ACT-UP | Activism | Looking | Television | The New Normal | The Normal Heart

Hollywood's Overrepresentation of White, Gay Men

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Television shows and movies like Looking, and Dallas Buyers Club are increasingly bringing LGBT stories to the big and small screens, but their representations of diversity within the queer community are sorely lacking. White, gay, male characters are grossly overrepresented, according to a Vox analysis of a number of recent shows and films focusing on gay narratives. The issue, write Alex Abad-Santos, is not with the specific stories that are depicted, but rather with the meta-narrative created by an unchanging stream of stories solely about white guys:

“We don't and shouldn't expect anyone to change Harvey Milk's race or change who Larry Kramer's friends were. Kramer's and Milk's experiences aren't in our control. However, choosing which stories to tell is. And having a willingness to tell other kinds of stories, perhaps some that are just as worthy as Milk's or Kramer's, from places we're not necessarily looking, is something filmmakers and writers can do better.”

Gary Gates, an LGBT demographer at UCLA, says that statistically speaking the kinds of LGBT groups being portrayed in modern media simply don’t reflect reality. In addition to nearly half of the characters being non-white “if you had a show with a cast of 20 characters who were LGBT, two-thirds of the women would be bisexual, and one-third of the women would be lesbians, while two-thirds of the men would be gay, and one-third would be bi.”

Gates goes on to point out the disproportionate amount of screen-time given to characters that read as being affluent. The persistent idea that all LGBT individuals are more economically successful than their heterosexual counterparts is due in large part to to a conflation of statistical findings. College graduated, same-sex couples, with two partners actively participating in the workforce do, on average, make more than heterosexuals, Gates explained in 2013 to US News. These couples make statistical headlines because they are exceptional, however, and portraying them as The New Normal is disingenuous at best and problematic at worst.

The-new-normal-utah-new-home__oPtIn terms of movies and documentaries like The Normal Heart and How To Survive A Plague, filmmakers are presented with the task of parsing through the historical record in order to suss out compelling stories. Problems arise when the cinematic truth depicted on screen only reflect the limited perspectives of certain characters. In an interview with Vulture Sarah Schulman, co-creator of The ACT UP Oral History Project, recently voiced her misgivings about what she perceived as a whitewashing of early HIV/AIDS activism as depicted in How To Survive A Plague.

We call it “The Five White People Who Saved the World” — that’s our nickname for it. And those white people are very busy because apparently they’re always saving everything all the time. Everywhere you go, you see them.

Referring to a discussion following screenings of Jim Hubbard’s United in Anger: A History of ACT UP and David France’s How To Survive a Plague, Schulman recalls that same point blank critique.

At one point they open up for questions and the first question to David is: Why do you have no women or people of color in the film? And he says, well I wanted to focus on wealthy white men because they had the time to devote to activism. Now as a person who has interviewed 168 surviving members of ACT UP New York, I can tell you that’s not historically correct.

People in ACT UP gave their entire lives to ACT UP. All different kinds of people from every class and background would report in our interviews that they were at ACT UP five nights a week, that their entire life was ACT UP. And that had nothing to do with how much money you had. And the second thing he said was that these men went to good universities and so they were able to understand the science. That is absurd. The audience almost started laughing. One of the best experts on the science of AIDS in ACT UP was Garance Franke-Ruta who was 19. We all sat there and realized that this man knows nothing about ACT UP.

Watch a video of the exchange AFTER THE JUMP...

 

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Comments

  1. Maybe white males are over represented because it takes a member of the dominant group to be strong enough to shake the structure of that group and open up the space.

    Posted by: Marc | Jul 8, 2014 2:52:26 PM


  2. I don't get their beef with "Looking", which has whites, blacks, latinos, as well as different generations.

    Posted by: Dastius Krazitauc | Jul 8, 2014 3:08:23 PM


  3. I read this story earlier today and thought it brought up a lot of good points without being openly hostile toward Hollywood.

    The problem with this story is that it only looks at all-caps GAY programs like Looking and The New Normal. So broader programs that include gay characters aren't considered. For instance, True Blood's Lafayette, who is not white and not affluent, isn't mentioned anywhere in the story.

    Posted by: crispy | Jul 8, 2014 3:09:35 PM


  4. @Dastius: Did you not read the story? They don't have beef with Looking. They say it has a balance between white and non-white characters (despite early, premature criticism of the show's diversity).

    Posted by: crispy | Jul 8, 2014 3:13:24 PM


  5. Any LGBT story is not high on the list of things to do in Hollywood. We are lucky to get the few things done. In the perfect world everyone would be shown and included.

    Posted by: jeffg166 | Jul 8, 2014 3:14:23 PM


  6. As a Black Gay male who does not do drag, I have to say representations of people like me are very hard to find on screen. I'm not saying there are none at all, but there are too few. Is this due to out-and-out racism? Most of the time, probably not. But whatever the reason, that rainbow flag we're always waving around is looking more and more like an empty symbol.

    Posted by: Stuffed Animal | Jul 8, 2014 3:15:30 PM


  7. Ummm... lots of the producers who promote this "Whitetide"are gay by the way.....

    Posted by: styler | Jul 8, 2014 3:16:43 PM


  8. Stuffed Animal, representations of you are hard to find on screen because you're not interesting.

    Posted by: crispy | Jul 8, 2014 3:20:11 PM


  9. Call me crazy, but it COULD be that pursuing things like theater arts, dance, and acting in general aren't as big in minority communities. In fact, it's often frowned upon, unlike things such as basketball, being "macho," or heavy intellectual pursuits like engineering.

    Posted by: Hrm | Jul 8, 2014 3:20:33 PM


  10. Frankly it's hard to find non-white, non-rich representation in Hollywood LGBT or not.

    I don't think this is a LGBT specific issue at all so it's going to take more than just the LGBT community to effect change.

    Posted by: Brandon H | Jul 8, 2014 3:21:46 PM


  11. This is an important thing for us to keep in mind. Thanks for posting!

    Posted by: Jacob W | Jul 8, 2014 3:24:07 PM


  12. Stuffed Animal, you're right.

    I really can't think of any non-white gay characters from movies or television that weren't at least in part semi-drag or fully in drag.
    I'm not going to get crazy over this though, because I feel in my heart that as things progress, we'll see more representation.

    Hollywood loves white males, gay or straight, because Hollywood is racist. It's always been racist.

    Posted by: Andthat'sawrap | Jul 8, 2014 3:27:27 PM


  13. "i'm not being represented!", scream the folks who then use their next breath to give a list of excuses for not representing themselves.

    the article has some good points, however.

    i'm just frankly thrilled that these massive breakthroughs in the pro-Sports world are being made by black men. all these "first out player" moments are brilliant - and they're being made by black men. rad.

    it's funny, when people talk about "gay representations" in media - and so many neglect that openly-gay actor BD Wong has played straight and gay in many shows for many years. I guess it doesn't "count" as representation when you're Asian, eh?

    the was a terrible web series called "in[between]men" that just flat out SUCKED - the concept, a bunch of pretty white gay men in NYC who "just don't relate to other gay men" (bulls**t, that's a learned aversion, but more on that later...) in a show created by non-white men. so, rather than telling their story, and casting non-white characters, the show's creators chose instead to populate their show with, let's be real here, all the guys who never gave them the time of day in the bars and clubs.

    a more apt title would be "hollywood's overrepresentation of straight white men as gay men".

    we still live in a gay culture of "no fats fems asians or blacks" - and there are legions of gay white boys who roll only in circles of their fellow whiteboys. but in the media - yeah, it's time for some diversity.
    LOOKING (i felt) was doing a rather clear-eyed job of addressing this.
    i think of the gay love story on SIX FEET UNDER, which was wonderful.

    yes - we need more people of colour. all colours. plural. the more queer-identifying gay circles tend to have less of the "whites only plz" mentality - it's people of all colour and creed together.


    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Jul 8, 2014 3:30:58 PM



  14. Stuffed Animal,

    You're obviously missing a lot of television.

    Check out this website:

    http://cypheravenue.com/the-12-best-black-gaybisexual-characters-ever

    Posted by: Jonnycakes | Jul 8, 2014 3:32:47 PM


  15. @CRISPY

    "Television shows and movies like Looking, and Dallas Buyers Club are increasingly bringing LGBT stories to the big and small screens, but their representations of diversity within the queer community are sorely lacking"

    This direct quote from the story is where it plainly states that Looking is part of the problem.

    Posted by: anon | Jul 8, 2014 3:35:00 PM


  16. I remember a cancelled (i think it was a canadian show) show that had a closeted rapper as one of the main characters.
    Their three gay characters were gay (and noone did drag).

    I don't think gay white males are overrepresented (in fact there are not that many shows with gay characters), i think non white gays are underrepresented

    Posted by: jjose712 | Jul 8, 2014 3:37:39 PM


  17. Gary Gates, an LGBT demographer at UCLA, says that statistically speaking the kinds of LGBT groups being portrayed in modern media simply don’t reflect reality. In addition to nearly half of the characters being non-white “if you had a show with a cast of 20 characters who were LGBT, two-thirds of the women would be bisexual, and one-third of the women would be lesbians, while two-thirds of the men would be gay, and one-third would be bi.”

    This quote from the piece seems to be saying that there are TOO MANY non-white and TOO MANY bi characters being portrayed in media and they are over-represented based on their actual demographics.

    Too confusing

    Posted by: anon | Jul 8, 2014 3:41:10 PM


  18. Who cares - just uppity leftists stirring up issues where there are none. I'll hang out and associate with whoever I damn well please, I couldn't care less what the whiny leftist set thinks.

    Posted by: kyrie | Jul 8, 2014 3:43:37 PM


  19. Most white people in America definitely have a problem discussing racial issues. Most of the time there is a lot of aggression and denial when talking about the very real problem of racism against non-white people. Of course some gay white males are afflicted by racial bigotry.

    Posted by: Kelly | Jul 8, 2014 3:50:46 PM


  20. I'm gay, Puerto Rican and Trinidadian and could care less if I see someone like me on screen. I develop eLearning for a living and spend my evenings either on the couch with the bf or working on a client project, with a bar visit maybe once per month if that.

    I don't expect my life to show up on screen because frankly it's not interesting to Hollywood. I find HBO's Silicon Valley more relatable than Looking. Maybe I don't see race or sexuality like others do. I just want a good story.

    Posted by: stephen | Jul 8, 2014 4:01:40 PM


  21. "This direct quote from the story is where it plainly states that Looking is part of the problem."

    Thanks for pointing that out, ANON. It is the very first line of the story.

    Crispy, where in the story do you see this: "They say it has a balance between white and non-white characters". I do not see that.

    Posted by: Dastius Krazitauc | Jul 8, 2014 4:03:50 PM


  22. @ANON: Apparently, you stopped reading the story after the first paragraph.

    "Looking is actually the most diverse of these shows, featuring a balance between non-white and white characters:"

    There's even a giantmotherfucking graph one would think would have commanded your attention.

    Posted by: crispy | Jul 8, 2014 4:04:26 PM


  23. Stuffedanimal...I get you but is there a market? Is it right to get most of the gay watching tv show people who are white to watch a show about a group they don't get?

    And why should one wait for white people to do anything?

    Unfortunately the rep you seek may not come from a gay black man w/o the religious BS plus the rest from the US...but Steve McQueen did some good movies about black gay men in london pre 12 Years of slavery.

    Posted by: Rowan | Jul 8, 2014 4:12:29 PM


  24. Jesus, get a grip, Crispy. We're talking about different things. You are right, if you follow the link, you will see the giantmotherfucking graph and "Looking" given its proper due, but the problem is with this Towleroad article, which claims "Looking" is lacking in diversity.

    Posted by: Dastius Krazitauc | Jul 8, 2014 4:22:49 PM


  25. I'm shock people are talking about this issue.I would luv to see black gay men on TV who are not fem & dressed in drag or on the DL.Where are the brothers like me who are out and proud.I know they exit I guess Hollywood doesn't.

    Posted by: Mike | Jul 8, 2014 4:31:17 PM


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