Cultural trends are often reflected in film and literature. Over the years the way society views the LGBTQ+ community has shifted and that is reflected in media. TV shows are now trying to include queer characters, which is especially great for younger audiences. Although, there are still some problems in the entertainment industry when it comes to queer representation that need fixing.
According to a report by GLAAD, the number of LGBT representation has risen to 8.8% of regular characters in broadcast scripted primetime programming. Streaming services like Amazon, Hulu and Netflix also tend to have a higher percentage of queer characters because they have more leeway when it comes to what they can include in their programs. While those numbers seem pretty low to some people, they are still the highest percentages GLAAD has ever seen.
The 2016-2017 report made by GLAAD was also the first year that asexuals were able to be included on the report with Raphael Santiago on Shadowhunters and Todd Chavez on BoJack Horseman.
There are some important factors to include when thinking about the representation of any group in the media including who the creator is and who the target audience is.
For one, the quality of queer themes depends on the creators of the piece. If a creator is part of the LGBT community or they are knowledgeable on queer issues then they will usually come up with something that queer people will love. If a creator isn’t really invested or educated on those subjects then it can lead to mediocre underdeveloped characters.
Another factor is who the target audience is. In all industries, companies must have an idea of who they’re marketing to. For example, if a clothing brand makes products for teenagers, they’re going to market towards teenagers, if a makeup company makes products for darker skinned people then they’ll have dark-skinned people in their ads.
The same can be said for the entertainment industry; if they want to attract LGBT people then they’ll try to add queer characters that people will like and relate to. If a show creator isn’t really concerned with grabbing a queer audience then they probably won’t try too hard to make relatable queer characters because the majority of their target audience won’t be too critical of them. This is when creators resort to 2-dimensional background characters.
Love, Simon is a good example of queer representation done well. Love, Simon is a movie based on Becky Albertalli’s book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda which follows Simon Spier, a closeted gay teen who is forced to come out after a blackmailer discovers Simon’s emails with another closeted classmate. It got a lot of praise from audiences for being a good portrayal of modern life as a gay teenager.
Teen media these days are a good example for representation when it comes to marketing. Shows like Riverdale and 13 Reasons Why have included queer background characters because their audience of teens and young adults are generally cool with those themes.
No matter what a show does someone will always find issues with it especially when dealing with social issues. Some people get annoyed with PC culture and with what they see as shows trying too hard to be inclusive. On the other side, some people want representation in everything they see because they feel that the industry has to make up for their past. There are also people who don’t really care one way or another.
This is where queerbaiting comes into play. The term ‘queerbaiting’ refers to the practice of creators hinting at but never depicting same-sex relationships between characters. It is often used by creators to gain a large queer fanbase without having to sacrifice their mainstream audience.
Representation is especially important for young people. A lot of LGBT youths are struggling with identity and acceptance. Seeing depictions of people like them leads to self-acceptance and teaches empathy to people who are different.
Despite the lack of care dealt when portraying LGBTQ+ characters in the past, a lot of people are still hopeful that the industry will improve its work.
The media plays an important role in normalizing same-sex couples and transgender identities. More visibility and good representation can challenge heteronormativity and change people’s minds on LGBT rights issues.