(Wilson Cruz as Dr. Culber on Star Trek: Discovery. Photo credit: CBS)
Each week, Monique will sound off on the current episode of Star Trek: Discovery. For more, read Monique’s Star Trek: Discovery recaps at SlashFilm. These mini-rants will contain SPOILERS–You’re warned.
It’s been over 72 hours as of this post since I’ve seen the midseason premiere of Star Trek: Discovery, and I am still pissed. I don’t know how killing Culber will advance the story in any type of positive way. I also fear that Culber’s death is one of the breadcrumbs that will lead to Tyler ultimately sacrificing himself.
If you’ve read my latest SlashFilm recap already, you know I’ve been quite livid about seeing Culber die on screen. Supposedly, Culber’s death isn’t going to be a “Bury Your Gays” horror (even though it looks like it on the surface.) I quoted Buzzfeed’s Adam B. Vary’s interviews with Wilson Cruz and Star Trek: Discovery‘s showrunners in my recap, but I want to give a shout out to SyFy’s Swapna Krishna, who also interviewed Cruz about his character’s demise. What Cruz told her, as he told Vary, is that we’ll see Culber again.
“I can tell you that we will be seeing Dr. Culber again.
I can even tell you that as part of the longer epic love story we are planning on telling between these two characters there is a scene in this season that is my favorite thing I have ever filmed in my twenty-five years and I can’t wait for you guys to see it. So when I tell you that it’s not over, it really isn’t. There are reasons why the story has taken a turn, but I just ask that you guys trust us in the storytelling. I had conversations with the producers and there is a bigger story here to be told, and we are going to tell it.”
So, he’s telling us that we will see the continuation of Culber’s story and Culber and Stamets’ relationship. HOWEVER, I’m still mad.
Did it have to be this way, showrunners? On the one hand, I understand that if I was in the creator’s chair, I would have qualms killing characters off regardless. As someone who wishes to create her own show one day, I’ve already realized I am too mushy to kill of characters, even if the story calls for it. Perhaps that’s to my detriment. But, a part of me feels like having a dramatic death at the beginning of a premiere is beginning to be a pattern for Star Trek: Discovery. Case in point–the death of Georgiou, another death I thought wasn’t necessary because, similar to Culber’s, it felt like a bait-and-switch.
However, with as much work as Wilson Cruz has done speaking out on behalf of the LGBT community, and with the showrunners themselves running this storyline by GLAAD, I’d like to believe that this gamble will pay off. I mean, it’d better–Star Trek: Discovery’s life is on the line with this type of gamble. If the story can show a death that exists beyond trope, then maybe there’s a conversation worth having. It’s also worth pointing out that one of the showrunners, Aaron Harberts, is openly gay. Perhaps some of his own feelings about the treatment of LGBT characters in the media will make Culber’s death feel more organic and less of a trope. From what he told IndieWire’s Liz Shannon Miller, it would seem that’s the case.
“This is something we knew we wanted to do pretty much from the minute we started breaking the arc of the entire season. We wanted to have this be the first chapter for this gay couple, who we plan to make one of the most important couples on our show. So, to do that, we needed to tell some tough stories to get this couple where they need to be, and to continue to expand their importance in the fabric of the show. So, this is a first step that we knew we had to take, and we weren’t afraid to take it, because we know where it’s going.”
…“It’s absolutely essential [for Culber’s death to be organic]. It was essential that this crime not be gratuitous. It had to push the story, and it had to come from character and emotion. Culber is killed because he’s the smartest person on the ship. He’s not killed because he’s gay. He’s killed because he’s a threat to Tyler, and to what Tyler’s going through.”
I won’t say Culber’s death was entirely for shock value–I believe Harberts when he says he wanted Culber’s death to not be gratutious–but there is still a shocking element to how he died and the type of episode he died on. A midseason premiere is all about bringing eyes back to the show and attracting new eyes as well, but does a death really win more fans? At this point, from what I’ve seen on Twitter, it seems like all it’s done is piss people off–both longtime viewers and prospective viewers, some of whom are now waiting until the season is over to see how the Culber situation is handled. Regardless, for many, Culber’s death is just one more reason to keep distrusting the media’s handling of LGBT characters since they keep getting killed off or denied their right to happiness.
To be honest, killing off characters for dramatic effect has become a go-to for lots of shows nowadays, and it annoys me. The glut of great television has also made TV watchers desensitized to a certain extent–there are show many shows to watch and so little time, so people have to pick and choose what they give their attention to. Therefore, it’s becoming increasingly harder for shows to garner and maintain an audience when there’s so much competition out there. What I’ve been seeing is an increase in “Can you believe X got killed off?!” moments on TV–moments that result in tons of press and tons of online chatter and attention. Killing off a character can mean your show gets a quick boost of notoriety and promotion. The best example of this is The Walking Dead, the originator of the modern-day “Kill off important characters” tactic. At one point in time, doing such a thing was bold, risky even. But nowadays, the tactic has become stale and, in some cases, hokey. At worst, the tactic has become offensive–The Walking Dead has had a habit of killing of black characters, black men in particular. Also, Glenn, a fan favorite, was believed to have been saved by the writers, only to be brutally killed later on. The most recent kill, protagonist Rick Grimes’ son Carl, deviates from the comic book, in which Carl still lives. If I were a regular viewer of that show, I’d consider it a huge betrayal.
My point is this–what do character deaths amount to in the end? Are they entirely necessary for every story? And will Culber’s death prove to be necessary for the story Star Trek: Discovery is trying to tell or will it turn into another Georgiou moment that leaves fans frustrated? We can only wait and see as the story develops.
Regardless, the sting of seeing Culber killed goes deep. As Harberts said in his interview, we know Culber isn’t killed because he’s gay–it’ because of what he knows about Tyler and because Tyler is fighting his Klingon programming (the buried lede in this article is that Tyler is, in fact, Voq. But he’s a Voq at war with himself, because he doesn’t even remember his former life). But even with that knowledge, I hope the folks behind the show realize that there’s a large contingent of fans who might hit pause on Star Trek: Discovery, at least temporarily. After seeing so many LGBT characters treated wrongly, it’s almost second nature to become wary of any death, regardless of the underlying reasons for that death.
It’s on the show now to win back some fans’ trust and allay fears. If they can’t do that, then the show will have a big problem on its hands.
Issa Rae has several new HBO shows on the horizon, but there’s one I’m interested in the most—a black bisexual rom-com.
Him Or Her, executive produced by Rae and Travon Free (a writer for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and former writer for The Daily Show) will be, according to Shadow and Act, a “single-camera half-hour” comedy that follows “the dating life of a bisexual black man and the distinctly different worlds and relationships he finds himself in.”
Shadow and Act is right in asserting that Him Or Her might be “the first television show to center the focus on a black, LGBT male since Noah’s Arc.” What’s also great is that much of the show will be based on Free’s own experiences as a bisexual man.
As Rae told The Huffington Post in an email, “I was immediately drawn in to the concept from his initial pitch and am SO grateful that he’s trusting us with his vision.” As reported by Logo, Rae also said she has wanted to bring bisexuality into the conversation about black masculinity.
What do you think about this show? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
The Last Jedi is dividing fans left and right (I’m on the side that happened to love the movie). Shippers of Stormpilot–the fandom (and cast-supported) coupling of Finn and Poe–are also divided on the movie as well, since not only was there a lack overt Stormpilot moments, but there was also a kiss between Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). For some, it would seem the hopes for Stormpilot are over.
After seeing The Last Jedi myself, I’ve come away with the opinion that not only has Stormpilot survived the second act of this three-act story, but even more background information has been given on the apparently one-sided tension Poe’s wrestling with when it comes to his interactions with Finn. I posit that Poe is the one who is the one harboring an intense crush on Finn, while Finn is completely oblivious, focusing only on the mission at hand.
Exhibit A: Poe’s jealous outburst
There’s a scene that seems to have escaped even the most hardcore of Stormpilot fans, and that’s when Rose and Finn are giving Poe their idea for saving the Resistance ship from the Empire. They’re talking to Poe in Poe’s quarters, which immediately gives Poe leverage over the entire scene. Poe and Finn are dominating the conversation until Rose chimes in, making herself known in an otherwise closed-off environment. That’s when Poe’s penchant for jealousy kicks in, and he pointedly asks Finn, “Where’d you find her?” Even though Johnson couldn’t find a way to inject full-scale romance in this film, he still found a way to inject an odd, jealousy-tinged line that doesn’t add anything to the scene, much less the film’s plot.
Throughout the film, we see how selfish, territorial, and jealous-hearted Poe can be when it comes to the people he loves. Poe would do anything for Leia–even after she slaps him like an angry mother, demotes him, and then tasers him so they can put him aboard the escape vessels without his backtalk. Leia is, in fact, the closest thing Poe has to a mother, and his loyalty and love for her makes him wary of anyone else who comes in between them. In this case, that person happens to be Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), whom Poe is immediately suspicious of. (Poe’s a little sexist about it too, to be honest, judging Holdo for being ultra-femme in battle, even though Leia is just as femme, just in darker colors.) He doesn’t learn to trust Holdo until the very end of their time together, and unfortunately, it’s while she’s sacrificing herself to allow the escape pods to advance to the nearest moon.
Poe’s selfishness and jealousy comes back in full force only one other time, and that’s when he’s sizing up Rose. Poe is visibly irritated he must share Finn with Rose, but he knows he has to do so if they’re going to save everyone. At one point, I thought Poe was going to say, “Maybe I should come with,” and to be honest, the look on his face gives the impression that he’s actually considering jettisoning the ship and stowing away with them. But he also won’t allow himself to leave Leia unattended. So he begrudgingly agrees to their tenuous plan.
Exhibit B: So much touching
Maybe it’s because I already had my proverbial antennae up for any Finn/Poe interactions I could possibly write about later, but it seemed like there was a large amount of slightly unnecessary touching. (Full admission: the amount of touching might also seem unnecessary because I’m not that touchy-feely myself, despite being highly emotional. As I’ve written before, I’m a Vulcan.)
The first bit of touching comes after BB-8 alerts Poe to Finn waking out of his coma. The dialogue we hear–Poe repeating BB-8’s beeps about a naked Finn when Finn isn’t actually naked–is something to waggle some eyebrows at, since it’s erroneous and gratuitous. Another script Easter egg, perhaps. But after the dialogue comes Poe rushing to Finn, reaching out to both stop him and support him as he staggers out of sickbay.
Poe didn’t have to touch Finn at his waist. He could have easily touched him around the shoulders. But it’s less about where Poe touches Finn and more about how he touches him. Everything’s gentle, and it’s not just because Finn is literally leaking IV fluids. Whenever Finn is in Poe’s vicinity, Poe immediately reduces down into a much gentler, softer persona. And, as we saw with how pointed he got about Rose, that persona is reserved only for Finn, and anyone who encroaches on Poe’s territory sees a more crotchety side of our favorite pilot.
There’s another moment of touching when Finn runs to Poe, who’s just been blown back by an Empire explosion. This bit of touching can’t really be made into too much of a “Stormpilot” thing, since Poe literally just got blasted in the back and sent flying across the hangar. But still, it’s something to note, especially since the undoctored image from this scene looks like it could be edited into a romance novel cover.
Keep in mind that throughout all of these interactions, Finn doesn’t ever catch on that Poe seems to be holding onto some big emotions. Finn sees Poe as someone he can trust, most definitely, but love is the last thing on Finn’s mind right now. Finn comes from a life of war, and survival mode is what he knows best. But survival mode doesn’t allow for someone to think about long-sustaining romances. After what happens in Exhibit C, though, it seems like Finn will start thinking about more complex things like love.
Exhibit C: Finn’s reaction to Rose’s kiss
Let’s break down the scene where Rose saves Finn from his suicide mission. Rose gets injured in the process, and she tells Finn she saved him because this war is all about saving those that you love. She manages to give him a kiss before passing out.
Folks on Tumblr read this scene as Disney punking out to the international market, mainly China, who are seen as the gatekeeper on Star Wars exploring LGBTQ themes. No doubt that the international market can prove to be a roadblock for any LGBT representation in Star Wars, much less Stormpilot. But in actuality, no story commitment to a Rose/Finn romance has taken place. If the film was adamant about Rose and Finn sharing a romance, I would think that romance would have been hinted at throughout the film and, most definitely, Finn would have kissed back. But he doesn’t; he’s just confused. In fact, we leave him still in a state of confusion.
Star Wars doesn’t have a fantastic record of building up believable romances–even Han and Leia’s romance doesn’t have much of a build-up that allows someone to truly understand what they see in each other. But to The Empire Strikes Back‘s credit, at least they keep the romance up throughout the film. The film was committed to cementing Han and Leia’s romance by peppering it in all over the place. With the amount of amazing writing that acts as The Last Jedi‘s foundation, I’d think that if they wanted to give us romance, they’d do a heck of a lot more than give us one small kiss and a clearly one-sided exchange.
It’s also worth noting that the experience of kissing is new to Finn, regardless of if it would be with Poe or Rose. Poor Finn hasn’t had real human interaction for his whole life. I think it’s natural for him to be confused on a multitude of levels. First, he has to suss out if he feels the same way about Rose. Second, he’d have to figure out if he even likes kissing at all. This is where the sexual representation could become more complex than just the gay/straight binary. We don’t know what sexual orientation Finn has, but it might be narrow-minded us to assume that he’s just simply gay. It’d be great if Star Wars could explore Finn’s inner conflict surrounding this moment.
The defense rests
I’m not soothsayer—I don’t know exactly what this means for the next film. But as for this film, fans shouldn’t be too upset. Romance didn’t make its way in this chapter, but let’s hope that romance, especially LGBT romance, is a big part of Episode 9, whether that’s Stormpilot or otherwise.
The Last Jedi is testing the patience of some Stormpilot uberfans, who are debating if this new chapter in the new Star Wars saga advances or hinders the fandom-supported Stormpilot romance. I’ve got my opinions on it, which I’ll divulge later on once we’re out of spoiler fever.
But discussing Stormpilot brings up the very insurmountable fact that Star Wars has yet to truly bring LGBT representation to the forefront in a meaningful way. Rian Johnson, who co-wrote and directed The Last Jedi, has been intensely aware of Stormpilot, so much so that he’s actually retweeted fanart and fandom conversation about Finn and Poe’s speculated relationship. He’s also made sure to say he’s in support of LGBT characters in Star Wars. In fact, both Johnson and J.J. Abrams, the producer behind the new Star Wars films as well as the directors of both The Force Awakens and the upcoming Episode 9, have championed introducing LGBT characters into the films. But will that happen in the current Star Wars storyline or will it be more apparent in the next trilogy Johnson’s supposed to helm?
Until we know the absolute answer, one thing’s for sure–same-sex pairings and fandom-made representation have been a huge part of Star Wars since the beginning. With fans getting more and more restless, it’s only a matter of time before pairings move out of the realm of fandom and into the realm of canon. In fact, the pairings featured below are so well known by many that they might as well have their own movies devoted to them.
Here’s how I’m ranking them in terms of how canonical they are in the Star Wars franchise (with their rank affected by cast and crew interviews, actors’ intentions behind the characters, and fandom acceptance). Some issues to discuss first–it would have been fun to be able to include some female same-sex pairings in this list, but Star Wars is still a male-dominated story, unfortunately. There still isn’t enough focus on women, even though that’s growing thanks to this new crop of movies. Second, this list is only focusing on pairings that are in the movies. I’ve heard about Vice-Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) possibility being a queer character in the Star Wars books. But we don’t see that in The Last Jedi. I’m only going by what I’ve seen in the films.
4. Han Solo and Lando Calrissian
I haven’t seen much chatter about this slash pairing ever, but I know it exists. How can it not? Han and Lando are frenemies who go way back, have had tons of adventures together, and definitely have a past we don’t know about at all. Also, as this Dreamwidth user wrote in 2003, Lando trusts Han enough to give him his Millennium Falcon.
Personally, I don’t see it, but that doesn’t mean others can’t. And it also doesn’t mean I can’t be swayed–with Solo: A Star Wars Story coming out next year, I’m sure there’s going to be enough slashable content for those who love this pairing. In any event, the film will allow Lando’s characterization to get fleshed out beyond “that cool black guy who sold Han and Leia out to Darth Vader.” He can still be cool, but I hope he gets more of a solid backstory this go-round.
3. Finn and Poe Dameron
It might seem ludicrous that I’m ranking Stormpilot at number three, when big chunks of both this website and my Twitter account have been devoted to Finn and Poe’s relationship. Here’s my reasoning; it’s not that I don’t think Stormpilot can’t happen. It’s also not even that I think the cast doesn’t support it; with the way Oscar Isaac is always talking up Stormpilot in interviews, I think he’d be down. Even John Boyega, who hasn’t really drunken the Stormpilot Kool-Aid, seems to have at least partially come around to the idea of anything being possible, conceding to Radio Times in 2016 “you never know what they [the writers] are going to pull.” The reason I’m ranking Stormpilot so low is that it’s tough to see which way the wind is blowing on Stormpilot in relation to what the Lucasfilm brass think.
Regardless of what writers and directors might want to do with Stormpilot’s potential, the buck stops with Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy. As of last year, Kennedy gave a longwinded answer to Ecartelera that simply amounts to “I’m undecided.”
We’ve talked about it, but I think you’re not going to see it in The Last Jedi,” she said. “In the next six or eight months we will have some meetings about the stories that we will develop next… After 40 years of adventures, people have a lot of information and a lot of theories about the path these stories can take, and sometimes those theories that come up are new ideas for us to listen to, read and pay attention to.
What can be gleaned is that right now, folks at Lucasfilm and Disney are hashing out whether they want to invest in the Stormpilot idea. With fan pressure mounting, plus directors already giving their blessing to LGBT characters and, in a way, forcing Disney’s hand on the matter of LGBT representation, the answer as to whether to include queer characters in Star Wars has already been decided for the joint company; it’s just a matter of deciding if Finn and Poe are who they want to spearhead that initiative.
From my perspective, there’s one moment in The Last Jedi that shows that Johnson did give a small nod to Stormpilot, despite romance not featuring heavily in this installment. Will other fans pick up on that moment? I don’t know. But regardless, Stormpilot is still firmly in fanon territory right now.
2. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker
The fandom for the Han Solo and Luke Skywalker pairing is only comparable to the other OG slash pairing in the stars, Star Trek‘s Spock and Kirk.
Fanlore is a great resource for learning about the history of the Han/Luke (or “Skysolo”) pairing, but just to quickly sum it up, Skysolo has been around since the 1970s and 1980s, even though the majority of the fan projects were published in the 1990s (due to Lucasfilm classifying slash pairing fanworks as “adult” and prohibited the adult content in their official fanzines). Whether passed around privately or published publicly, the allure of Skysolo has been a part of the Star Wars culture, and, like the Kirk/Spock slash pairing, it’s also been a part of fan skirmishes.
One fan in the 1980s complained about Skysolo slash fiction being “a sub-genre without a home.”
“Is the influence of the infamous Lucasfilm brouhaha still so widespread? It certainly suppressed “straight” sexually-explicit SW fanfic; only now are we beginning to see that come out of the closet (“‘groan! ‘” bad pun!). I’m not saying I want to see SW fandom go through the kind of schism and upheaval that K/S [Kirk/Spock fanfiction] wrought on ST fandom; but I’m curious why SW slash, even though it’s being written–and written by some extremely good writers–isn’t finding a publisher. Are we still looking over our shoulder for The Men From Lucasfilm? Or do we think no one out there will buy and read it…heh – heh- heh- you know they they’ll buy and read it!”
Nowadays, it’s found its place in the open world of slash fandom, and speculation over Luke’s sexuality prompted Hamill himself to speak out in favor of Luke being gay or bisexual.
“…[F]ans are writing and ask all these questions, ‘I’m bullied in school… I’m afraid to come out’. They say to me, ‘Could Luke be gay?'” said Hamill to The Sun in 2016, according to Vanity Fair. I’d say it is meant to be interpreted by the viewer… If you think Luke is gay, of course he is. You should not be ashamed of it. Judge Luke by his character, not by who he loves.”
So, in one way, Luke’s queerness could be considered canon. But frustratingly, it still keeps characters in a gray area; they are whatever the fans want them to be. This strategy has been employed with Poe as well, with Oscar Isaac saying how he’s happy Poe can act as representation to so many different people and different sexual spectrums. Even so, Hamill allowing Luke to be representative of LGBT fans gives more credence to the theory that Luke developed a crush on Han during their time together. Han might be a scoundrel, but who wouldn’t develop a crush on him?
1. Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus
Chirrut and Baze get the top spot because their relationship is, to me, the one that was the most apparently “married” in the canon of Rogue One. Yes, if you’re so inclined, you can choose to see their relationship as that of brothers, but from where I’m sitting, their level of comfort with each other was that of two people who are friends and also happen to be more than friends. I mean, a good romantic relationship does start from friendship, does it not?
Their comfort with each other has been supported by fans, who deem them the old married couple of Star Wars. And once again, the people behind the characters chimed in to say that the fans’ theories aren’t necessarily wrong.
As Rogue One director Gareth Edwards told Buzzfeed, while the Chirrut and Baze being a couple wasn’t the original intention, if fans want to see that as canon, they’re more than welcome to. Much of Edwards’ opinion comes from Donnie Yen’s own perception of Chirrut and Baze’s relationship.
Yen, who portrayed Chirrut in Rogue One, reportedly felt like there was more to his and Baze’s relationship than the script initially let on. As Edwards said:
“After a while, it was something that became interesting. Donnie asked, ‘What do you think these guys are? What do you think their relationship really is?’ And he asked if that was the case. I felt like, ‘You know what? If these were real people and I was filming them, I wouldn’t know. It’s not something we would see; they would keep it to themselves.’ For all I know, a little bit of that might be going on under the surface…Genuinely, if the audience wants to take that away from it, I’m very happy. I’d be very proud to have brought something like that to Star Wars.”
For me, this makes Chirrut and Baze the most canonical same-sex pairing Star Wars has right now. Their relationship is one that wasn’t solely defended after the film’s release; it was also one that was developed as the actors were fleshing out their characters. That means that much of their interactions were–or at least Yen’s–were calculated to read as “married.” That’s what makes Chirrut and Baze one of the most compelling parts of Rogue One.
Honorable mention: C3PO and R2D2
R2D2 and C3PO are here as honorable mention because…they’re robots. But if you even have a passing knowledge of Star Wars, then you’ll know the running joke is that C3PO and R2D2 are the “first gay characters” in Star Wars. Or, at least, C3PO is the “first gay character” in Star Wars. But with the advent of actual queer humans in Star Wars, this running joke can be put to rest, since 1) I don’t know if R2D2 really likes C3PO like that anyways (seems like he merely tolerates him and is merely comfortable with C3PO’s nagging) and 2) robots in Star Wars don’t exhibit the capability of having romantic love anyways. If we cross the streams and invoke Philip K. Dick’s Voight-Kampff test, the robots of Star Wars recognize that they are in service of their human masters and are comfortable with that reality. Even though exhibit have wit, sarcasm, fear, pride, happiness, and even anger, Star Wars robots never go beyond their programming to advocate for robot rights and free will.
What do you think about this ranking? What pairings would you add to this list? Give your opinions below!
I love Living Single. I’ve watched every episode, and I know the characters inside out. Even though we might get a reboot soon, I’ve longed for another show to give me that same comfortable vibe of friends who have each other’s backs while calling each other out on their mistakes. If you’re like me, wishing and hoping for a show to follow Living Single‘s leave, give Dafina Roberts’ Giving Me Life a watch.
Giving Me Life, a Kickstarter Creator-in-Residence project and a 2017 New York Television Festival Official Selection, focuses on a core group of friends–Nala (Lori Liang), an artivist who has to reconcile her idealism with the stark realities of making money; Leah (Natalie Jacobs), a career-driven Type A investment banker whose studying for the GMATs and only dates up; Travis (Marshall star Mark St. Cyr), a highly spiritual, charismatic guy who thought he’d found the right spiritual partner; Cam (Sly Maldonado), a lovable party boy who is actually looking for the right woman to settle down with; Jess (Nathaly Lopez), a middle school counselor who uses her counseling skills to be the listening ear for all of her friends–even though she has problems making room for a girlfriend in her life; and Gil (Jarvis Tomdio), Nala’s crush, a people pleaser and “the epitome of geek-chic.”
These friends are trying their best to make it in New York and achieve their dreams while not losing their minds in the process. Thankfully, these guys have each other, and regardless of whatever problems they have, they all have each other’s back. The camaraderie is what makes the show so easy and enjoyable to watch. So far there are only four episodes, but once you finish, you’ll wish there were more.
Honestly, the show has left me wondering why this hasn’t been snapped up for TV pilot season. I think this show is good enough to rival series like Insecure, Dear White People and Master of None. It definitely gives viewers everything they’re asking for in these representation-focused times. We have tons of diversity, but more than that, we have inclusion; we’re told stories that reflect the lives of real people from the perspectives of people of color. The characters are never cookie-cutter; they are dynamic, fresh, well-rounded and behave like people we’ve come in contact with before (for some of us, we might be those characters). Their different socio-economic, ethnic, and sexual spaces these characters reside drive the storylines in an organic way, and there’s never an episode that feels like it’s a “very special episode.”
What might be the most refreshing thing about Giving Me Life is that it gives its LGBT characters room to be imperfect people. I think one failing some shows on TV have when it comes to representing LGBT characters is that there’s a tendency to make the characters the poster children for the LGBT community. There’s a compulsion to try to make them perfect or edgy in some way. The characters in Giving Me Life, however, aren’t treated like stereotypes. Their needs and wants are just as fleshed out as their straight counterparts, and they are allowed to make mistakes.
For instance, Travis believes he’s found his soulmate with his boyfriend, but realizes that his boyfriend might want more than Travis can give him. After a bad experience with swinging (something the deeply religious Travis didn’t want to do in the first place), Travis breaks up with his boyfriend, but later wonders if he made a wrong choice. Leah, on the other hand, meets and falls in love with a man who also seems like the perfect match–they’re both climbing the ladder to financial success, they enjoy a certain level of luxury, they’re both bisexual, and they both feel the strain from stereotypes placed on bisexual people. But the catch is that Leah doesn’t even know her guy’s name. Not knowing his name makes her feel thotish, and one thing Leah won’t let herself be is a thot.
Overall, Giving Me Life will, in fact, give you life. You’ll feel like you’ve found a new set of friends, and it’ll leave you with the hope that more episodes come very soon.
The wedding cake on display at Masterpiece Cakeshop.
AP Photo/Brennan Linsley
On Tuesday, Dec. 5, a visibly divided U.S. Supreme Court tackled the contentious issue of religious freedom when it heard oral arguments in “Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.” The arguments appeared to evenly split the four conservative justices from the four liberals. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is often a swing vote, seemed to side with the baker.
The case involves a Denver bakery owner who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, citing his religious belief that marriage can be between only a man and woman. The couple sued, and a lower court ruled the baker violated Colorado’s public accommodations law. The statute forbids discrimination by businesses serving the public, including on the basis of sexual orientation.
In their appeal to the Supreme Court, the bakery’s lawyers have emphasized free speech issues by presenting the baker as an artist who has a right to choose how he expresses himself. But religious freedom remains central to the case. A key question is whether a business owner must provide services that conflict with his or her religious beliefs.
This divisive case highlights the vast difference between the reality and the rhetoric of religious freedom, which is often considered to be the ideal that promotes harmony and equality. But, history suggests that it does lead to more conflict.
The rhetoric: Equality and goodwill
It is true that throughout U.S. history, Americans have idealized religious freedom and imagined that it brings harmony.
The First Amendment’s clauses guaranteeing religious free exercise and preventing establishment of an official church seemed to promise less discord to the Founding Fathers. In an 1802 letter, Thomas Jefferson, for example, wrote that “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God.” As the nation’s third president, he argued that a “wall of separation between Church & State” would give all people equally the right to free conscience.
Later presidents echoed the view that religious freedom brings equality and unity by preventing government from favoring particular faiths.
Before his election in 1960, John F. Kennedy tried to ease fears about his Catholicism by affirming religious liberty. Kennedy believed this freedom kept one group from oppressing another. It formed the basis of a society, he declared, where people would “refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.”
In the early 1990s, George H.W. Bush identified religious liberty as the basis for other rights. He credited it as a major reason for the vibrancy of American society.
The reality: Conflict and debate
Minority communities, ranging from Catholics to Mormons, have fought to have their traditions and customs recognized as religious. As I show in my work on pluralism, Americans have debated what constitutes a religious expression rather than a cultural practice. People have also argued whether religious expression can extend into political, social and business interactions.
These debates have required the intervention of the courts and have often ended at the Supreme Court. Thus, a right intended to free Americans from government has instead necessitated frequent involvement of a major government institution.
Further complicating matters, the Supreme Court has changed its position over time. Its evolving interpretations show how religious freedom debates create shifting categories of winners and losers.
To the courts
Like Masterpiece Cakeshop, one of the Supreme Court’s first religious liberty cases involved marriage. In 1878, a Mormon resident of the Utah territory sued the federal government after he was charged with bigamy. He argued that the law violated his religious liberty by criminalizing his polygamous marriage. The Supreme Court disagreed. In Reynolds v. United States, the court ruled that the First Amendment guaranteed only freedom of belief, not freedom of practice.
In the 20th century, the Supreme Court showed greater sympathy to religious liberty claims. In several cases – including one brought by Jehovah’s Witnesses challenging a statute requiring a permit for public evangelizing and another by an Amish community that objected to Wisconsin’s compulsory public school law – justices sided with those who claimed their freedom was violated.
That changed in 1990. The court ruled against two men who lost their jobs after using peyote, the cactus, which has hallucinogenic properties and has long been used in Native American religious practices. Because they were fired for drug use, the men were denied unemployment benefits. They claimed that as members of a Native American church, they used the drug for religious purposes.
Moving away from earlier decisions, justices ruled that religious belief was not a ground for refusing to obey laws “prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate.”
New century, new conflicts
The peyote case set the stage for Masterpiece Cakeshop. It was in response to the case that Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. It required that laws restricting religious expression must show that they serve a compelling need.
RFRA was central in the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. That contentious split ruling allowed small, closely held companies the right to deny contraceptive benefits mandated by the Affordable Care Act on the grounds of protecting their owners’ religious liberty.
Similarly, in October 2017, the Trump administration invoked freedom of religion when it allowed all employers a religious exemption to the contraception coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act.
Critics saw that policy change as an attack on women’s rights. Reaction to it on both sides again showed that government involvement in debates about religious freedom invariably produces winners and losers.
Given our polarized society and the division among the Supreme Court justices today, this pattern will continue, whatever the verdict is.
This is an updated version of an article first published on Nov. 28, 2017.
The web series is the new place for inclusive messages and nuanced stories about marginalized people that aren’t always shown in the mainstream. 195 Lewis is one such example of the web series making its mark with an underserved audience.
195 Lewis focuses on a cast of black LGBTQ women of color as they live and love in Brookyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood. The show’s creators, Rae Leone Allen and Yaani Supreme, have created the show from their own experiences–like their characters, they are also black women in the LGBTQ community who hail from Brooklyn. From their experiences, they were able to create a series that finally put love between queer black women–people who are rarely ever shown on TV–on the main internet stage.
Emily J. Smith interviewed Allen for Broadly. Here are three moments from her interview worth noting.
On the inviting feeling of 195 Lewis
“We’ve been able to create this warm and embracing world. We want people to join and feel safe there.
On white male privilege in the media industry:
“The only thing we need to take from white men is their audacity. Women are different kind of creatures, we’re constantly asking questions and interrogating ourselves, we know we’ll be responsible with our art. We just need to get audacious.”
On the groundbreaking nature of 195 Lewis :
“We’re showing beautiful black women on screen loving each other and being themselves. That’s revelatory in and of itself.”
In movies and television, some of the most recognizable gay characters have been portrayed as effeminate or weak; they’re “fashionistas” or “gay best friends.” Street gang members, on the other hand, are often depicted as hypermasculine, heterosexual and tough.
This obvious contradiction was one of the main reasons I was drawn to the subject of gay gang members.
For my new book “The Gang’s All Queer,” I interviewed and spent time with 48 gay or bisexual male gang members. All were between the ages of 18 and 28; the majority were men of color; and all lived in or near Columbus, Ohio, which has been referred to as a “Midwestern gay mecca.”
The experience, which took place over the course of more than two years, allowed me to explore the tensions they felt between gang life and gay manhood.
Some of the gang members were in gangs made up of primarily gay, lesbian or bisexual people. Others were the only gay man (or one of a few) in an otherwise “straight” gang. Then there were what I call “hybrid” gangs, which featured a mix of straight, gay, lesbian and bisexual members, but with straight people still in the majority. Most of these gangs were primarily male.
Because even the idea of a gay man being in a gang flies in the face of conventional thought, the gang members I spoke with had to constantly resist or subvert a range of stereotypes and expectations.
Getting in by being out
How could I – a white, middle-class woman with no prior gang involvement – gain access to these gangs in the first place?
It helped that the initial group of men whom I spoke to knew me from years earlier, when we became friends at a drop-in center for LGBTQ youth. They vouched for me to their friends. I was openly gay – part of the “family,” as some of them put it – and because I was a student conducting research for a book, they were confident that I stood a better chance of accurately representing them than any “straight novelist” or journalist.
But I also suspect that my own masculine presentation allowed them to feel more at ease; I speak directly, have very short hair and usually leave the house in plaid, slacks and Adidas shoes.
While my race and gender did make for some awkward interactions (some folks we encountered assumed I was a police officer or a business owner), with time I gained their trust, started getting introduced to more members and began to learn about how each type of gang presented its own set of challenges.
Pressure to act the part
The gay men in straight gangs I spoke with knew precisely what was expected of them: be willing to fight with rival gangs, demonstrate toughness, date or have sex with women and be financially independent.
Being effeminate was a nonstarter; they were all careful to present a uniformly masculine persona, lest they lose status and respect. Likewise, coming out was a huge risk. Being openly gay could threaten their status as well as their safety. Only a handful of them came out to their traditional gangs, and this sometimes resulted in serious consequences, such as being “bled out” of the gang (forced out through a fight).
Despite the dangers, some wanted to come out. But a number of fears held them back. Would their fellow gang members start to distrust them? What if the other members got preoccupied about being sexually approached? Would the status of the gang be compromised, with other gangs seeing them as “soft” for having openly gay guys in it?
So most stayed in the closet, continuing to project heterosexuality, while discreetly meeting other gay men in underground gay scenes or over the internet.
As one man told me, he was glad cellphones had been invented because he could keep his private sexual life with men just that: private.
One particularly striking story came from a member of a straight gang who made a date for sex over the internet, only to discover that it was two fellow gang members who had arranged the date with him. He hadn’t known the others were gay, and they didn’t know about him, either.
In “hybrid” gangs (those with a sizable minority of gay, lesbian or bisexual people) or all-gay gangs, the men I interviewed were held to many of the same standards. But they had more flexibility.
In the hybrid gangs, members felt far more comfortable coming out than those in purely straight gangs. In their words, they were able to be “the real me.”
Men in gay gangs were expected to be able to build a public reputation as a gay man – what they called becoming “known.” Being “known” means you’re able to achieve many masculine ideals – making money, being taken seriously, gaining status, looking good – but as an openly gay man.
It was also more acceptable for them to project femininity, whether it was making flamboyant gestures, using effeminate mannerisms, or wearing certain styles of clothing, like skinny jeans.
They were still in a gang. This meant they needed to clash with rival gay crews, so they valued toughness and fighting prowess.
Men in gay gangs especially expressed genuine and heartfelt connections to their fellow gang members. They didn’t just think of them as associates. These were their friends, their chosen families – their pillars of emotional support.
But sometimes these gang members would vacillate about certain expectations.
They questioned if being tough or eager to fight constituted what it should mean to be a man. Although they viewed these norms with a critical eye, across the board they tended to prefer having “masculine” men as sexual partners or friends. Some would also patrol each other’s masculinity, insulting other gay men who were flamboyant or feminine.
Caught between not wanting themselves or others to be pressured to act masculine all the time, but also not wanting to be read as visibly gay or weak (which could invite challenges), resistance to being seen as a “punk” or a pushover was critical.
It all seemed to come from a desire to upend damaging cultural stereotypes of gay men as weak, of black men as “deadbeats” and offenders, and of gang members as violent thugs.
But this created its own tricky terrain. In order to not be financial deadbeats, they resorted to sometimes selling drugs or sex; in order to not be seen as weak, they sometimes fought back, perhaps getting hurt in the process. Their social worlds and definitions of acceptable identity were constantly changing and being challenged.
One of the most compelling findings of my study was what happened when these gay gang members were derisively called “fag” or “faggot” by straight men in bars, on buses, in schools or on the streets. Many responded with their fists.
Some fought back even if they weren’t openly gay. Sure, the slur was explicitly meant to attack their masculinity and sexuality in ways they didn’t appreciate. But it was important to them to be able to construct an identity as a man who wasn’t going to be messed with – a man who also happened to be gay.
Their responses were revealing: “I will fight you like I’m straight”; “I’m gonna show you what this faggot can do.” They were also willing to defend others derided as “fags” in public, even though this could signal that they were gay themselves.
These comebacks challenge many of the assumptions made about gay men – that they lack nerve, that they’re unwilling to physically fight.
It also communicated a belief that was clearly nonnegotiable: a fundamental right to not be bothered simply for being gay.