LGBTQ characters and shows in focus at Emmys

Last year 8.8% of the 857 characters appearing on primetime television shows identified as LGBTQ. (AFP pic)

LOS ANGELES: The Emmy Awards on Sunday will shine the spotlight on LGBTQ talent, with several queer artists and shows featuring gay, lesbian and transgender characters among the nominees, highlighting Hollywood’s efforts to close the diversity gap.

The strong representation at this year’s Emmys reflects the LGBTQ community’s growing power in Hollywood – and the huge strides the industry has made in bringing those issues to the small screen.

It also represents the growing ability of streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon to produce shows that reflect seismic changes in American society.

“The number of LGBTQ nominees at this year’s Emmy Awards is a sign that things are starting to change in Hollywood,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, an advocacy group that monitors diversity in the media, including on television.

Groundbreaking FX series “Pose,” which explores New York’s underground ballroom culture in the 1980s, featured the largest cast of transgender actors in regular series roles when it premiered last year.

It’s up for best drama series honours, and star Billy Porter is the first openly gay black man nominated for best lead actor in a drama.

Transgender actress Laverne Cox earned her third nomination this year for her recurring role on breakout Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black.”

Also vying for Emmys glory is gay actor Ben Whishaw (“A Very English Scandal”) and lesbian actress Fiona Shaw, a double nominee for her work on “Killing Eve” and “Fleabag.”

In a ceremony ahead of Sunday’s main gala, Australian comic Hannah Gadsby won an Emmy for best writing on a variety special for her runaway hit “Nanette.”

Several other artists from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community, including television host Ellen DeGeneres – one of Hollywood’s first openly gay celebrities – also secured nods.

“With nominations for series like ‘Pose’ and ‘Special,’ and for performances from Hannah Gadsby, Laverne Cox, Billy Porter, and many more, we are seeing the diversity of LGBTQ people not only represented in mainstream media, but also celebrated,” Ellis told AFP.

“These shows and performances are certainly connecting with audiences everywhere, and that is something that can no longer be ignored within the entertainment industry.”

Increased representation

According to GLAAD’s 2018 annual report, the number of LGBTQ characters on television hit a record high last year, with 8.8% of the 857 characters appearing on primetime television shows identified as on the gay, trans or queer spectrum.

Television got its first trans superhero in 2018 in the form of actress Nicole Maines, who featured as Dreamer on the CW series “Supergirl.”

But despite the remarkable advances made for better representation on television, LGBTQ advocates say there is still room for improvement.

A new study published this week by the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) said that in order for Hollywood to be a more inclusive and diverse industry, companies need to adopt new strategies focused on hiring, sponsoring and promoting minorities and women.

“Despite audience yearnings for change, the history of diversity efforts in Hollywood suggests that the industry’s diversity problem will not simply correct itself,” said the report drafted by the authors of UCLA’s annual Hollywood Diversity Report.

“The path forward must be paved with intentions – by industry decision-makers who actively embrace the means necessary for achieving the end of a more inclusive creative space.”

Nico Tortorella, who stars on the TV Land series “Younger” and identifies as non-binary, said while LGBTQ issues have become more common themes on TV shows, that did not necessarily reflect an overall change in society.

“There’s a big difference between society as a whole and what’s going on in social media,” Tortorella told Variety magazine, which recently published a special issue on the state of LGBT inclusion in Hollywood.

“It’s a confusing time, that’s for sure,” said Tortorella, who will soon star in a new “Walking Dead” spin-off.

“In terms of representation in Hollywood, yes, it’s getting better.

“But a lot of characters we write for queer people are still determined by the violence they experience.”