ABC Family’s “The Fosters” drew both praise and criticism this week for a daring gay kiss scene between two 13-year-old male characters. But, the show’s creators said they were merely staying true to their story.
“If people want to judge it, I think maybe they should watch and see how carefully, delicately and chastely it was handled. We are not here to sensationalize or exploit anyone,” Peter Paige, the drama’s co-creator, told TheWrap.
The kiss between Jude (Hayden Byerly) and Connor (Gavin MacIntosh), conceived of in the early days of Season 1 had been a long time coming. But the executives said that ABC Family, while tremendously supportive of the idea, had asked them to slow down the relationship and shelf the kiss for Season 2.
Ultimately, both creators felt the network’s note was a smart one. “I’m glad we took more time to invest in the friendship of these two guys,” co-creator Bradley Bredeweg said. “It allowed for this moment to feel as earned as possible.”
“It took two full seasons to build up to this one very simple, but very important moment,” Paige added.
The creators-executive producers also discussed how they prepared the two young actors for the on-screen kiss, where Jude and Connor’s (“Jonnor”) relationship will go from here, and what it might mean to young gay viewers hoping to see their own stories reflected on screen.
TheWrap: Did the writer’s room worry about how audiences would react to the kiss?
Peter Paige: We try not write stories based on reaction. We try to write them based on character integrity as we understand it and observe it. This story is very true. Both Brad and I are gay men and it felt very true to both of our early coming out experiences. More than anything else, we felt responsibility to those kids and to our younger selves who didn’t see themselves reflected anywhere… We’ve all been watching stories about heterosexuals forever… As a gay kid you are always having to translate. You are always having to pretend like you are one of the other characters. You’re not seeing your life accurately reflected.
Bradley Bredeweg: The one conversation we had was, “Could you imagine if this show was on when we were 13, 14, 15 years old?” It’s that desire, like Peter said, to be represented and to have the audience feel like they can see themselves in at least one of the characters.
When people question the scene my response has been: “Everyone has a first kiss and you remember it. How old were you?” Ninety percent of people who have an answer come back and say, “I was 12, 13 and 14 years old,” and I say, “Exactly. It was time to see this, time to put this up for the world.” Then people understand, they’re able to wrap their heads around it.
Can you describe the reactions you’ve seen?
Bredeweg: Based on the internet response, the fans are completely invested in the relationship…. We’ve invested time and care and integrity into it and people are moved by the payoff.
There have also been outspoken critics. What do you say to them?
Paige: I would say its very easy to balk at or sensationalize the headline, but its hard to deny the truth or the integrity of the whole story… We are here to tell the true stories of what it is to grow up and these are true stories of what it is to grow up as a young, potentially gay person. It’s the truth and that’s all.
How did you prepare your two young actors?
Paige: We certainly wanted to make sure they knew where things were headed… We brought them in several times over the course of the season to check in and talk about where things are going and to make sure they were on board and why it was important to us.
Bredeweg: When we sat down with our two actors, we also brought their parents into the conversation. They were supportive, too, and understood what we are trying to do. Peter and I realized early on that if we were going to go down this road we wanted to stay in constant communication… It was an open dialogue and it was fantastic. Everyone felt very protected and also on the same page… [During the shoot] they were both so charming and professional and excited and ready to finally put this out into the world… They were very proud of it. It was very sweet to be there that day.
Where does “Jonnor’s” story go from here?
Paige: There is plenty more Jonnor to come.
Bredeweg: I just left the writers room and you look up on our white boards and you see Jude and Connor everywhere. They are a big part of Season 3 and we are super excited and proud to put them out in the world even more.
“The Fosters” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC Family.
Watch the controversial on-screen kiss below.