It’s incredibly meta to talk about a documentary about queer representation on television. And yet, here it is 2019 and we’re still in a place where we need to talk about the validity of our feelings and actions with regards to fandom.
This year at Outfest, Queering the Script debuted to talk about the history of queer female representation on television.
Gabrielle Zilkha’s latest film gathers a dynamite roster of fans, creators, and actors for an incisive discussion of the sometimes inspiring yet often troubled history of queer female representation on television. Galvanized by the upsetting trend of stereotyping, neglecting, or outright killing-off of TV’s beloved queer characters, Zilkha’s subjects beautifully articulate their frustrations and their ideas for better, more accurate, more inclusive visibility. Featuring interviews with Ilene Chaiken (The L Word), Angelica Ross (Pose), Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), and more.
The History of Queerness
Representation has always been thorny and fraught with contradictions and conflicting reports. For example, the Hays Code specifically applied to motion pictures, not television, which means it wasn’t directly the cause of television’s reluctance to show us queerness. That blame falls on the oft forgotten “Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters” which had similar restrictions (though also required news to be “factual, fair and without bias” and limited the number of commercials per hour).
The Television Code was halted as it was deemed a violation of the First Amendment in 1976, a full 15 years after the first queer female appeared on television. It wasn’t until 1983 that it was completely discarded, which tracks with the shift from negative representation in general.
Slash Forward to Shipping
You can’t talk about queerness in media without talking about slashfic, which is to say stories that combine two characters together, in a sexual relationship. The name derives from the first known couple and how it was presented: Kirk/Spock
If you’re old enough to have seen those light-purple, mimeographed papers, then you saw the beginning of FanFiction.net and An Archive of Our Own. This kind of content was generally spearheaded by heterosexual woman and was hidden under tables until the 1990s, when the conflux of the Internet plus The X-Files and Xena: Warrior Princess erupted onto the scene, seemingly Athenaesque, fully formed.
The term ‘shipping’ (from ‘relationship‘) stems from people who had fallen for the newest will-they/won’t-they couple: Mulder and Scully. But, as Queering the Script notes, they also fell for Mulder/Krycek. And around the same time, Xena: Warrior Princess shouted her battle cry and everyone saw sparks between Xena and the battling bard of Potedia, Gabrielle.
Queering the Fandom
Queering the Script covers all of that. From the old Yahoo email lists, through Xenite Retreats, and over to massive conventions like ClexaCon.
It brings home the reminder that we, as a fandom, are staved for positive, well written representation. It directly discusses why Lexa hit the community so hard. Much like we see our cons as a chance to be with family, the documentary is like listening to that same family talk about the things that brought us together in the first place.
A Note of Data…
Since we cover international queer television, and this includes web series, our data on death is a little different than other outlets. When we look at the previous six years, the data is a little less positive.
The extrapolated number of dead characters (based on all previous years) for 2019 was 20 character total. That number was reached by July 28th.
Now, this is somewhat ‘balanced’ by the higher number of characters on-air, but the ratio is still disproportionate. We’re currently working on generating the precise data per year, in order to calculate this with more accuracy. The take away, however, is that while 2016 was the peak year, it’s not actually that much better now, and it’s still above the predicted trend line.
Check out Queering the Script
It’s making the festival circuit right now and will be on Canadian TV after. Keep your eyes pealed and watch it where you can. For those of us in the community, it’s nothing new, but maybe sharing it with your friends and allies will help open their eyes.