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Television

GLAAD TV report acknowledges progress — and some setbacks

Media watchdog challenges industry to do better

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Charlie Barnett (left) and Rushi Koti in ‘Ordinary Joe.’ (Photo courtesy NBC)

As we move further into 2022 and away from the pandemic-fatigued rollercoaster that was 2021, it’s perhaps more important than ever for us to look back together and take stock of where we are. This is particularly true when it comes to matters affecting communities that have historically taken the hardest hits in times of cultural stress – the disenfranchised among us are always the ones who slip most easily between the cracks, after all. Obviously, that includes the LGBTQ population, whose advances in recent years often tempt us to assume that, while all things may not yet be entirely equal, they are at least so much improved that we can stop paying attention.

There’s a danger, however, in taking our progress for granted. That’s why it’s wise for us all to take heed when GLAAD issues its annual “Where We Are On TV” report, as it did last week. Its findings show that, despite some shortfalls, there’s clear reason to celebrate our progress since the days when the only queer representation on our home screens was coded, stereotyped, and mostly tragic when it wasn’t played for laughs at our expense – but there’s still a long way to go before we can safely pause to rest on our laurels.

Looking at that report, which analyzes the overall diversity of primetime scripted series regulars on broadcast networks, as well as assessing the number of LGBTQ regular and recurring characters on primetime scripted cable programming and original scripted streaming series, it’s impossible not to acknowledge the good news.

While LGBTQ representation was down in last year’s report among regular characters on broadcast scripted series, this year saw a 2.8% increase in that total. Even better, this increase brings the total figure up to 11.9% – a new record-high percentage since the inaugural report 17 years ago. That means that out of the 775 series regular characters appearing in content that premiered or is expected to return between June 1, 2021 and May 31, 2022, 92 of them are LGBTQ. In addition, there are 49 recurring LGBTQ characters, bringing the total number of queer characters on broadcast television up to 141.

When we add streaming platforms to the mix, the picture gets even brighter. On original scripted programming across eight platforms (expanded from the three tracked in previous reports), there are 245 regular and 113 recurring LGBTQ characters, bringing the combined total to 358.

When it comes to cable, however, there’s a deficit. While the report from two years ago (covering the last pre-pandemic TV season) featured 215 queer cable characters, that number fell to 118 with last year’s report and has only risen by 20 this year, bringing the total to 138 (87 regular, 51 recurring) – still far fewer than counted in the prior report.

Despite that disappointing nuance, LGBTQ people clearly enjoy a greater presence on TV overall than ever before. In the more granular details, however, it’s obvious there’s room for improvement.

This year, lesbian characters represent a majority of LGBTQ regular or recurring characters on broadcast television for the first time in the report’s history. Lesbians make up 40% (56 characters), up six points from the previous season. Gay men make up 35 percent (49 characters), a decrease of five points from last year (though still an increase of 9 characters), but bisexual+ representation, after decreasing for the past two years, has increased – albeit slightly – to reflect 19% (27 characters) of the total, up a single point from the 2021 report. Notably, bisexual+ representation is still skewed heavily in favor of women (124 total characters), with bi+ men (50 characters) and bi+ nonbinary individuals (9) trailing far behind.

In addition, the number of transgender characters has increased across broadcast, cable, and streaming programming, with 42 regular and recurring transgender characters tracked across all three platforms, an encouraging improvement over last year’s 29. Of those characters, 20 are trans women, 14 are trans men, and eight are nonbinary trans characters. A further 17 characters are nonbinary and not trans. Yet there were only two asexual characters – one of which appeared on HBO Max’s now-cancelled “Genera+ion”, and one slated for inclusion in an unspecified upcoming streaming series. No asexual characters are expected to be featured on broadcast or cable.

More troubling are the figures on racial diversity among LGBTQ characters, which has increased on broadcast and streaming, but dropped significantly on cable. GLAAD previously issued a challenge to ensure that more than half of LGBTQ characters on television were also people of color, and while this year’s report confirms that broadcast content continues to meet that challenge, with LGBTQ people of color representing 58% of its LGBTQ characters for the fourth year in a row, cable programming – which met and surpassed the challenge last year – shows an alarming drop to only 45% of overall total LGBTQ representation. Representation of LGBTQ people of color still lags on streaming but increased to 49% in this year’s report.

Similarly underwhelming are the figures on representation for people with disabilities, down to 2.8% of all series regular characters from last year’s 3.5%. This number is disproportionately lower than the actual number of those with disabilities in the United States (13.3%) and includes only a small handful of LGBTQ characters within the overall total.

Perhaps the most disappointing finding is the decrease of representation for people living with HIV or AIDS – a demographic with an already-abysmal showing on TV. This year’s report marks only two HIV+ characters across all platforms (down from last year’s three, all of whom appeared on FX’s “Pose”), and a significant decrease from the nine tallied in the study prior to that. Both of this year’s POZ characters are recurring. These findings are particularly worrisome considering the challenge issued by GLAAD and Gilead Sciences with last year’s study, which called on the entertainment industry to grow representation of HIV with the goal of driving cultural and societal change in ending the stigma around the millions who live with it.

What does all this mean, and why does it matter? For those who recognize the dire importance of positive queer representation in the media in the ongoing struggle to expand LGBTQ+ acceptance, the answer is obvious. For anyone who questions the need for advocacy groups like GLAAD to continue placing pressure on content providers in their effort to ensure continued progress, the answer is summed up in the statement issued with the report by GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis:

“The growing state of LGBTQ representation on television is a signal that Hollywood is truly starting to recognize the power of telling LGBTQ stories that audiences around the world connect with. At a time when anti-LGBTQ legislation and violence continues to increase, it is cultural institutions like television that take on the crucial role of changing hearts and minds through diverse and inclusive storytelling. Networks and platforms must continue to prioritize telling LGBTQ stories that have been long overlooked, with a specific focus on the trans community, LGBTQ people of color, people living with HIV, and LGBTQ people with disabilities.”

Read the full report at glaad.org.

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Pride Special

Netflix celebrates LGBTQ+ storytelling with releases for Pride Month

The collection features impactful documentaries, dramas, comedies including smash hit Heartstopper (renewed for 2 more seasons) & many more

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Netflix graphic by illustrator Ben Nichols

HOLLYWOOD – Netflix is slaying Pride Month with a slew of offerings shining a spotlight on the diverse spectrum of LGBTQ+ stories, identities and self-expression with its new collection, Shine With Pride.

With over 460 titles, the collection features impactful documentaries, dramas, comedies including Getting Curious With Jonathan Van Ness, Heartstopper  (just renewed for two more seasons), She-Ra and The Princess of Power, Elite and many more.

Screenshot: ‘Boyfriends’ from the Netflix/See-Saw films series ‘Heartstopper’ by Alice May Oseman

Inspired by the range of color and symbolism present in the Pride flag, illustrator Ben Nichols created the collection artwork to celebrate the uniqueness that makes the LGBTQ+ community extraordinary.

Throughout the year we’ll be unveiling new collections in collaboration with new artists, so stay tuned. Previous collections included Black History Month, Lunar New Year, Earth Month, Asian American American Pacific Islander Month, Global Accessibility Awareness Day and more. 

Additionally, Netflix will have new specials, series and films launching all month. Check them out below: 

Stand Out: An LGBTQ+ Celebration  

Release Date: June 9, 2022 

The largest-ever gathering of LGBTQ+ comics.  The historic celebration featured some of the best in LGBTQ+ comedy legends and emerging talent hosted by Billy Eichner. Highlights included icon Ani DiFranco introducing Margaret Cho, Sarah Paulson introducing Tig Notaro, Lily Tomlin introducing Sandra Bernhard, Lena Waithe introducing Wanda Sykes, and Rosie O’Donnell closing the night and inviting the rest of the performers joining her on stage for a NEW rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s hit Girls Just Want to Have Fun, GAYS Just Want to Have Fun. Other incredible talent who performed throughout the night included Bob the Drag Queen, Eddie Izzard, Solomon Georgio, Sam Jay, River Butcher, Patti Harrison, Matteo Lane, Marsha Warfield, Mae Martin, Judy Gold, Joel Kim Booster, James Adomian, Guy Branum, Gina Yashere, Trixie Mattel, Scott Thompson, and Todd Glass. Stand Out is produced by Page Hurwitz,  Wanda Sykes (Push It Productions), Brian Graden and Dave Mace (Brian Graden Media).

Stand Out: An LGBTQ+ Celebration. Solomon Georgio, Matteo Lane, Joel Kim Booster Patti Harrison, Margaret Cho, Guy Branum, Sam Jay, River Butcher, Rosie O’Donnell, Bob the Drag Queen, Trixie Mattel Todd Glass, Mae Martin, Marsha Warfield, Wanda Sykes, James Adomian, Fortune Feimster, Tig Notaro, Sandra Bernhard, Judy Gold, Gina Yashere, Eddie Izzard at The Greek Theatre for Netflix Is A Joke Fest. Cr. Beth Dubber/Netflix © 2022

First Kill

Release Date: June 10 

When it’s time for teenage vampire Juliette to make her first kill so she can take her place among a powerful vampire family, she sets her sights on a new girl in town named Calliope. But much to Juliette’s surprise, Calliope is a vampire hunter, from a family of celebrated slayers.  Both find that the other won’t be so easy to kill and, unfortunately, way too easy to fall for. 

Created by: From Felicia D. Henderson (EP, Co-Creator, Showrunner); V. E. Schwab (EP & Co-Creator); Emma Roberts & Kara Preiss (Belletrist Productions, EPs) Cast: Sarah Catherine Cook, Imani Lewis, Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost, Outerbanks), Aubin Wise (Atlanta), Jason Robert Moore (The Punisher), Gracie Dzienny (Jupiter’s Legacy), Will Swenson (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), Jonas Dylan Allen. 

Halftime 

Release Date: June 14 

Directed by Amanda Micheli, HALFTIME offers an intimate peek behind the curtain revealing the grit and determination that makes Jennifer Lopez the icon she is. The documentary focuses on Lopez as she embraces the second half of her career and continues to inspire with her perseverance, creative brilliance and cultural contributions, set against the backdrop of her groundbreaking Super Bowl performance.

Iron Chef: Quest For An Iron Legend
Release Date: June 15 

Iron Chef. (L to R) Dominique Crenn, Kristen Kish in episode 102 of Iron Chef. Cr. Greg Gayne/Netflix © 2022

The legendary Iron Chef series is reborn with a supersized approach to the ground-breaking culinary competition that started it all. It’s been called the toughest culinary challenge a chef will ever experience. This is where world-class cuisine meets high-octane sports. Five new trailblazing Iron Chefs will welcome brave Challenger Chefs to the reimagined Kitchen Stadium, where they’ll face off and be pushed to the limits of endurance and creativity, as they cook up extraordinary culinary creations. The competition’s most successful Challenger will return to battle in a grand finale for the chance to be named the first ever “Iron Legend.” 

Cast: Hosts – Alton Brown and Kristen Kish;  Iron Chefs – Curtis Stone, Dominique Crenn, Marcus Samuelson, Ming Tsai, Gabriela Camara

Dead End: Paranormal Park Season 1 

Release Date: June 16 

Based on creator and executive producer Hamish Steele’s horror-comedy graphic novels DeadEndia and web short Dead End, Dead End: Paranormal Park  follows the adventures of Barney, Norma and magical-talking-dog Pugsley, as they balance their summer jobs at the local theme park haunted house while battling the totally real supernatural forces that dwell within it. Together with their guide to the underworld multiplane, a sardonic thousand-year-old demon named Courtney, they’ll face zombie mascots, demonic game show hosts, sleep-sucking witches and the scariest thing of all: their first crushes! The series will also feature a special musical episode with songs written by Patrick Stump. 

Cast: Zach Barack, Kody Kavitha, Emily Osment, Alex Brightman, Clinton Leupp a.k.a. Miss Coco Peru, Kenny Tran and Kathreen Khavari; Guest Stars: Alan Cumming, Angelica Ross, C Nelson, Kemah Bob, MJ Roridguez, Patrick Stump, Sam Jay, Taylor “Effy” Gibson, Tom Lenk, Z Infante and more! 

The Umbrella Academy Season 3 

Release Date: June 22 

After putting a stop to 1963’s doomsday, the Umbrella Academy returns home to the present, convinced they prevented the initial apocalypse and fixed this godforsaken timeline once and for all. But after a brief moment of celebration, they realize things aren’t exactly (okay, not at all) how they left them. Enter the Sparrow Academy. Smart, stylish, and about as warm as a sea of icebergs, the Sparrows immediately clash with the Umbrellas in a violent face-off that turns out to be the least of everyone’s concerns. Navigating challenges, losses, and surprises of their own – and dealing with an unidentified destructive entity wreaking havoc in the Universe (something they may have caused) — now all they need to do is convince Dad’s new and possibly better family to help them put right what their arrival made wrong. Will they find a way back to their pre-apocalyptic lives? Or is this new world about to reveal more than just a hiccup in the timeline?

Created for Television by: Steve Blackman Cast: Elliot Page, Tom Hopper, David Castañeda, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Robert Sheehan, Aidan Gallagher, Justin H. Min, Colm Feore, Ritu Arya, Justin Cornwell, Britne Oldford, Jake Epstein, Genesis Rodriguez, Cazzie David, Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton, Jordan Claire Robbins

The Umbrella Academy. (L to R) Elliot Page as Viktor Hargreeves, Emmy Raver-Lampman as Allison Hargreeves in episode 301 of The Umbrella Academy. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Note: Elliot Page’s character transitions in the season and begins using the name Viktor Hargreeves and he/him pronouns. The storyline was crafted by creator Steve Blackman who both consulted GLAAD and enlisted writer Thomas Page McBee’s guidance and expertise to, alongside Elliot Page, help ensure the storyline was told authentically and sensitively. 

Joel Kim Booster: Psychosexual  

Release Date: June 21  

Filmed at Catch One in Los Angeles by Doron Max Hagay, Joel Kim Booster makes his Netflix comedy special debut with Psychosexual. In a uniquely crafted three set act; Booster discusses learning the cultural nuances of being Asian as he gets older, shares his preference for threesomes with tips for successful masturbation and his fascination for human sexuality and much more. 

Joel Kim Booster: Psychosexual. Joel Kim Booster in Joel Kim Booster: Psychosexual. Cr. Terence Patrick/Netflix © 2022.

QUEEN

Release Date: June 23

Sylwester, a retired tailor who now moonlights as a drag queen, left Poland fifty years ago and has been living in Paris ever since. One day he gets a letter, asking him to donate a kidney to his ill daughter, who he left behind all these years ago and has never seen. Reluctant, he embarks on a journey back to his motherland, to the coal mining town he swore never to return to. The journey takes an unexpected turn, forcing Sylwester to confront the past and use his artistic skills to mount a stage production to save this small coal mine town. It is a story of redemption, second chances and love overcoming all differences.

Original idea by: Arni Olafur Asgeirsson. Created by: Arni Olafur Asgeirsson, Kacper Wysocki, Ottó Geirborg. Directed by: Łukasz Kośmicki. Cast: Andrzej Seweryn, Maria Peszek, Julia Chętnicka, Antoni Porowski & Kova Rea. 

The Upshaws (Season 2, Part 1)

Release Date: June 29 

A multi-camera comedy that centers on a working-class African American family in Indiana struggling to make it work and make it right without the blueprints to do it. Bennie Upshaw (Mike Epps), the head of a Black working class family in Indianapolis, is a charming, well-intentioned mechanic and lifelong mess just trying his best to step up and care for his family — wife Regina (Kim Fields), their two young daughters (Khali Spraggins, Journey Christine) and firstborn son (Jermelle Simon), the teenage son (Diamond Lyons) he fathered with another woman (Gabrielle Dennis) — and tolerate his sardonic sister-in-law (Wanda Sykes), all without a blueprint for success. But the Upshaws are determined to make it work, and make it to the next level, together. In Season 2, Part 1, the Upshaws continue to ride life’s ups and downs, including new loves, old flames, big dreams, life changes and the love and drama that comes with family. 

Created by: Regina Y. Hicks and Wanda Sykes; Cast: Mike Epps, Kim Fields, Wanda Sykes, Page Kennedy, Diamond Lyons, Khali Daniya-Renee Spraggins, Jermelle Simon, Gabrielle Dennis, Journey Christine

The Upshaws. (L to R) Wanda Sykes as Lucretia, Kim Fields as Regina in episode 205 of The Upshaws. Cr. Lisa Rose/Netflix © 2022

COMING SOON!

Uncoupled

Release Date: July 29

Michael (Neil Patrick Harris) thought his life was perfect until his husband blindsides him by walking out the door after 17 years. Overnight, Michael has to confront two nightmares — losing what he thought was his soulmate and suddenly finding himself a single gay man in his mid-forties in New York City.

Series Creators / Executive Producers/ Writers: Darren Star and Jeffrey Richman; Cast: Neil Patrick Harris, Tisha Campbell, Brooks Ashmanskas, Emerson Brooks, Marcia Gay Harden, Tuc Watkins 

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Television

Ellen signs off after 19 seasons

In her final monologue DeGeneres reflected on the journey across the years then took a moment to dance through the audience with Twitch

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Screenshot/YouTube

BURBANK – The lights went dark forever at the Warner Brothers Stage 1 complex on the lot at Warner Brothers Studio, home to the Ellen show, as comedian Ellen DeGeneres ended her daytime talk show after a 19 season run Thursday.

In a highly charged emotional hour, DeGeneres paid tribute to her staff, executive producers and a global audience of loyal viewers. Highlighting the end run of the show DeGeneres brought on guest Jennifer Aniston, the actress having been the comedian’s very first guest on the first show.

In her final monologue DeGeneres reflected on the journey across the years and she then took a moment to dance through the audience with her ‘DJ’ Twitch. During the course of the hour she discussed the progress that had been made since the series premiered in 2003, noting that she “couldn’t say ‘gay’ on the show” when it started or make a reference to her wife, Portia de Rossi, because same-sex marriage wasn’t legal.

“Now I say ‘wife’ all the time,” she said.  Noting that there was resistance to the show and that few gave it a chance of surviving, DeGeneres promised that she wouldn’t be gone for long. “Today is not the end of a relationship, it’s more of a little break,” she said. “You can see other talk shows now.”

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Television

Check out final season of ‘Grace and Frankie’ — it ends well

Groundbreaking show highlights queer, straight elders

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Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are wrapping their groundbreaking series. (Photo by Melissa Moseley; courtesy Netflix)

They make up a fake Jewish holiday (M’Challah) to avoid seeing their friends, lie to their kids about killing their bunny, obsess over playing John Adams in a (very gay) community theater production of the musical “1776” and create vibrators that glow in the dark. Their children sell their house out from under them and make them wear panic alerts.

These people might well creep you out in real life.

But, thankfully, they’re the funny and engaging characters on “Grace and Frankie,” the series, whose seventh and final season has recently dropped on Netflix.

The  show, starring Lily Tomlin, 82, (Frankie) and Jane Fonda, 84, (Grace) as two hetero elders whose husbands (Martin Sheen, 81 as Robert and Sam Waterston, 81, as Sol) leave them to marry each other, is, deservedly, Netflix’s longest-running series.

In 2019, there were 54.1 million people in the United States over 65, according to a Administration for Community Living of the U.S. Department of Human Services report. Elders, the study says, are expected to make up 2l.6 percent of this country’s population by 2040.

There are nearly three million (2.7 million) LGBTQ people over aged 50 in the U.S. and 1.1 million queer elders 65 and older in this country, according to a 2017 Movement Advancement Project and SAGE report.

Yet aside from “Transparent,” few TV series (broadcast, cable or streaming) have featured, let alone, been centered around, older queers.

“Grace and Frankie” is the rare series that’s focused on the lives of elders (hetero and queer). Unlike some shows that showcase older people, it’s been mostly entertaining, even thought provoking, rather than dull or didactic throughout its run.

Set in San Diego, “Grace and Frankie” throughout its seasons has told the story of how Frankie and Grace have created a life of their own as Robert and Sol have entered a new chapter of their lives as a same-sex couple. 

Frankie, Grace, Robert and Sol, who are in their 70s, are affluent. Robert and Sol are successful divorce lawyers. Grace has run a flourishing cosmetics company. Frankie is a new-agey artist who teaches art to ex-convicts.

When Robert and Sol say that they’re leaving them to wed each other because same-sex marriage has become legal in California, Frankie says she’s done a fundraiser for that.

The beach house where Grace and Frankie live is breathtakingly gorgeous. Yet these characters encounter the indignities and dilemmas of aging from learning about social media to coming out in late life to memory loss to end-of-life decisions.

Grace and Frankie run up against the condescension that older women often face. Yet though these are serious concerns, “Grace and Frankie” hasn’t been a downer. 

In one episode, as I’ve written before in the Blade, Grace and Frankie, though they’re practically jumping in front of his face, can’t get a store’s sales clerk to notice them. Because he’s paying so much attention to a young woman. Frankie gives up and steals a pack of cigarettes. If “you can’t see me,” Frankie says, “you can’t stop me.”

In season two, their friend Babe (Estelle Parsons), who is terminally ill, tells Frankie and Grace that she wants them to help her end her life. Though it’s difficult emotionally for them, the women give their friend Babe a good-bye party that’s joyous without being maudlin.

Robert and Sol deal with Robert being in the early stages of dementia. This narrative is touching, but not sappy. Though you should have a tissue in hand for Robert and Sol’s elevator moment in the show’s finale.

Like many old people, the characters have their ups and downs in relating to their adult children. These off-spring from Brianna (June Diane Raphael), a 21st century Cruella de Vil, to Bud (Baron Vaughn), the often wrong-headed “good son,” would try any elder’s soul. 

The main pleasure of “Grace and Frankie” is watching Tomlin and Fonda. The two forces of nature, friends since their “9 to 5″ days, make you laugh and cry with the BFFs Grace and Frankie.

TV series, like everything, have to end. Check out “Grace and Frankie.” It ends well.

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