Four actors across the television landscape came together to discuss what gains the industry has made in terms of diversity and representation, and where it still has room to grow on Monday during a panel about confidence and empowerment at TheWrap’s BE Conference 2020.
“So often, being queer, I see this queer sad story. And it’s like, yes, it is hard being queer. Yes, coming out is often a struggle. But for once, it would be nice to just watch a show and see a happy queer person where that’s not the only part of their identity that’s explored,” said “Kissing Booth 2” and “Legends of Tomorrow” star Maisie Richardson-Sellers, who is also launching her own diversity and inclusion-focused production company this year called Bareface Productions.
Richardson-Sellers was joined by Madison Bailey from “Outer Banks” and “Black Lightning,” Katherine McNamara from “Arrow” and “Shadow Hunters” and Jessica Marie Garcia from “On My Block” and “Diary of a Future President,” all of whom participated in the conversation moderated by TheWrap’s Jenny Maas.
Bailey seconded Richardson-Seller’s thoughts on queer representation and the importance of highlighting the beauty of those identities rather than focusing only on the challenges.
“I think we’ve definitely told our trauma story and we’ve shown a lot of the hard parts about coming out and the struggles of being Black. We’ve shown that. Now it’s time to celebrate it,” Bailey said. “For me personally, I came out, and my mom was like, ‘Yay’ and my dad was like, ‘Cool, whatever, congratulations.’ And I think we need to show that so we’re not scaring these young queer people into thinking it’s so traumatizing — ’cause it can be, but there’s also a lot of joy.”
“‘The L Word’ literally changed my life, because it was the first time I saw queer women being happy and successful and having friends,” Richardson-Sellers added. “It just blew my mind when I was 16. I was like, ‘Oh, okay, this isn’t something I have to just sit in my shame over. I can use this to empower me. And that was what triggered me going out to find my community. That is how important it is to show confident stories as well as the pain of our experiences.”
The “Kissing Booth 2” star also pointed out the need for diversity and intersectionality not only on screen but behind the camera as well.
“We’re having these great characters written, but they’re not being written by people with authentic experience of that person’s life,” she said. “So I think the next step is really diversifying writer’s rooms and people who are choosing what programs are being put on — people from the top down [who] are setting the tone of diversity. I think that will take the characters that we are seeing represented to the next level.”
To that end, Bailey spoke directly to casting directors.
“When casting, [it’s about] how to move forward in casting with inclusivity without tokenizing. I think the way you do that is to frame these characters. When you say you don’t have anybody specific in mind, actually try not to have anybody in mind. You can write a story and the lead can be black or queer and the story doesn’t need to be about that,” she said.
McNamara spoke to the benefits of working with female directors.
“It changes the perspective in such a way that every episode has an ebb and flow. Getting as many different voices allows the show to grow and have its own voice, and I think that’s ultimately our job as artists — to hold a mirror up to the human experience and question our previously conceived notions and our perspectives and go, what stories haven’t been told and what perspectives haven’t we seen?”
Garcia spoke about how playing Jasmine on “On My Block” has made her realize the responsibility she has to the young girls that look up to her.
“Whenever I get the opportunity to play Jasmine, I always feel like I’m holding young girls on my shoulders,” she said. “I get these messages all the time that are just like, ‘I finally feel like I can see myself in a character, and I get to be a love interest and I get to be a lead in my own story.’ I think for so many of us, this is the first time we’re seeing ourselves on screen, so it is a lot of responsibility that we take on in order to make sure that we’re telling these stories authentically and that we’re making people proud of what we’re doing. It’s kind of nerve-wracking, but also, it’s very empowering.”
BE Conference presented by WrapWomen is Hollywood’s leading mentorship conference. The event is designed to provide opportunities for the next generation of women in media and entertainment, with a focus on underrepresented voices. This year’s programming and mentorship is dedicated to breaking barriers, inspiring action, and creating inclusive opportunities for all.