Meet the LGBTQ+ consultants changing the face of TV

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Nick’s bisexual awakening is just one of the nuanced Heartstopper storylines Ingold helped shape as part of his role, which involved checking scripts for sensitivity and making sure the language used was accurate, authentic and avoided the negative stereotypes that have plagued. LGBTQ+ characters on television for decades.

Of course, on-screen portrayals of LGBTQ+ people have undoubtedly progressed in recent years, thanks in large part to an increase in the number of LGBTQ+ people in the television and film industries, including writers, directors, producers and actors, which has the effect of heavily avoiding criticized projects like 2013’s Blue is the Warmest Colour, which came from a heterosexual writer and director and was criticized for its male perspective on lesbian dynamics.

Russell T Davies’ Channel 4 hit It’s A Sin, about the 1980s AIDS epidemic, was told by a predominantly gay cast and crew last year. And 19th-century lesbian drama Gentleman Jack, writer Sally Wainwright, was helped through the production process by screenwriter Stella Merz, producer Phil Collinson and historical consultant Anne Choma, all of whom are gay. Both have been huge hits with LGBTQ+ and straight audiences.

But sometimes, notes Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir, adviser for All About Trans, production companies that want to tell transgender stories don’t have anyone from the community on board. That’s when they come to All About Trans, a project by the charity On Road Media, which has consulted on scripts for trans characters in soap operas and dramas, including Hollyoaks, Emmerdale, the ITV drama Butterfly and the BBC Two sitcom Boy Meets Girl. , since its creation in 2011.

This happens through “interactions” – encounters between trans people and professionals that serve as a jumping off point to develop ideas, explore potential storylines, suggest script changes, or provide ongoing on-set consultation. .

“What we’re trying to do is point them in the right direction and show them what the most positive ways to portray trans people are in these scenarios. It’s not a complicated process at all, it’s just a matter of knowing what to avoid and how to portray trans people in the right way and in a realistic way that trans people can relate to as well. identify.

Kit Connor as Nick Nelson and Joe Locke as Charlie Spring in Heartstopper
netflix

Netflix’s Heartstopper involved many cast and crew members who were part of the LGBTQ+ community, including the writer and director. So why did he need an LGBTQ+ consultant?

While Ingold thinks the LGBTQ+ staff behind the camera is an integral part of positive portrayal and the reason a show like Heartstopper has been so successful, he says his job required a different set of skills than those on TV. an LGBTQ+ writer/director/actor may be able to offer – and that their background in activism has provided a vital level of knowledge about the community. “I saw my role as being through a much larger lens and thinking about what was happening on the show and what was happening in the real world,” he says.

Ingold’s job also involved being active on set: providing training to cast and crew on how to make the set and workplace welcoming and inclusive, as well as mentoring them on student life. LGBTQ+ today.

Heartstopper is fundamentally a show about joy, and so Ingold spent a lot of time shaping storylines to include the real challenges that LGBTQ+ teens often face — anti-LGBTQ+ language and bullying — without it becoming harmful to the audience watching.

One solution was to use character language and reactions to lead the audience to understand why certain words and phrases are inherently problematic. Ingold cites the movie scene in Heartstopper where Nick’s friend Harry calls Charlie an insult. “One of the changes we talked about was that Nick was explicitly saying ‘this is homophobic’ rather than ‘this is wrong’ or ‘it’s wrong’. Instead, he explicitly calls it out for what that’s what I thought was really important.

The same goes for language regarding homosexuals and sport. Heartstopper’s Nick, a star rugby player, insists that the not-so-sporty Charlie join the team, and anti-gay jokes inevitably ensue. It was important to show why these jokes were inherently problematic, Ingold says, by “including a phrase like ‘being gay doesn’t mean you’re bad at sports.’ So, it was about thinking about subtle ways to counter stereotypes, but in a way where we weren’t preachers.

LGBTQ+ consulting roles on TV are on the rise. Netflix’s recent hit, Sex Education, enlisted writer Temi Wilkey’s friend, Jodie Mitchell – who is non-binary – as a consultant to ensure an accurate and authentic portrayal of the show’s first non-binary character. , Cal (played by non-binary artist Dua Saleh), while the HBO drama Euphoria hired Scott Turner Schofield, a transgender actor, producer and activist, as a consultant on the show.

Hunter Schafer as Jules in Euphoria
Eddy Chen/HBO

Schofield, who also worked as an inclusion consultant on Zoe Lister Jones’ reboot of The Craft and upcoming Disney Plus series Zombies 3, did sensitivity reading on the scripts for Euphoria, formed the team on how to be respectful of LGBTQ+ actors on set, and has also been a resource for the director and LGBTQ+ actors, including trans actor Hunter Schafer (who plays trans teenager Jules Vaughn) as they were shooting some scenes.

Like Ingold, Schofield is clear that his work required a very different set of skills than a trans actor/writer/director might bring to the table, and that he “run the gamut from art to HR.”

“The point is, and I say this in all of my workshops: you can’t just lean on the trans person for your entire upbringing, can you? ” he says. “As a trans artist myself and as an activist for two decades now, I have kind of a broad and deep perspective of what things look like culturally. So like Sam [Levinson] written specifically for the role of Jules but also in other lines that arise around LGBTQ+ topics, I step in and my role is to give Sam the artist, a more nuanced understanding of how things might land in the community.

He mentions being particularly proud of Jules’ special standalone episode between Seasons 1 and 2, titled “F**k Anyone Who’s Not a Sea Blob”, which Schafer co-wrote with Levinson. The episode examines Jules’ relationship with gender performance, trauma, and co-dependency.

“The way it changed from the beginning to what you saw was so many conversations,” Schofield says. “I think what came out of this is a masterpiece in terms of trans representation. Other networks do trans transition stories 101 or coming out stories and we were able to say something so profound.

Zendaya and Hunter Schafer in Euphoria
Eddy Chen/HBO

Ingold thinks production companies are starting to realize the importance of hiring LGBTQ+ consultants thanks to a big call from the public for authentic representation: “I think we’re at a point where it’s really obvious to the public if the characters are written in a way that seems symbolic, and for people who aren’t necessarily from that community, it becomes easy to spot.

Should every LGBTQ+ show hire a consultant? Ingold believes that to produce successful and popular shows like Heartstopper and Euphoria that feel truly true to the experiences of LGBTQ+ people, production companies need to invest in roles like his. “I think the time of performance for performance is coming to an end and it’s really about having meaningful stories and characters that audiences can connect with,” he says. “Because that’s really what’s going to change things.”

Heartstopper is available to stream on netflix now. Discover more of our Drama coverage or visit our tv guide to see what’s tonight.

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