Three Signs of Hollywood’s Slow Lurch Forward to LGBT inclusiveness

Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) in Columbia Pictures' GHOSTBUSTERS.
Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) in Columbia Pictures’ GHOSTBUSTERS.

Gay characters, gay women characters in particular, have had a tough time on television in recent months. From The 100 to The Walking Dead enacting the “Bury Your Gays” trope, the narrative that gay characters are only good and worthy if they are dead (for “dramatic effect”) has been run into the ground. But there are three examples of a possible shift in narratives about gay characters.

Vanity Fair recently interviewed real life couple Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher, the creators behind the comedy series Take My Wife. The show, which is about a couple who run a small business, shows Esposito and Butcher’s characters existing outside the media’s obsession with dead gay characters. Even Butcher herself lamented about the state of television when it comes to showcasing gay characters only as being useful for drama. “Lesbians don’t really get to be on TV and not die,” she said. She also told Vanity Fair that she and Esposito wanted the show to represent something real and tangible. “I wanted to represent something that actually looked real to peole and feels like a real household, career, experience, show, audience. I just wanted everything to feel real, and I enjoy that challenge.”

A particularly quiet watershed moment for gay characters happened in the realm of animation, and I’m actually not talking about Steven Universe, which frequently details the lives of gay characters. This moment came from Nickelodeon’s newest cartoon, The Loud House, in which main character Lincoln Loud’s best friend Clyde McBride comes from an interracial same-sex household. Wayne Brady and Michael McDonald (not the singer) provide the voices for Clyde’s parents, Harold and Howard McBride.

Also, in superhero news, CW Seed is bringing the first out gay superhero to the screen. According to Deadline, The Ray (aka reporter Raymond “Ray” Terrill) will star in an upcoming animated series called Freedom Fighters: The Ray, much like how Vixen debuted. Also like Vixen, The Ray is expected to transition into live-action, making him the second gay superhero portrayed on screen (the first being Deadpool, as evidenced by Ryan Reynolds’ insistence that everything about Deadpool would stay true to the character, including his bisexuality). The voice actor who will portray The Ray (an actor who has yet to be cast) is also expected to portray him in live-action form.

While all of this is good news, there is unfortunately still the lingering doubt that audiences and/or studios won’t accept gay leads in their stories. Such is the case with Ghostbusters director Paul Feig oddly deflecting the question of if Kate McKinnon’s character Holtzmann is a lesbian. When asked by The Daily Beast about if Holtzman was a lesbian, Feig coyly said, “What do you think?” He then added, “I’d like to think yes, I say. …I hate to be coy about it. But when you’re dealing with the studios and that kind of thing…” He punctuated his statement with, as The Daily Beast describes it, an apologetic shrug.

What’s even stranger is that even though he didn’t answer the question about Holtzmann, McKinnon herself is gay; while that doesn’t mean Holtzmann is gay necessarily, McKinnon’s participation in the film and how she played her role (which, from where I’m sitting, was quite overtly flirty with Kristen Wiig’s Erin Gilbert) would certainly seem to play against the idea that the studio or audience can’t handle a gay lead, whether it’s the actress or the character. In short, it shouldn’t matter in any scenario that Holtzmann is gay. Judging from a quick search of Ghostbusters fanfiction, much of which is about Erin and Hotlzmann, a large contingent of the audience is perfectly fine with a gay leading character.

Feig’s hesitance to confirm Holtzmann’s sexuality for fear of studio backlash (national, international, or otherwise) falls in line with the general studio practice of casually baiting audiences, either intentionally or unintentionally, with inclusion, only to later reverse or slyly not deny-not confirm key facts. This kind of baiting is annoying to say the least, particularly since LGBT characters are few and far between to begin with. The lack of representation forces fans to create their own narratives and theories, but lately, fans have been demanding that studios become more insistent on creating LGBT characters within their mainstream, blockbuster franchises such as Star Wars and the Marvel franchise.

However, things are progressing in Hollywood, if at a snail’s pace. One way to increase the pace, though, is for Hollywood to become more inclusive of others both in the realm of talent and behind the scenes. Currently, disruptive television like online viewing (such as the case with Take My Wife, which is a streaming show on Seeso) allows audience members who aren’t usually represented in the mainstream to find characters that reflect them and their experiences. Also, it allows for creators who might not have a seat at the proverbial table to be in charge of the content they create and how it speaks to their audience. The old way of doing things in Hollywood is quickly becoming obsolete as more and more people become makers of their own destiny with other outlets. Eventually, the old guard will have to catch up and start employing the creators and talent that have captured large chunks of their market. For instance, Laverne Cox got her start in disruptive TV with Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. Now, this fall  you can see her on CBS’ Doubt starring opposite Dulé Hill. The disruptor becomes part of the new Hollywood order.

What do you think about the state of LGBT characters on television? What solutions would you give to Hollywood? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Rebecca Sugar On Why “Steven Universe” Matters

I can admit that I’m not a regular watcher of Steven Universe. But I know its impact has been a tremendous one, particularly on the generation after mine, the one growing up now amid tons of turmoil as well as a lot of positive changes. One of those positive changes is the cultural shift surrounding LGBT acceptance. I’d say Steven Universe is a large part of that continuing shift, particularly in how it gives younger LGBT audience members a voice the generation before them didn’t have in the media.

The creator of Steven Universe, Rebecca Sugar, hasn’t suggested Steven Universe‘s LGBT themes by accident; as she stated at San Diego Comic Con, the characters and their personal relationships as well as their relationships to gender itself are something that speak directly to her life.

“In large part it’s based on my experience as a bisexual woman,” she said in response to an audience member’s question (as reported by the L.A. Times). “…These themes have so much to do with who you are. There is an idea that these are themes that should not be shared with kids but everyone shares stories about love and attraction with kids. So many stories for kids are about love. It really makes a difference to hear stories about how someone like you can be loved. And if you don’t hear those stories, it will change who you are.”

She stated that it was very important to her to talk to kids about consent and identity. “…I want to feel like I exist and I want everyone else who wants to feel that way to feel that way too.”

Steven Univershas certainly made many of its viewers feel like they belong by acknowledging same-sex relationships, the sexuality and gender spectrum, and self-acceptance. Despite having faced censorship, the show continues its commitment to Sugar’s message of inclusion. The show should be commended for that.

What do you think of Steven Universe? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

3 Points Sulu’s Sexuality Raises for “Star Trek” & Mainstream LGBT Representation

Star Trek Beyond is in theaters now, so the fervor of the movie might have made some people forget this bit of news that came out just before the film came out, but even though writer Simon Pegg (who also plays Scotty in the Star Trek reboot series) and director Justin Lin decided to make Sulu gay, married, and a father in this newest film, the original Sulu—George Takei—is against it.

Takei told The Hollywood Reporter that he felt making Sulu gay went against what Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, wanted for Sulu. “I’m delighted that there’s a gay character…Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.” As Takei states, Roddenberry had always imagined Sulu as straight. When Takei was told of Sulu’s homosexuality by John Cho (who plays Sulu in the films), Takei said he hoped the cast and crew would create an entirely new character instead of meddle with the original characters.

“I told him, ‘Be imaginative and create a character who has a history of being gay, rather than Sulu, who had been straight all this time, suddenly being revealed as closeted,” he said.

However, Takei did tell The Hollywood Reporter that he had a conversation with Roddenberry during the show’s run, stating that he asked if gay equality could become a part of the show’s storyline. But Roddenberry felt like he was skirting the line as it was. “He was a strong supporter of LGBT equality…But he said he has been pushing the envelope and walking a very tight rope–and if he pushed too hard, the show would not be on the air,” Takei said. What Takei didn’t ask for, though, was for his character to be the one the show focus on in case the show did tackle gay equality.

Pegg and Lin’s decision to make Sulu gay was supposed to be in honor of Takei, who has been a staunch LGBT activist. Pegg released a statement to The Guardian defending his decision to reveal (or change) Sulu’s sexuality, stating:

“I have huge love and respect for George Takei, his heart, courage and humour are an inspiration…However with regards to his thoughts on our Sulu, I must respectfully disagree with him. …He’s right, it is unfortunate, it’s unfortunate that the screen version of the most inclusive, tolerant universe in science fiction hasn’t featured an LGBT character until now. We could have introduced a new gay character, but he or she would have been primarily defined by their sexuality, seen as the ‘gay character,’ rather than simply for who they are, and isn’t that tokenism?

…Justin Lin, Doug Jung [Star Trek Beyond co-screenwriter who also plays Sulu’s husband in the film] and I loved the idea of it being someone we already knew because the audience have a pre-existing opinion of that character as a human being, unaffected by any prejudice. Their sexual orientation is just one of many personal aspects, not the defining characteristic. Also, the audience would infer that there has been an LGBT presence in the Trek Universe from the beginning (at least in the Kelvin timeline), that a gay hero isn’t something new or strange. It’s also important to note that at no point do we suggest that our Sulu was ever closeted, why would he need to be? It’s just hasn’t come up before.”

The last part of that statement is a direct response to Takei’s feeling that revealing Sulu as gay would mean that Sulu was closeted the whole time. As Takei told The Hollywood Reporter, someone living in the 23rd century would have never had to be in the closet.

Cho also had reservations about the idea of Sulu’s homosexuality, but for different reasons than Takei. As he told Vulture, Cho was worried that Sulu’s homosexuality would assert that sexuality was something that could be controlled or changed, specifically since the current Star Trek series is in an alternate timeline from the original.

“…[W]we’re in an alternate universe but I’m assuming that Sulu is the same genetic Sulu in both timelines, and I thought we might be implying that sexual orientation was a choice,” he said. He also worried about how Takei would feel about their Sulu borrowing from his life. “My primary concern was that I was wondering how George [Takei] would feel, because he’s a gay actor that played a straight part ad crafted a straight character. I didn’t want him to feel that we had reduced him to his sexuality by sort of borrowing this bit, if you will, from his life.”

Ultimately, Cho came around to the idea of Sulu being gay and felt that the decision humanized Sulu beyond just being a bridge crew member. Cho even fought to have his on-screen husband be of Asian heritage (hence Jung’s role in the film), as a nod to some of his childhood friends who were gay. “…I always felt the Asian gay men that I knew had much heavier cultural-shame issues…I felt like those guys didn’t date Asian men because of that cultural shame,” he said. “So I wanted it to seem really normal in the future…that there was zero shame in the future.”

But what makes the whole “Sulu’s sexuality” issue the most convoluted for me is that, despite the insistence on creating an inclusive world in Star Trek Beyond, the film still has an important, defining scene on the cutting room floor; a kissing scene between Sulu and his husband.

“It wasn’t like a make-out session,” Cho told Vulture. “We’re at the airport with our daughter. It was a welcome-home kiss,” he said.

The decision to cut the scene is a strange and antithetical to the desire to make Sulu gay in the first place. In fact, this decision raises several issues at the same time:

1. Having a gay character in Star Trek makes sense. I think everyone involved agrees that a Star Trek that doesn’t acknowledge LGBT characters is a Star Trek that isn’t complete. With the franchise’s promise of inclusivity, it makes sense as to why the screenwriters felt this would be a prime moment to right a wrong.

2. Sulu as gay actually breaks sci-fi ground; Sulu is, at least for me, the first gay character in a mainstream blockbuster movie franchise. Whether all involved like it or not, Sulu and Paramount have set a precedent for other studios to live up to. There has now been a gay character in a blockbuster film and the world didn’t end and international movie markets didn’t collapse; it’s now time for other studios to step their game up and represent an unrepresented part of their demographic.

3. The editing room’s decision to cut Sulu’s kissing scene flies in the face of the progress Sulu represents. By cutting Sulu’s kiss, it once again gives shadows of other portrayals of gay men as being asexual. Even though Sulu has a family, by not allowing audiences to see Sulu as a sexual creature, the same way we see Spock and Uhura, true humanization is being robbed from the character. It leaves audiences, particularly those starved to see positive images of themselves on the big screen, between a rock and a hard place; there’s representation of a gay man of color, but the full scope of his relationship is still closeted to the world. In that aspect, Takei’s fears of a closeted gay man in the 23rd century have come true after all.

What do you feel about Sulu in Star Trek Beyond? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Orlando Terror: Analysis From Around the Internet + How to Help

It’s one day after the horrifying terror attack that took place at Pulse, an Orlando LGBT nightclub. Now that there’s more information, let’s take a look at what we know and how we can offer help to those in need (as well as how to stick it to those who have allowed certain loopholes to persist).


“What You Need to Know About Gun Control in America” | The New York Times: If you are muddled on the issues surrounding gun control, the ways guns can get into the wrong hands legally and illegally, and what is being done to close the legal loopholes, read this comprehensive coverage by the New York Times, comprised of several articles giving fuller detail on the issues.

“How They Got Their Guns” | The New York Times: The Times also has an article, an article that was written last year but has since been updated to reflect the Orlando shooting, that details how mass murderers get their weapons. This article also includes profiles on how the shooters of San Bernadino, the shooter at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College and others got their guns as well.

“Victim vignettes” | Associated Press: Some people might find reading about the victims as a way to cope with what happened. If that happens to be the case for you, the AP has compiled small bios of those lost.

“Florida Man Feels ‘Helpless’ After Failed Blood Donation Attempt” | NBC OUT: One of the stories coming out of this tragedy is that, despite the attack being leveled against LGBT men and women (specifically Latino LGBT men and women), some in the LGBT community can’t give blood to help their own. NBC OUT posted a story about a young man who felt “helpless” after being unable to give blood to help victims.

Calling out insincere congresspeople

Igor Volsky, the deputy director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, has used his Twitter feed to expose congressmen and women who gave “condolences” and offers for “prayers” on social media, but have been funded by the NRA, the main organization keeping certain congresspeople from acting on common sense gun reform.

“These GOP Lawmakers Sent “Prayers” After Pulse Shooting–But Took Money From NRA” | Mic: Mic also has an article on Volsky’s Twitter feed, showing just a small sampling of how many elected officials have been funded by the NRA.

GetEQUAL, a grassroots social justice network for LGBT equality, also tweeted out to several congressmen who offered condolences despite having the ability to save lives with legislation:

This is just some of the amount of tweets GetEQUAL sent to members of Congress.

How to Help:

There are many blood donation centers that need help. As of June 12, News Talk Florida tweeted out blood donation centers who were asking for donations.

“How To Help Orlando” | MTV: MTV has compiled a list of how people can help as well, which includes many of the blood donation centers on this list, as well as where people can donate to victims’ families and who people can call for counseling.

People can also contact their elected officials to urge them to close legal loopholes and, frankly, do their jobs to protect their constituents.

“It’s On Us, Too: An Easy Guide to Contacting Your Elected Representatives about Gun Control” | Medium

Keep Guns Out of Criminals’ Hands | Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence

Ban Assault Weapons | MoveOn Petitions

If you have any link, petition, or service you’d like to add to this list, let me know either via Twitter or at

Exclusive Interview: #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend Creator Jessica Salerno

The voices are getting louder and stronger for Hollywood, Disney in particular, to include LGBT characters in their properties.

A few weeks ago, the hashtags and  trended on Twitter, showing not only how vast the audience is for mainstream LGBT content (unlike what Hollywood studios think), but also the urgency with which this type of content is needed. Around the same time #GiveElsaAGirlfriend trended, GLAAD released its annual Studio Responsibility Index, which found that out of Disney’s 11 properties released in 2015, none of them featured LGBT characters. (Paramount also featured no LGBT characters in its 2015 output.)

GLAAD stated in the report how Disney could rectify their issue, using Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which I think must be a slightly veiled reference to the online movement for Finn and Poe to be in a relationship). To quote GLAAD:

As sci-fi projects have the special opportunity to create unique worlds whose advanced societies can serve as a commentary on our own, the most obvious place where Disney could include LGBT characters is in the upcoming eighth Star Wars film. 2015’s The Force Awakens has introduced a  new and diverse central trio, which allows the creators opportunity to tell fresh stories as they develop their backstory. Recent official novels in the franchise featured lesbian and gay characters that could also be easily written in to the story.

Elsa and Captain America are two other characters that have become part of Disney fans’ stable of coded characters. Many have said that Elsa’s self-acceptance and “coming out” moment regarding her ice powers relates to kids wrestling with their self-identity and the courage it takes to reveal that truth to family and friends. The song “Let It Go”, as the Guardian states, has been adopted as an anthem for LGBT fans. On the Marvel end of Disney, Captain America‘s close friendship with Bucky Barnes has been seen as having gay overtones by many fans, as well as Cap’s immediately close relationship with the Falcon; in fact, Falcon and Cap’s relationship in the comics inspired one fan to write Marvel, moved by how the two characters expressed emotions that, as the comic panel itself explained away, were emotions that were “left unsaid.”

With the tide turning higher and heavier towards Disney finally making a move and acquiescing to marginalized fans’ concerns and wants, I decided to reach out to the hashtag creators who were helping give renewed hope to fans wanting to see LGBT relationships on screen. Below is my email interview with Jessica Salerno, #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend*, who gives more insight into the creation of the hashtag as well as why it’s so important.

JUST ADD COLOR: Why did you create #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend?

Jessica Salerno: When I created the tag #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend, it was something I definitely wanted to see be translated into the movies because of what it would do for the LGBTQ+ community, and because I myself love the Captain America movies and know many others do too! I had no idea people would actually catch on and help me trend it, but I couldn’t have been happier when they did.

#GiveElsaAGirlfriend has also been making the rounds. What do you think about these two hashtags and the message they represent? In other words, why have the hashtags hit a cord?

Both of these hashtags call for everyone to voice their support for two huge characters in the film industry, on a platform where they can be heard. These tags, once they get trending, show film studios everywhere that people want this representation of the LGBTQ+ community. these tags are both so important because when this many people speak up, they’re going to be heard. Having characters like Elsa and Captain America date the [same] sex would be revolutionary. People want superheroes and princesses to be able to be just like them—to show everyone that you can be a superhero and be bisexual, etc. It normalizes these sexualities and concepts that most of the world still shies away from, and these characters specifically speak out to the youth who view them—teaching them that no matter who they choose to be, they can still be a princess or a hero.

Why do you think Hollywood hasn’t made a prominent, out LGBT superhero or princess?

I think Hollywood hasn’t embraced the idea of a leasing LGBTQ+ character in films like these because they are worried about money. Frankly put, there is a huge amount of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, etc…worldwide that threaten the net worth of these corporations like Disney. The amount of backlash received from #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend just showed how many people still wrongly deny the LGBTQ+ community. But that’s why Hollywood needs to take these steps to normalize it with the platforms that they have.

How do you think the lack of LGBT characters has affected movie-going audiences?

I think the lack of LGBTQ+ characters in movies has affected the audiences, dwindling the amount of viewers who attend a movie if they know its another movie with an unnecessary heterosexual relationship forced into the mix just to make sure nobody tries shipping the male characters together. People want more representation, and they’re not going to be as willing to see a movie full of heterosexual stuff because that’s what we’ve been seeing for decades and its just not normal or realistic anymore. it hasn’t been for a while, and it needs to be realized.

What message do you hope people take away from your hashtag?

From #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend and from #GiveElsaAGirlfriend I hope people start to realize we can make a difference in the industry through just tweeting support from our phones or computers. I hope people start to realize the lack of LGBTQ+ representation, and I hope they start to support it and this cause. I hope people start to feel hopeful again that change is possible and happening for the LGBTQ+ community and that they see how many people are here to support that. It’s not just those in the community that want this change, and it’s empowering to those in it to see that again. from this tag I really hope people just continue to push for more representation and take a stand, because we can make this happen.

If Captain America was given a boyfriend, who would you choose?

I would love for Captain America’s boyfriend to be his long time friend Bucky Barnes! ♦

*JUST ADD COLOR reached out to Alexis Isabel, the creator of #GiveElsaAGirlfriend. She couldn’t be reached for comment. 

Paisley Park Is In Your Heart: Prince and the Power of Individuality

“I‘m finally feeling better,” I told my mom over the phone. I’d just expelled a lot of grief I was experiencing in an hour-long rant to her. At that point in the day—around 10 to 11 in the morning—my grief wasn’t anything Prince related. In fact, like everyone else that day, little did I know the rest of my day would be consumed by the news of His Purple Majesty’s passing.

At the time, what I was ranting about was about personal stuff; my Sleepy Hollow post concerning Abbie’s death had become one of the biggest hits, if not the biggest hit, JUST ADD COLOR and my personal writing portfolio had seen. Even Variety‘s Maureen Ryan, a writer I’m a huge fan of, and Kelly Connolly, my Entertainment Weekly Community Blog boss, had read it, having found it organically (I had actually considered sending them the link to the article, but I figured that if they read it, they’d read it, and if not, then whatever.) Ryan even went a step further and highlighted a part of the article she was the most affected by and retweeted the article to her followers. I was flabbergasted and honored that I was now considered worthy to be retweeted by writing elite. That’s when the panic and fear set in.

Now that I had reached another plateau in my online writing career, what did followers expect from me? Would I have to write about every pop culture thing, even if I didn’t particularly care about it? Would I have to give my opinion on everything? And if I did give an opinion, would it be the opinion that would put me on the ever-present “problematic” lists of Twitter and Tumblr denizens? I’d already had my brushes with that before—those brushes exposed me a lot more to the hypocrisy of social media life than I would have liked to have experienced. How hypocritical was expected to be? In other words: what kind of “self” was I now allowed to have on Twitter now that more eyes were looking at what I’d have to write?

These thoughts about self-preservation, self-representation, and the inherent fakery of internet culture had consumed me for days, leading me to rant about it to my sister the night before, and then to my mom the next morning after staying in bed for far too long, dreading to start my day and deal with my social media quandaries yet again. After that hour of ranting (so much so that I was putting my mom to sleep by talking so much) and letting off steam in the form of tears, I felt better and said so. “That’s good,” my mom said. “It’s good to get it all out.”

“Yeah,” I said, already feeling lighter and finally looking forward to writing some stuff on Underground and maybe even that pesky article about Ghost in the Shell and Dr. Strange. I got out of bed, remade it, did my morning routine, and started putting some laundry away while talking to my mom about whatever else had been rattling around in my brain.

Then my sister texted me. “Prince is dead!” she exclaimed. Angina, something I’ve never really had an issue with (despite my history of chronic stress and anxiety), flared up so badly I briefly considered if I needed a paramedic myself. As strange as it sounds even to me, the most recent time I’ve felt so directionless was about two years ago, when my uncle—another person I wrongly assumed would live forever—died. Instantly, I was trying to figure out if this was a hoax—it had to be a hoax, because Prince doesn’t just die—but as I switched between my mom and Twitter, I saw that it wasn’t a hoax. It was true. “NOT PRINCE!” I yelled to my empty room and my mom on the other end. “NO! NOT PRINCE!” My mom, on the other hand, was waiting on CNN or MSNBC to confirm it. Once they did, she sounded tired. “I was waiting to see if it was true,” she said. “That’s sad.”


Like the news junkie I am, I ran to my television in the living room to see what MSNBC was saying. As I watched Brian Williams say what we were all thinking at that moment—that we were all living what we thought would be a normal, uneventful Thursday only to hear the unthinkable—I started reflecting on things. It’s not unusual for me to think a lot; thinking is what jumpstarts this site every day, after all. But this train of thought, after the shock started subsiding microscopically, began to center around Prince’s way of life. More specifically, how Prince never let anyone define him; he was always in control of himself and his image.

My sister observed that Prince’s iron grip on his image might have been “a little psychotic.” But regardless of what kind of control issues Prince may have had (or probably did have, judging by how rigid he was with how Vanity 6, Sheila E., and Apollonia are all versions of the same dream woman archetype he fostered over the decades) Prince’s control over his outward persona and his introverted personal life is deeply rooted in two of his philosophical mottos:


“If you don’t own your masters, your master owns you.”

The former is one of the reasons why Prince became known as the Prince of Shade on social media, and the latter is about his battles with Warner Bros. over owning the rights to his own music. But both also speak to how Prince carried himself and how he practiced the art of disregard for other people’s feelings about how he should live his life.

Prince became a star because of his musical talent, first and foremost. He was a musical prodigy, playing at least 27 instruments, not counting his own honeyed vocal cords. But what launched him into supernova-dom was his ability to be completely unique, particularly during a time in which everyone wanted to be unique.


The ’80s are best known for its androgyny, the pounds and pounds of makeup women and men would wear, the frantic, desperate desire to be something new and different, something no one’s ever seen before. You had Madonna, The Culture Club’s Boy George, Adam Ant, and even “standard” R&B acts like Shalamar played with beauty and androgyny (something Charlie Murphy hilariously highlighted in his infamous Chappelle‘s Show skit about Prince). All of them, though, have to pay homage to originators of androgyny-in-music, like Little Richard, David Bowie, and even James Brown to a certain extent. And while I’m certain David Bowie, who was steeped in soul music history, did know how his bread was buttered (and often said so), Prince (as it has been said so much over the course of these strange days) was one that relished in the path paved by his musical forefathers and sought to create alchemy with the tools they left behind. He certainly did, giving the world something that was both in line with the era’s play on sex and sexuality and much more than anyone could comprehend. (Indeed, Prince himself actually said so in “I Would Die 4 You”: “I’m not a woman/I’m not a man/I am something you could never understand.”)

From where I’m sitting, Prince’s legendary status wasn’t achieved just because he participated in the ’80s androgyny; it was because he defined what it meant for him and never apologized for it or explained it. Whereas most others were still defining themselves by labels, Prince used none. To use another song, he raps “My name is Prince,” and that is the summation of it all. He is everything you saw and then more, tons more. He wasn’t man or woman, and he wasn’t something we could comprehend. The fact that he was the only one who could understand his own mystery intrigued us and made us want to be in his quirky, fascinating, dreamscape of a world.

In his way, he invited us all to discover our own mysteries. When he sang “Paisley Park is in your heart,” he wanted us to find out what made each of us special and cultivate that, just like he’d figured out how to cultivate his own specialness. Prince, who had been bullied in school and suffered from epilepsy, wanted us to create our own Paisley Parks, our own personal universes that allowed us to be the spectacular selves we want to be. He had figured out the secret, and in order to join in on his fun, you had to be willing to search for the answers to yourselves. You had to build your own personal Paisley Park, a task that’s much easier to sing about than it is to actually do.

I’d say a direct parallel to the ’80s “gimmie more” culture is right now. The ’10s are a time in which we’ve got access to everything and everyone just by using our phones, tablets, or laptops. We are closer than we ever were to celebrities, dignitaries, and presidents alike. You’d think that would satisfy us. But instead, all of this access to each other has only made us more neurotic and more prone to wanting to fit in than ever before.

Article after article after article states how Facebook (and social media in general) has led to a dramatic uptick in depression, all because we’re posturing to each other. Most of what you see on social media isn’t real. Too much of the time, there’s someone lying to you about what they’ve got, who they know, how “woke” they are or how accepting or inclusive they are. If they’re not busy trying to convince you of how much more together they are than you, then they’re busy overloading you with opinions about how to get to where they are in life and why you aren’t there. Why you and your fave “will never.” (“Will never” what, exactly?) Why you should strive to be a #carefreeblackgirl, even if you don’t feel that carefree. Why you shouldn’t express why you don’t feel as magical as the #blackgirlmagic hashtag suggests you should (Dr. Linda Chavers, who wrote in Elle about how her debilitating illness has left her feeling like a shell instead of someone who feels magical and important, received a mountain of clapbacks instead of nurturing support from a community). There are too many people out there busy tearing down others to uplift themselves. Too many times in the social media world, having your own view on the world—whether that opinion is something the majority agrees with or not—can be seen as detrimental to your social standing, much less your career.

The “gimmie more” culture has evolved into a shaming culture. Are you feminist enough? Are you queer enough? Are you alternative enough? Are you black enough (and to that end, are you carefree or magical enough)? There’s even a specific uniform for the “alt” person; just go on Tumblr and Twitter and you’ll find that a lot of folks who want to be perceived as “special” all end up looking similar, depending on what brand of “alt” they aspire to. But is wearing a uniform actually being alternative? Is critiquing others for their personal Paisley Parks building up your own?

Prince didn’t tear others down while staying in his own lane. Instead, he worked on his own stuff and released his own personal stamp on life into the world for us to marvel at. What we saw in his music and artistic representation was a manifestation of his own high self-worth. As many have said online, what they loved most about him was his ability to be himself. While most of us are struggling to find peace with our identities, Prince seemed to casually live in it and mine it for inspiration. He was his own inspiration—how many of us can say that about ourselves?


I hate that it took Prince’s death for me to realize what was the most grand thing about him, and that he was the teacher of the most important lesson I need to learn in life. I’ve always struggled with just being myself; if you read my Mr. Robot piece, you’ll see that I’ve always had a bout with accepting my own sensitivity. But I’ve had other battles, most of them racially and culturally charged. The more I’ve become a part of the social media and online journalism/blogging spheres, the more I’ve realized how crucially important it is to have a strong sense of self-worth and self-understanding. Not only is it important just in life in general, but it’s comes in so handy when having to deal with strong personalities, a barrage of opinions, and others who are keen on tearing you down just to prove how special they are.

That’s what brings this article full circle; my rant to my mom was based in the fact that I still didn’t know how to grapple with the stress of being in a forum where almost everyone is trying to present their best, most perfect, most special selves. I couldn’t get my mind around how social media perpetuates the act of folks trying to prove their specialness by pointing out where others are “problematic” and never letting them live down whatever mistake they might have made. All I wanted to find was peace and the belief that I could be whatever and whoever I wanted to be without worry from what other people would have to say. I wanted relief from the stress of “fitting in,” a stress that I thought would have left me once I graduated from high school years ago.

Unfortunately, Prince’s death taught me that I have yet to own my masters, because the master—my fear—was owning me big time. I learned that I honestly don’t need to worry about what anyone else thinks of me, as long as I have belief and love for myself. If I work on becoming the version of Monique want to be, then the stress of “fitting in” will go away. I will be me, and everyone else can be them, whether that’s them being their best selves or not. Like Prince, can find my own Paisley Park and happily live there in my heart. Once I discover that, I’ll be able to attract others to me, others who want to know what my mystery is. That’s a lesson we can all learn.

To quote Janelle Monaé (who was also one of the people Prince called “friend”), “Categorize me, I defy every label.” Prince challenged us to not just define ourselves, but to defy the labels people put on us and the ones we put on ourselves. He wanted us to challenge others to try to put us in boxes, and he wanted those who tried to categorize to fail. We should try to learn from his example and try to truly accept what makes us unique; if anyone tried to play us, they’d soon learn they were only playing themselves. His name was Prince. My name is Monique. Who are you?

Other articles to check out:
“Whether Or Not Prince Knew It, He Was A Disability Icon To Me” | Black Girl Dangerous
Prince never apologized for who he was. For that, he was an inspiration. | Washington Post

Prince gave black kids permission to be weirdos | Vox

Prince Knew What He Wanted: Sex, Soul and You | The New York Times

Creative Commons license linklink to Flickr download page

Rafael de la Fuente Joins ABC’s 2017 Miniseries “When We Rise”

You might recall that sometime in 2015, I interviewed Empire’s own Rafael de la Fuente for JUST ADD COLOR. Now, a year later, I’m excited to say that de la Fuente is going to be on a brand new project coming to ABC, When We Rise.

When We Rise, coming to the network in 2017, will be directed by Gus Van Sant (Good Will HuntingMilk) and Dee Rees (Pariah, Bessie) and written by Dustin Lance Black (Milk, Pedro, J. Edgar). For those who hated the film Stonewall (and with good reason), When We Rise could be your saving grace, since it’s focusing on the American gay rights movement after the Stonewall Riots. De la Fuente will play Ricardo, who is described as “a character who ends up in a long-term relationship with Cleve [Guy Pearce]”. Mary Louise Parker is also a part of the project; other cast members will be announced in the coming months.

“I’m excited to take on the role of Ricardo in this very important mini-series,” said de la Fuente in a statement. “I’m excited to work opposite Guy Pearce, and work with Dustin, Gus and Dee. This team will bring the story of the gay rights movement to life, showing the courage, compassion, diversity, fear and most important, love, of this movement and era. The stories within this series will undoubtedly resonate today in all communities, not just the LGBT community.”
What do you think about When We Rise? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

“Incredible Girl” Provides Space for Alternate Relationships

Ready to learn about more than just the two-person relationship dynamic? If you’ve raised your hands, consider me right there along with you, because in the spirit of being well-rounded, I’m highly fascinated to see the new pilot, Incredible Girl.

The webisode is created by Celia Aurora de Blas and Teresa Jusino (whose written work you can read at The Mary Sue, where Jusino’s the Assistant Editor). The pilot focuses on a young woman who realizes the life she’s lived up until this point isn’t really who she wants to be. Enter Incredible Girl, who changes the young woman’s life forever.

INCREDIBLE GIRL is the story of Sarah, a young woman from a Southern Baptist background who’s going through a divorce – and is slowly realizing that the life she used to value no longer makes sense for her. She meets a mysterious force-of-nature known as “Incredible Girl” who shows her that the possibilities for what her life can look like are endless, and encourages her to indulge her curiosity in the world of BDSM.
Family drama, romance and  humor irreverently come together in this female-led, rite-of-passage digital series that confounds expectations about who and how you should love.
Ultimately, we’ll learn that love and passion, control and submission, pain and pleasure are just as intrinsic to religion as they are to BDSM. The body is indeed an altar, while prayer is a form of orgasm (fact: orgasm and prayer activate the same parts of the brain!).
Our goal with this series is to depict the world of BDSM in a fun, entertaining, authentic way, and to promote understanding and tolerance of those whose sexuality marks them out as “different”.

The show is a 30-minute dramedy-of-sorts, which aims to join the likes of Hulu or Amazon; in fact, if you want to compare Incredible Girl to any of the web’s current slate of shows, use Netflix’s Orange is the New Black Hulu’s Casual, or Amazon’s Transparent as your yardsticks. I’d also say that the show could possibly be a great fit for the Audience Network, who has the threesome show, You, Me, Her.  Incredible Girl doesn’t just focus on sexual diversity, but also features racial and gender diversity as well. The show is helmed by women and is a “female-centric series that explores alternative lifestyles and tells the stories of characters that are diverse racially, in their gender identification, and in body type and physical ability.” To go further, let’s look at the stats, provided by Jusino:

As of now, the show has a Latina writer, 5 of our 6 producers are female, over 50% of our production team is People of Color, and we’ve hired a trans woman as our production sound mixer. Many of our characters are of color, on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, or of different body types/physical abilities (for example, one of our major supporting characters is Cupcake Dominatrix, who is a plus-sized Latina dominatrix. We also feature kinky people who are in wheelchairs, or have other disabilities, etc)

If you need something to take the awful taste of 50 Shades of Grey out of your mouth, Incredible Girl is exactly what you need. Take a look at the short film the pilot’s inspired by, as well as the pilot pitch and teaser scenes (some images are not safe for work):

Incredible Girl has a crowdfunding campaign to raise $50,000, with the campaign ending April 13. There’s still time for you to help out and make Incredible Girl‘s spot on Amazon or Hulu a reality. (Donations are also tax deductible.)

What do you think about Incredible Girl? Give your opinions below the post! Also, follow Incredible Girl on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and YouTube.


What “The 100” Didn’t Learn from “Teen Wolf”


Do you watch the CW’s The 100? The show was breaking ground with its same-sex relationship between fan favorites Lexa and Clarke, but something happened recently that left fans up in arms.

If you’re not up to speed, here’s what happened. Lexa inexplicably died during the latest season, leaving fans who loved the characters, the relationship, and what the relationship represented, were left grieving yet another lesbian character who has fallen victim to trope.

Maureen Ryan for Variety has summed up the issue succinctly in her opinion piece, “‘The 100 Lexa Mess: What TV, Jason Rothenberg Can Learn”:

“So here’s the nitty-gritty: The character who died, Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey), happened to be one of the few well-developed and comple lesbians on TV, and it’s an unfortunae but enduring TV cliche that lesbians rarely, if ever, live happily ever after. In the March 3 episode, ‘The 100,’ which had touted its commitment to quality LGBTQ storytelling, invoked one of TV’s oldest gay cliches by killing her off mere seconds after she consummated her relationship with another woman, Clarke (Eliza Taylor). Many fans, regardless of sexual orientation, were left shaking their heads in disbelief.”

Ryan goes on to write that the death itself didn’t make storytelling sense, even though the actresses involved played the scene well. “But all things considered, the blithe manipulation LGBTQ fans and the show’s willingness to deploy harmful cliches about gay characters remain the things that rankle the most,” she wrote. Quite a few fans feel like they were led on, used to boost ratings with teased relationship, only to have the rug pulled from under them.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s not simply because creating the “tragic LGBTQ character” is a very tired trope. That’s just one of the reasons. The other reason this might sound familiar is because MTV’s Teen Wolf faced a similar firestorm a two years ago.

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You can read Jase Peeples’ op-ed for The Advocate, “The Trouble with Teen Wolf to get the full details, but in a nutshell, Teen Wolf dropped major hints of highly-developed characterizations (and relationships) of gay male characters, such as the popular pairing of “Sterek” (Stiles and Derek), but the show began being labeled as a “queer-baiting” show once Danny and Ethan, characters who were in a relationship, faded to the background and Stiles was put in a relationship Malia, a female werecoyote. Even worse, the male teen of color on the show, Mason, was tokenized and underdeveloped.

Peeples writes:

“While some might dismiss fan outrage over the show’s dwindling LGBT representation, their passionate outcry highlights a growing divide between younger viewers and those who are creating the shows they watch. For a generation that has never known a time when LGBT people were not represented on the small screen in some form, limited visibility and queer subtext are no longer enough to hold their interest.”

The continued teases that a character might be bisexual with no payoff, the same-sex romances that end as quickly as they begin with little development, the disappearance of gay characters without explanation, and the absence of any well-developed LGBT character four seasons into a show that appeared to bank heavily on its queer appeal early on have left vocal fans howling.

He goes on to say that network execs and showrunners need to recognize that the audience they’re trying to court (and, in the case of Teen Wolf, successfully courted) are not the audience of the 1980s or even some of the audience of the 1990s. This new audience lives in the world the audiences of the old had been hoping for, so it’s time to actually give this new audience the type of representation it wants sans trope and stereotype. “For this demographic, LGBT integration isn’t simply a future aspiration-it’s reality,” writes Peeples. “More than ever before, young people are out, allies are vocal and a person who doesn’t interact with a member of the LGBT population on some level is becoming an anomaly.”

It seems like The 100 also needed to learn this lesson, even though it portrayed the air of deft avoidance of trope up until Lexa’s death. Just like with Teen Wolf’s audience, the audience of The 100 saw Lexa and Clarke as a beacon of hope, that TV was finally putting the spotlight on lesbian relationships, something that’s not always focused on when TV decides to showcase LGBTQ characters. Usually, TV just show gay men, and even then, the focus is mostly on gay white men.

As I wrote in my February issue of COLORBLOCK Magazine (in which I did laud The 100 for its seeming progressiveness):

The biggest trend across the reports is that on the whole, gay white men make up half or more than half of the LGBT characters portrayed on television. Meanwhile, lesbian characters specifically usually make up half or less than half of LGBT characters; bisexual characters make up a paltry amount usually in the single-digit or barely double-digit numbers, but still more than transgender characters, who usually comprise about 2% of the LGBT character population.

With so few lesbian characters and relationships between lesbians on-screen, Lexa and Clarke stood for more than just two characters in love. They represented many viewers and their relationships, and to have that representation taken away has got to hurt. No wonder fans are upset.

The biggest lesson The 100 can learn from this is to look at what happened to Teen Wolf. Fans are asking for proper representation from their shows. Fans are asking for their shows to represent them, because they’re living the lives that are routinely left off the screen. Instead of seeing their audience as a niche with a marginalized interest that can be dangled in front of fans like a carrot, they should actively create storylines that honor their audience. The last thing shows need to do is alienate the folks who make them money.

Ryan echoes this sentiment with her breakdown of the lessons showrunners need to learn. Ryan states that when fans feel manipulated they’ll walk away. She also writes that showrunners shouldn’t gloss over legitimate concerns from fans. But the rule that all of these rules rest on is this: “Don’t mislead fans or raise their hopes unrealistically.”

What did you think of Lexa’s death? If you’re a fan of The 100, can they win you back? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Looking for Love in Invisible Spaces: Meta & the Gap in LGBT Representation

(L-R) Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the Jan. 1, 2016 MASTERPIECE special Sherlock: The Abominable Bride. Courtesy of (C) BBC/Hartswood Films for MASTERPIECE

As featured in COLORBLOCK Magazine, February 2016

The patchiness of LGBT representation occurred due to several factors, such as cultural reticence, religious arguments, and entertainment companies worried about their bottom line domestically and internationally. The voids in representation have led to fans coming to their own rescue and creating alternate (and sometimes more accurate) readings of characters and their love lives.

The process of finding alternate interpretations of the characters not only provides fans who feel neglected by the entertainment world–such as LGBT fans and fans who are LGBT allies– the ability to participate in their favorite film or TV fandom, but also eases the anxiety created when an LGBT metatextual reading of a character, especially characters who already have a foothold in discussions surrounding LGBT media, doesn’t get the fair play it should in canonical tellings or retellings of a story. Basically, meta readings, and the subsequent fan creations that result from them, give fans the chance to tell the story from their point of view. They get to create a world that includes them in all of their complexity by allowing the canonical characters to have complexity not originally given to them by their original creators.

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series of mysteries are two great examples of when the canonical and meta worlds collide.

Want to read more about diverse entertainment? Read the February issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!


Canonically, Sherlock and John are friends, the most classic example of platonic love and partnership. However, the two characters have also been one of the many touchstones of LGBT media theory, especially where it concerns audience interpretation.

“Fans use these parallel worlds to explore what could have been or might be, especially as regards sexualities that have not found mainstream representation,” wrote Ashley O’Mara in her article, “Queering LGBT History: The Case of Sherlock Holmes Fanfic” for the site, Metathesis ( “There is no conclusive literary evidence that [Doyle] conceived of his Sherlock and John as ‘homosexual;’ their relationship presents as a romantic friendship although those were going out of fashion when he was writing. Likewise, despite queerbaiting, [BBC’s Sherlock co-writer Steven Moffat] insists that his Sherlock is not gay, let alone [asexual]. In [fanfiction] however, literally any interpretation goes.”

Those interpretations, which explore asexuality, aromanticism, bisexuality, and/or being gay, stem from said queerbaiting, which include suggestive moments in the BBC show, one of the biggest moments being during Irene Adler’s introduction in Series 2, Episode 1, in which Irene basically makes a case as to why John was actually falling in love with Sherlock without realizing it by comparing John to herself. Both John and Irene have considered themselves people who weren’t interested in men, yet, as Irene points out, both of them are very interested in Sherlock. There could also be a level of retroactive queerbating, as it were, happening within the original text itself; as O’Mara noted, Doyle was writing of romantic friendship when it was going out of style, with romantic same-sex friendship being replaced with a higher level of homophobia (at least among men; with women, romantic friendship and full blown same-sex romance was often overlooked by male society). The level of reticence around romantic friendships comes around the same time the term “homosexuality” was coined, which begs the question as to why Doyle would still consider writing Sherlock and John as a romantic friendships comes around the same time the term “homosexuality” was coined, which begs the question as to why Doyle would still consider writing Sherlock and John as a romantic friendship during such a societal change.

Meta readings have also occurred with many of today’s popular characters, such as characters in Marvel’s cinematic and TV universe. There are tons of  fan creations centering around the close relationship between Captain America and Bucky (aka the Winter Soldier), Captain America’s other close relationship with the Falcon, Iron Man and The Hulk’s friendship (as shown in the Avengers movies), and the friendship between Peggy Carter and waitress/aspiring actress Angie Martinelli in Agent Carter, just to name a few.

MARVEL'S AGENT CARTER - "A View in the Dark" - Peggy discovers her murder investigation has huge ramifications that can destroy her career, as well as everyone near and dear to her, on "Marvel's Agent Carter," TUESDAY, JANUARY 19 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Kelsey McNeal) HAYLEY ATWELL
MARVEL’S AGENT CARTER – “A View in the Dark” – Peggy discovers her murder investigation has huge ramifications that can destroy her career, as well as everyone near and dear to her, on “Marvel’s Agent Carter,” TUESDAY, JANUARY 19 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Kelsey McNeal)

Despite canon interpretations falling short of fandom expectation, it’s beginning to be par for the course for actors who are affiliated with the fandom to speak out on behalf of their fans’ want for more inclusive entertainment. For instance, to address the Peggy/Angie fans, Peggy herself, Hayley Atwell, told fans at last year’s Fan Expo Canada what Peggy and Angie’s relationship meant to her. “The thing that stands out for me about Peggy and Angie is it’s seldom that you see on television friendship between two women that isn’t founded on the interest of a man,” she said. “There’s a genuine affection that they have for each other; whether or not you want to project the idea that it’s romantic or sexual is entirely up to you and how you want to view it. I think there’s a mutual respect that’s quite rare that I want to see more of in film and stories.”

As you’ll read in the next article (about the meta pairing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens characters Finn and Poe Dameron), Captain America co-director Joe Russo also states that he welcomes all interpretations of Bucky and Cap’s relationship. Also worth noting about the Star Wars pairing is that John Boyega recently confirmed to ShortList writer Chris Mandle that while the Poe/Finn pairing isn’t canonical, it was definitely something that existed in the mind of Oscar Isaac, who played Poe in the film.

With more and more actors co-signing fandom imagination, the day when there will be a mainstream LGBT couple in genre films and television could be coming soon. Maybe not soon enough, to be honest, but still sooner than originally thought possible.

Related articles/sources:

The Breakout Fandom Couple of 2015: Stormpilot (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) (JUST ADD COLOR)

History of Homosexuality-19th Century (Wikipedia)

Meta Masterlist (

Meta: The Case of John Watson’s Sexuality (

Hayley Atwell Discusses Agent Carter Season Two: Workplace Obstacles, Relationships, and “Cartinelli” (The Mary Sue)

Fan Expo 15: Atwell Declassifies “Agent Carter” Season 2 And Chris Evans’ Abs (Comic Book Resources)