Although the idea of television coming back to production sounds a bit out of reach, at least we could have conversations about the future and what it’ll look like moving forward. That’s what Thursday’s afternoon panel discussed during this year’s ComicCon@Home panel, LGBTQ Characters on Television – What’s Next?
This year’s panel included Jamie Chung (Once Upon A Time), Jamie Clayton (Roswell: New Mexico), Wilson Cruz (Star Trek: Discovery), Tatiana Maslany (Perry Mason), Anthony Rapp (Star Trek: Discovery), J. August Richards (Council of Dads), Harry Shum, Jr. (Shadowhunters), and Brian Michael Smith (9-1-1: Lone Star) with the livestream moderated by TV Guide’s Jim Halterman.
Diving right into it, each panelist shared how they felt representing the LGBTQ+ community with their notable on-screen characters. Wilson was first to share his thoughts to one of his earlier characters, Ricky, on My So Called Life, “I was fully aware of how important that role was going to be for people because I understood how important it was going to be for me. I understood how much I wanted and needed to see myself and my lived experienced represented in some way so that I could know that I was going to be alright, that my life matters. That stories like mine were worthy of being told.”
Jamie Clayton, who played Nomi Marks on Sense8, had a revolutionary experience on set, “I’m a woman of trans experiences, playing a woman of trans experience, written by a woman of trans experience and also being directed by her and her sibling who at the time wasn’t out yet but who is now also a woman of trans experience.”
For Jamie Chung, who played Mulan in ABC’s hit show Once Upon A Time, the core audience skewed to a much younger demographic, but she knew it was important to share that story.
Likewise, Harry, Shadowhunters‘ warlock Magnus Bane, remained mindful of making sure his sexuality wasn’t watered down or “TV friendly” especially coming from the source material. He mentions of working closely with the crew to make sure stereotypes (especially towards bi-sexual characters) were broken down in order to help “plant seeds in audiences to think further outside of what they’ve been told in past TV shows.”
Tatiana reflected how it felt to be on Orphan Black and seeing how much her character’s relationship with Delphine affected lives greatly after hearing fans open up about being able to speak to their parents about who they are, because of Cosima. “To be able to see that impact was so incredible.”
Individually, each actor experienced their unique way of representing the LGBTQ+ community, but it’s because of them that change is made.
Brian worked closely with the crew to make sure his character was accurately portrayed on 9-1-1: Lone Star, “It was a writer’s room that didn’t have any trans people in it, but they were willing to listen to me and let me take the lead when we were kind of delving into that storyline which is something I deeply appreciated.” He was allowed to change the script to craft it in a way that felt normal to him. Clayton chimes in, “What a great example of what happens when you hire someone who has lived that experience and can bring that knowledge to a writer’s room in a way that is helpful to them. This is why we ask for trans people to be able to play the trans parts that are written.”
She goes on to say, “This is the thing that nobody talks about which is when you’re a first, when you’re one of the first in an industry that isn’t used to having to have these conversations and don’t even know what they don’t know, it’s part of our job to be brave enough to have the conversation. […] It’s great when actors take ownership of that power. You’re doing work for trans actors who are coming after you.”
Biggest takeaway? Listen, learn, take action. Brian, Clayton, and many others continue to help pave the way for many more individuals in the trans community looking to follow their footsteps, and they’re happy to hold the door open for the future.
But what does the future entail? So many possibilities.
While Rapp aims for more non-binary stories (“there’s certainly a big threshold to keep broadening”), Brian opts for more intersectionality of trans disabled people or trans people of immigrant backgrounds.
Clayton pleads for more opportunities of roles outside of strictly trans, “[Trans actors] have only been allowed to audition for parts that are trans. And I’ve been told time and time and time again that I’m not trans enough to even play trans. I want to be given the same opportunities and audition. It’s starting to happen for me, and I’m very grateful because I worked really hard to get here, but I want to see non-binary and trans-identified people playing all kinds of characters and not just there to talk about their gender or their transition or their surgeries or blah.”
After a bit of discussion on what they’d like to see in front of the camera, Wilson shifts the conversation to more of behind the camera. “In order for us to see all of this new diversity and this wide spectrum of LGBTQ experience, we have to have more LGBTQ especially trans people behind the camera. The producer. Director. Writers. Because that’s how we’re going to see more diversity,” Wilson proclaims. August adds, “Because it really shouldn’t be the responsibility of the actors all the time to write it for them. The actors should be able to just come and interpret the material.”
To wrap up the panel, Clayton shares her final thought on necessary advancements in television: “I’m alone so much at work, and it’s very isolating. I would love to not feel so alone.” The production assistant. The writers. The producers. The work never ends as we aim to create and grow inclusive productions here on out.
Head to Comic-Con’s Official YouTube Page to watch the full video.