calling out Hollywood’s “problematic” approach to queer characters and its continuing mistreatment of creators.

The Writers’ Guild of America West’s (WGAW) LGBTQ Writers Committee slammed Hollywood for failing to listen to queer writers and for falling back on tired stereotypes in its open letter, released on Friday (11 June).

The group condemned Hollywood “gatekeepers” for locking LGBT+ people out of the industry for decades and said the system is “broken”.

While the LGBTQ Writers Committee acknowledged that the film and television industries are in the midst of a “reckoning”, they also said that the “fight for inclusion and visibility has hardly begun.”

Reflecting on the past, the committee said LGBT+ characters were historically “entirely absent from major studio projects, except to be ridiculed, pitied, or pilloried”.

Those offensive depictions of queer people have enforced “harmful stereotypes and stigmas that have persisted through generations.”

While the situation has improved, the committee noted that LGBT+ characters today are often “reduced to our collective traumas”.

The group drew attention to GLAAD’s most recent report, which found that just 18.6 per cent of the 118 films released by major studios in 2019 included an LGBT+ character, while even fewer featured a queer character with more than 10 minutes of screen time.

“But on-screen visibility – or lack thereof – is not the entire story of how Hollywood continues to fail the LGBTQ+ community, and LGBTQ+ storytellers,” the committee continued.

“Last month, in a survey of 158 members of the WGAW’s LGBTQ+ Committee, a staggering 46 per cent of writers reported that they have hidden their identity – or felt compelled to do so – in an industry environment.

“Even when narrowing the focus to the past five years, that number remains at 25 per cent,” they noted.

When asked why they felt the need to hide their identities at work, queer writers said they were afraid of discrimination, losing their job and being stereotyped.

The committee also noted that 22 per cent of its members reported being the target of “overt discrimination or harassment” in the industry over the last five years.

“LGBTQ+ discrimination is not a problem of the past. Hollywood can no longer hide behind good intentions, progressive values, or marriage equality,” the letter said.

The committee went on to call out their industry for continuing to make television shows about queer people where there are no LGBT+ contributors in the writers’ room.

“Frequently, studio executives blame the very laws meant to protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination, claiming they cannot legally inquire about our sexualities or gender identities. The fact is, we are telling you how we self-identify. Now, we demand you value us and include us.”

LGBT+ writers are missing out on opportunities in Hollywood

Worryingly, the group went on to point out that more than one fifth of its members have been turned down for a job in the last five years before the writers’ room “already has an LGBTQ+ writer”.

“The LGBTQ+ community is not a monolith. We are not interchangeable. Yet our identities continue to be tokenised and our voices minimised by this ‘there can only be one’ mentality,” the committee wrote.

The writers appealed to Hollywood executives to stop engaging in “box-ticking” exercises when it comes to hiring queer writers.

“We refuse to feel fortunate to simply be allowed a seat at the table, only for our presence to be used as a ‘rainbow shield’ while our perspectives are ignored,” they added.

The committee closed out its letter by offering a series of recommendations to Hollywood executives to improve the standing of LGBT+ writers in the industry.

They urged executives to hire queer writers at the outset of a project instead of bringing LGBT+ people on board as “consultants” later in the process.

“Listen when we tell you an LGBTQ+ storyline, scene, character, or line of dialogue is problematic or inauthentic. When we speak up, it is not a personal attack. It is an opportunity to dig deeper and do better.”

The group also encouraged Hollywood executives to “do the work” to educate themselves on LGBT+ identities and terms.

“Respect our names, pronouns and boundaries. Do not stop trying when you stumble, or because you are afraid to ‘get it wrong.'”

The letter added: “The stories we tell, the stories you green light, determine the future that LGBTQ+ youth envision for themselves. What we see on-screen and how we are represented informs what we believe is possible.

“It is present-day Hollywood’s responsibility to make right all the harm caused by Hollywood’s past. The notion that even a single queer character will be deemed too much of a risk in our increasingly global market is unacceptable. Reject this idea, or knowingly choose to reject us.”

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