Pride Roundtable: LGBTQ Actors Say Queer Characters Require Hiring Queer Writers | Video

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An actor shouldn’t “play educator and be the token person,” says “Yellowjackets” star Nicole Maines during TheWrap’s panel

Solutions start in the writers’ room. That’s what seven LGBTQ actors from diverse ethnic and gender identities agreed upon during TheWrap’s Pride month roundtable, in which we invited the performers to share their experiences as queer talent in Hollywood.

“What We Do in the Shadows” actor Harvey Guillén recalled times he had to help accurately translate Spanish dialogue because there were no Mexican writers on his production. “Reservation Dogs” writer, actor and director Devery Jacobs, who identifies as indigenous and queer, said she got her “ass into the writers room since I was that annoying actor with so many notes.”

“[There] should never be a situation where you have queer characters and not queer writers, to at least go with those characters,” said “Yellowjackets” star Nicole Maines, who is transgender. “If you’re going to have a trans character, hire a trans writer too because it shouldn’t just be on that actor to play educator and be the token person.”

In addition to Guillén (he/him), Jacobs (she/her) and Maines (she/her), the roundtable — titled The Fight Continues: Hollywood’s Role in LGBTQ Representation and Safeguarding Rights — also included “Ted Lasso” actor Jodi Balfour (she/her), “Fire Island” writer/actor Joel Kim Booster (he/him), “Schmigadoon!” actor Tituss Burgess and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” actor Nico Santos (he/him).

All seven actors recalled personally experiencing homophobia and transphobia on productions, both overt and subtle. Most of these incidents stemmed from ignorance rather than hate, and a few ended up having positive outcomes or affecting change. Still, the actors agreed that it’s not solely upon them to educate those they work with, and there’s still a long way to go for the industry to be truly inclusive.

Homophobia and transphobia often manifests in scripts. While guesting on the CBS sitcom “2 Broke Girls” early in his career, Nico Santos came across a line that gave him pause.

“Basically, it was implying that my character was a pedophile because he was gay,” Santos recalled. “And I was like, ‘Do you really have to say that he’s into underage boys?’”

Santos voiced his concerns to someone at CBS, who brought it up to the head of the network. The line was eventually changed to something “less offensive” but “still kind of offensive.” At the time, Santos feared even raising his concern would land him on some sort of blacklist, so he felt he had to “grin and bear it.”

Jacobs recalls a time when she portrayed a Two Spirit character and had to define the term. She remembers getting the next draft of the script, which she said included “literally a Wikipedia search in the dialogue on what Two Spirit was” — a consequence, she says, of not having indigenous, queer and Two Spirit writers in the writers room.

Other times, homophobic stereotypes creeps up in direction, not just scripts.

Joel Kim Booster recalled a time when directors questioned his ability to catch a ball in a scene, which came across, as he called it, “benevolent homophobia.”

“They were like, ‘Oh, if you’re not comfortable catching a ball, we don’t want to embarrass you,’” the comedian recalled. “It was clear it was a gay thing. And I was like, ‘Thank you for looking out, I guess. But I’m gay and I can catch a ball. Thank you very much.”

There was also the time Guillén was told he was playing a scene too emotionally. While shooting a coming out scene for his “What We Do in the Shadows” character, director Kyle Newachek asked Guillén to do it again, questioning, “Do you think you’d be that emotional?”

“Have you come out to anyone?” Guillén remembered replying.

“Touché, touché,” Newachek responded. The episode ended up winning a GLAAD Award, and aftewards Newachek told Guillén that their interaction was a learning experience.

For Balfour, it’s not a specific line or direction, but “the less tangible stuff.”

“The feeling like they’re hetero couples on the show have sort of love scenes that look a certain way. And my character who’s in love with a woman, when we have sex, it’s covered only to a certain degree, or like we kiss drastically less times on camera,” the actor explained.

Burgess says discrimination, which he says he’s experienced on every job, is rooted in white male supremacy. “It’s not been so much overt as it has been a result of having very little vocabulary,” he explained. “There’s so few words to describe the hues and range of emotion that we go through when we encounter something that we don’t understand. And most of my encounters with homophobia/transphobia/racism has just been from someone who just didn’t know what to do.”

Educating those “who just don’t know what to do” is a task (often unpaid and emotionally draining) that falls exclusively to queer people.

“During the resurgence of the awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement — which has never gone anywhere — there was this rhetoric going around where [Black people] often would say, ‘You know, we shouldn’t have to teach you at this point.’ But if we don’t who’s gonna do it?” Burgess posed rhetorically.

“I have very much felt that with being the only trans person on set, is the burden really does often fall on me to correct people,” echoed Maines. “I’m the first person they’re going to [ask], ‘Hey, how does this script look? Hey, what do we want to do? Hey, can you tell us what’s transphobia?’ I’m happy, you’re asking the question, I’m happy that I’m involved in the conversation. I just don’t love being the only person involved because my experience as a cis-passing, white trans girl who’s had accepting parents, whose had access to gender affirming care at a young age, my experience with transness is not a cookie cutter, copy/paste. There’s so many different ways to experience transness. There’s so many different ways to experience queerness. And it’s so intersectional with every other aspect of our lives, that my own singular experience, being a trans person doesn’t even begin to cover the full range of stories.

Santos agreed, saying he’s had some hesitancy voicing his opinion on some matters because there are countless voices out there, not just his. “Please don’t take my word as like definitive for like the gay experience or the Asian experience, the queer experience,” he explained. “But if I don’t say anything, then where are they getting their information? It’s a delicate dance sometimes.”

More representation comes from hiring and leaning into more diverse voices, the panel agreed.

“What we need to do is demand less that every queer representation on television and movies and in media is perfect, and just demand more so that we’re seeing more across the spectrum, and not expect every representation to embody everyone’s experience and just give us more options to look to search for ourselves,” added Kim Booster.

To hear more from the panelists, including their thoughts on non-gendered awards categories, watch the full panel above.

Visit the WrapPRO Members Hub, focused on serving professionals in the entertainment space, for more insights from industry insiders. And be sure to save the date — Oct. 4 – for this year’s Grill, WrapPRO’s annual conference focused on the convergence of entertainment, media and technology. More details will be announced soon.