Responding to Self‑Criticism, Netflix Creates $100MM Shortbus Fund
Late last week, Netflix performed the sort of public, preemptive self-flagellation that is de rigueur these days after an internal audit of their content and its representation of oppressed people like me. It determined that “LGBTQ and characters with disabilities are rare.” They’ve set aside a $100-million charity fund for us that I’m pretty sure I’ll never qualify for: My gay representation is about, well, what we’re really about — sex and sexuality — and I pull no punches.
Netflix, here’s my two-horned observation after thirty years in development hell: If you want genuinely diverse LGBT content, the shake-up begins with axing terrified, prudish, nerdy development executives.
I just noted while looking up the original press-release quote that Netflix has since amended their phrasing so it doesn’t accidentally imply that members of the LGBT community are disabled. I imagine an overworked PR slave, Vassar ’18, springing up from her cubicle screaming, “Simone, help! I’ve spilled unconscious bias all over the Shortbus Fund press release!”
I don’t know how I’d feel about a project of mine included in a diversity funding package. It isn’t something to reject outright, though; this is about LGBT stories and characters, not crew, and that’s still a bit of an uphill climb in terms of content that doesn’t present us as harmless clowns in gayface.
It’s certainly not as bad now as it was twenty years ago, when I regularly got rejections bluntly framed as, “He said, ‘I’m not doing that gay movie.’ I’m just quoting, James! Why so sensitive?” Before the rise of New Queer Cinema in the mid-90s it was ‘that fag movie’, but we all knew better than to waste our time writing those.
I’m reminded of a notable exception. It was sometime in 1996, I think, when I was taking a “permanent this time, I’m done with it, I swear” sabbatical from the easy life of the entertainment business to challenge myself by slaving in Communications and Marketing at Citibank. One day I noticed that our group administrative assistant, Jason, was working on a screenplay during his lunch break.
“Is that a screenplay? What’s it about?” I only asked because he looked like bottle-blond Superman.
“It’s about a young gay guy finding his way in New York City. Kind of a gay Doris Day movie. I’m calling it ‘Gay Boy’.”
Of course, Daddy James gave him a patronizing, know-it-all earful about the wisdom of wasting his time on gay-gay-gay. Three months later:
“Guess what? I sold ‘Gay Boy’.”
“Huh? What? To whom?”
“An entertainment lawyer named Mark Beigelman.”
“Is he? He’s so nice.”
“Loveliest man alive… But, how is that poss —… Who’s directing?”
“A guy named Jim Fall.”
The title was changed to ‘Trick’, and the rest is queer history.
As for LGBT actors being represented, as former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once said, “There are no gays in Hollywood.”
I believe industry-wide, LGBT lead and co-star characters were around 18% in 2019, so that’s overrepresentation. Unless you go with Pornhub’s assertion that 20% of their “straight” users watch gay porn — turns their girlfriends on, no doubt. Seriously, the Bs are the real underrepresented, still-closeted power players in this. Bet the next big inclusivity drive will be for them. Charles Blow: “Keeping Bisexuals Out of the Conversation Is Racism!”
Thankfully, in terms of above-the-line, nobody wants to shine a torch on how well we’re represented statistically — it would be like cracking the lid off the backroom at the White Party and peering in:
“You’re kidding! Him too?”
“Shh! Yes. He’s very DL. The third wife doesn’t know, but his kids from the previous marriages fully approve and support him.”
“And to think the motherfucker once rejected my project with, ‘I’m not doing that gay movie.’ Whoa! Did he just deep-throat a solid nine?”