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Emmy Awards see LGBT highs, viewership lows

Billy Porter makes history in memorable hat

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Emmy Awards, gay news, Los Angeles Blade

Billy Porter’s win for Best Actor made history. (Photo courtesy Invision/AP)

A host wasn’t the only thing missing at the 71st Annual Emmy Awards. Viewers stayed away in droves, driving the show’s ratings into the furthest recesses of the basement. Airing on Fox, the least-watched Emmys ever can at least claim credit for giving credence to one presenter’s bold declaration.

“Television has never been so damn good,” crowed Bryan Cranston, which might explain why a paltry 6.9 million people tuned in. Perhaps their time was spent bingeing on the shows that won big that night.

HBO’s “Game of Thrones” slayed the competition, with awards for Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. Peter Dinklage’s win saw him top six others, including fellow “Thrones” actors Alfie Allen and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Tellingly, only one Supporting Actor nominee came from a network TV show (Chris Sullivan, for “This Is Us”). Everyone else in the category hailed from cable and subscription services (Jonathan Banks and Giancarlo Esposito, of AMC’s “Better Call Saul” and Michael Kelly, from Netflix’s “House of Cards”).

That lopsided representation from sources other than network television was the river that ran through the Emmys, in both wins and nominations.

HBO’s “Barry” saw Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series nominations for Anthony Carrigan and Henry Winkler, alongside Tony Hale and Stephen Root, of HBO’s “Veep.” Netflix’s “The Kominsky Method” put Alan Arkin in competition for the award. Shutting out network TV entirely was the category’s final nominee, and winner: Tony Shalhoub, for Amazon Prime’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

Not quite the snoozefest its ratings suggest, the Emmys did manage to produce a few new notable moments of LGBT visibility.

Billy Porter made history, as the first openly gay black man to stand at the podium accepting the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.

The crown jewel of FX’s well-cast, ’80s-set NYC underground ball culture scene show “Pose,” dapper Porter’s win for the role of Prey Tell saw the actor declare, “I am so overwhelmed and I am so overjoyed to have lived long enough to see this day.” Quoting James Baldwin to reflect his own journey, Porter noted it, “Took many years of vomiting up all the filth that I had been taught about myself and halfway believed before I could walk around this earth like I had the right to be here,” then declared, “I have the right. You have the right. We all have the right.”

Answering in the affirmative the question, “Does anyone still wear a hat?” and proving there’s no better son than a gay one, Porter praised “my mama Clorinda,” noting, “There’s no stronger, more resilient woman who has graced this earth. I love you, Mommy.” The actor also sent “Much love to the Actors Fund nursing home,” as well as his castmates, his sister, his manager of 29 years, “Pose” creator Ryan Murphy, and his husband, Adam Porter Smith.

“I screamed when Billy Porter won,” recalls Frank DeCaro, whose recently released “Drag: Combing Through the Big Wigs of Show Business” chronicles drag artistry from the beginning of time to the present. “I said he would win an Emmy for Pray Tell the moment he sang ‘Home,’ from ‘The Wiz,’ in Season 1. This is the TV our little gay hearts asked for when we were growing up!”

And it’s not just the win that makes DeCaro’s heart flutter. “Pose,” he says, is “important television. It lets us into the lives of transgender people, and helps those of us who aren’t trans understand in a way that no speech or public service announcement ever could.”

DeCaro cites “unabashed moments of pure happiness” as the series’ most groundbreaking contribution. “That day-at-the-beach episode,” he recalls, “was the most radical thing ever. Nothing bad happened to the girls. Nothing! They were happy from beginning to end. Everyone deserves round-the-clock joy once in a while—and trans characters, as best I know, have never had that on television. It’s time.”

Longtime ally Patricia Arquette, who won the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie award for her work on Hulu’s “The Act,” used her public platform to further transgender visibility.

“…In my heart, I’m so sad I lost my sister Alexis, and that trans people are still being persecuted,” said Arquette, referring her HIV-positive sibling, who died of a heart attack in 2016.
Noting that she is “in mourning every day of my life,” Arquette spoke directly to her sister, declaring, “I will be [mourning] the rest of my life for you until we change the world, so that trans people are not persecuted… They’re human beings. Let’s give them jobs. Let’s get rid of this bias that we have everywhere.”

“Obviously, the big winner of the night was Patricia Arquette,” said Los Angeles-based drag queen Jackie Beat, who tweeted, immediately after the speech, “It makes perfect sense that Patricia Arquette was dressed like an angel tonight.”

Beat told the Blade she appreciates “what a tireless ally she has been for the entire LGBT community, but especially our Trans brothers and sisters. I think it’s incredible that she consistently uses the very limited time she has in front of millions to make a point or support a cause.”

Referencing that 2015 acceptance speech upon winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in “Boyhood,” Beat says she “was so disheartened by the subsequent backlash” Arquette received, when she made an appeal for wage equality. “I saw people on social media calling her an ‘entitled White woman,’ ” recalls Beat, noting, “I have known Patty for 30 years, and she is the real deal. The Arquette kids were raised in a f**king commune, not a gated community. We liberals need to stop attacking the very people who are obviously on our side and fighting the good fight. Mark my words, this will be our downfall… So, thank you Patricia, not only for your fearless and vanity-free performances, but also for fighting for what’s right. And for keeping the spirit of our sister Alexis alive through activism.”

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” drag mother extraordinaire, RuPaul Charles, snatched yet another Emmy, winning again in the Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition Program category.

For “Big Wigs” author DeCaro, it was “a landmark moment and a sign of real progress. A drag queen—and let me add, a flamboyant gay man of color—won a fourth Emmy Award, and then kissed his husband on the mouth, as you do when you’re married and something great happens.”

DeCaro called that moment “fantastic,” imagining the impact it had on “that kid sitting at home, feeling alone, watching the Emmys, and seeing that. When I was at my most impressionable age, the only gays I saw on TV were either tragic or closeted. Now they’re real and wear dresses for money. I’d call that a definite improvement.”

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Trans woman returns to ‘Jeopardy!’ Monday with three-game win streak

“I know that in my life it’s great to see trans women Out not freaks or other things until only a few years ago was all you ever saw them as”

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Screenshot via YouTube

CULVER CITY, Ca. — Amy Schneider, a trans woman from Oakland, will make her fourth “Jeopardy!” appearance Monday after winning three games last week during Trans Awareness Week.

The returning champ has amassed $110,200 in prize money since her win streak started last Wednesday. But her total hasn’t climbed that high without taking risks.

During Friday’s episode, she wagered $15,000. “I was betting the price of a car, which just felt wrong,” she tweeted. “But it paid off again, and I’d topped $100K in total winnings! I’ll repeat that: ONE. HUNDRED. THOUSAND. DOLLARS.”

After her victory on Friday’s show, she told Newsweek that she had been trying to get on the show for over a decade. 

“I’m not sure quite how long [ago I first applied], but I remember trying out when I still lived in Ohio, and I’ve lived in Oakland since 2009, so it has to have been at least that amount of time,” she said. 

Schneider also explained how her transition in 2017 might have helped her finally get a spot on the show. 

“The reality is that for the first few years of that, when I was trying out, I was, as far as any of us knew, a standard white guy,” she told the magazine. “And there’s just more competition for those slots on Jeopardy! They’re making a TV show, they don’t want everybody to look the same, and I looked a lot like many of the other contestants, and I think that definitely made it a little tougher for me at that time. I would have got on eventually — I was never gonna stop trying!”

In the post-Alex Trebek era, multiple trans contestants have appeared on the show, including Kate Freeman, who became the first out trans champion in “Jeopardy!” history last December. 

On Twitter, Schneider thanked previous trans contestants for “blazing the trail!”

In her interview with Newsweek, Schneider also noted the importance of trans visibility. 

“I know that in my life, [it’s great] to see trans women out there, not being the sort of freaks or prostitutes, or other things that until only a few years ago was all you ever saw them as,” she said. “So as that changed, as I’ve been able to see them in other contexts—as the human beings that they are—that’s been really important for me. And so I’m just really glad to be able to do that same thing for other people.”

WATCH: JEOPARDY! S38E50 || November 22th 2021

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Television

Father & son writing team give ‘The Simpsons’ gay character a boyfriend

“And what I think I was really excited about, with this episode, we get to see of how gay people date, how they meet, what it’s like”

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Waylon Smithers (left) kisses his first boyfriend, fashion mogul Michael De Graaf (Photo courtesy of The Simpsons ™ & © 20th Television)

HOLLYWOOD – Rob LaZebnik, 59, one of the creative writers and co-executive producer of the longest running cartoon comedy in American television history, ‘The Simpsons,’ teamed up with his son Johnny, 27, also a television creative writer to produce an episode that gives the character of Waylon Smithers a boyfriend.

The episode set to air on Sunday, November 21 the start of the Thanksgiving holiday week is titled ‘Portrait Of A Lackey On Fire.’ The synopsis for the episode reads: “Smithers finds true love with a famous fashion designer, but will his new relationship destroy Springfield?

The long-suffering assistant to the show’s Über wealthy and twisted maniacal character of Montgomery Burns, falls in love with fashion designer Michael De Graaf, voiced by four time Tony award and six time Emmy award nominated Out actor Victor Garber. Smithers is voiced by Emmy award winner Harry Shearer.

The 2016 season episode of ‘Tom Collins’, had Smithers come out as gay after years of speculation. For the elder LaZebnik, who wrote that episode, his inspiration was his son Johnny who is gay. For the writing duo, this up coming episode brings the storyline full circle as they explore a gay relationship.

In an interview with the New York Post published Thursday, the elder LaZebnik told the paper; “To be able to work with Johnny on this was, like, such a dream and to be able to see how truly funny and talented he is was just, you know, super fun and rewarding.”

His son noted, “I know my dad is a comedy writer. I grew up with him — obviously, I know he’s a funny guy,” Johnny, 27, told The Post. “But actually getting to sit down and write jokes with him was so much fun. And there were some moments where I was like, ‘Dad, that’s disgusting — we can’t put that on television,’ which I didn’t expect to be saying because I’m usually the disgusting one.”

“We now have this piece of content that we put into the world together that is a combined brainpower of the two of us.” 

‘The Simpsons’ writer Rob LaZebnik, right, with his son Johnny
Courtesy of Rob and Johnny LaZebnik

The younger LaZebnik also told the Post; “So often, gay romances are a subplot or alluded to or shown in some kind of montage or as a punchline.

“And what I think I was really excited about, with this episode, we get to see – without spoiling too much – the beginning, middle and who knows how it ends of a gay relationship, of really getting into the nitty-gritty of how gay people date, how they meet, what it’s like.”

He added: “That was really special to me to get to highlight characters who are not punchlines, who are fully formed.”

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Queer ‘whodunit’ fans will love ‘The Long Call’

New limited series puts gay detective on the case

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Ben Aldridge stars in ‘The Long Call.’ (Photo courtesy Britbox)

If there’s anything a year plus of binge-watching has taught us about human beings as a species – yes, including LGBTQ human beings – it’s the fact that we love a good police procedural. And for the true connoisseur, nobody makes a better police procedural than the British. Now, a new limited series from UK network ITV – available in the U.S. via Britbox – has finally given queer “whodunit” fans what we’ve all been waiting for: a gay detective on the case.

 In “The Long Call,” based on the book by popular mystery author Ann Cleeves, DI Matthew Venn takes charge of his very first murder investigation after returning (with a husband in tow) to the small town where he grew up – a place he turned his back on 20 years before when the religious sect in which he was raised refused to accept his sexuality. Now he is being pulled deep into the secrets of a community that once rejected him, forced to confront regrets and resentments he thought he had left behind as the clues in the case point closer and closer to home.

Executed with the polish and nuance one has come to expect from these UK productions, it’s highly recommended for a multitude of reasons. But what makes it particularly appealing to queer viewers is the casting of Ben Aldridge, who himself recently came out publicly as gay, in the central role. Aldridge took time to talk about his experience with the project – and about coming out – with the Blade. Our conversation is below.

BLADE: Were the parallels between you and your character all coincidental?

BEN ALDRIDGE: It’s what drew me to the project in the first place. I’d actually done the read for the audiobook, before it was commissioned as a TV piece, and I wasn’t out publicly at the time but I was like, “I wonder if someone in that publishing house knows that I’m gay?” And I was pleasantly surprised by the book, and how Ann had chosen to write a queer character at the center of one of her novels.

When it came ‘round as a TV piece, and they were interested in me being in it, what drew me in was the exploration of his queerness, how it’s central to his journey and to the whole piece as well. Yes, of course you have the whole thrust of the ‘whodunit’ story – which is why we all love these shows – but it’s the personal focus in it that really intrigued me.

BLADE: It really does make your character’s queerness a core component of the plot

ALDRIDGE: Yes, that’s something I’m particularly proud of about this show, because – I mean representation is at the forefront, and rightly so, of many producers’ and content creators’ minds right now, but there’s a version of this kind of show where that can just be box-ticking, where you’re including queer characters and characters of color without exploring how that affects their life. And this one does explore that. It’s not just a gay detective who happens to have a husband, and we have one scene with them drinking tea together and then we don’t ever talk about his queerness, at all, again.

BLADE: Speaking of talking about queerness, let’s talk about your decision to come out publicly.

ALDRIDGE: It just felt like something I had to do for myself, or claim for myself. I was already very much open in my day-to-day life, anyway, about my sexuality. But doing that publicly – I guess I was protecting some sense of ambiguity, and that was maybe a hangover from early on when, either via osmosis or by direct conversation, I’d been told it would ruin my career. I think that was still with me, quite strongly, even though I’ve said personally and in private to myself for a long while that if my sexuality means I’m not hired for something then I don’t want to work with those people anyway.

But there was some part of me that thought ‘I’ll still maybe fly under this radar, I don’t need to come out and do this.’ And it just got to a point where I was like, ‘Actually, I do need to do this.’ It felt important to me to be visible, and to say who I am and not try and hide from it.

BLADE: And how has it changed things for you?

ALDRIDGE: I feel like something has opened up for me, like there’s this well of emotion that’s available to me that hadn’t been before. To be able to navigate the world and not ever to feel like I’m avoiding or guarding something – I feel like things are better than they ever have been, really.

BLADE: Life is always better when you don’t have to hide significant parts of yourself.

ALDRIDGE: Definitely. And I think I was doing that, managing that, even on a very “micro” level that I wasn’t aware of. To stop doing that is really just… a weight lifted.

And really, the whole fear around actors being out is capitalism. That fear that people won’t pay, or watch, if they can’t believe they can have a relationship with the person that they’re watching. If they can’t suspend their disbelief. I think what we’re slowly discovering is that this actually isn’t the case. 

BLADE: Like your character, you grew up in a strict religious environment. How does that factor into your being out now?

ALDRIDGE: I was raised ‘round the religious right focus of “praying the demons away,” and conversion therapy – it was never spoken to me about directly, but I was certainly around the language of being “cured,” and being “saved” from that. There are people from my past who would struggle with who I am. And I don’t desire to be in a room of people that don’t accept who I am.

BLADE: Finally, since you’re now officially an out and proud actor, where do you fall in the debate over whether straight performers should play LGBTQ+ characters?

ALDRIDGE: It’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. I think the important thing is that there is attention being paid to it. We’re in a place of learning, which is great. For me, it can afford to be nuanced. I don’t think we need rules, I think rules are radical, and rules are the opposite of what “queerness” is. Obviously, when queerness is central to a story, then yes, a lived insight is needed to bring that to life. And maybe we do have to force things a bit before we settle into a place where there CAN be more nuance to it – but that doesn’t necessarily mean there has to be a queer actor in a queer role. I think the whole wider creative team needs to be responsible for bringing authenticity, with queer people in the writer’s room, and if the right actor is the right actor, they’ll do a good job. 

I don’t think that it’s as simple as, “Only queer actors for queer parts.”

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