The AfterEllen.com 2004 Visibility Awards

AfterEllen.com has analyzed the ups and downs of lesbian and bisexual women in entertainment and the media for almost three years, and this year we have decided to formally recognize the women (and men) who’ve most positively or negatively impacted lesbian and bi visibility in American entertainment in 2004. So read on to find our pick of this year’s best and worst celebrities, TV shows, movies and more.

BEST SCRIPTED TV SERIES
The L WordThe L Word

In a year of dwindling images of lesbians on television, The L Word easily stood out as the best thing to happen to lesbians on TV in years. There has rarely been a series with more than a single lesbian character in it, let alone a show revolving around several, but Ilene Chaiken convinced Showtime to create the series, then she convinced women like Guinevere Turner and Rose Troche to write and direct it, and then she convinced actors like Jennifer Beals and Leisha Hailey to star in it—and lesbian and bisexual women across America suddenly had something to alternately praise, criticize, love, and hate. It’s not perfect, but it’s ours.

WORST SCRIPTED TV SERIES
North Shore
The three-episode September storyline on the new FOX drama North Shore, in which surfer-boy Gabe dated bisexual Charlie and her girlfriend Erika at the same time, was straight out of the promiscuous-bisexual-character manual, and the pilot episode in June featuring a closeted lesbian pretending to date a guy allowed the show to prominently exploit lesbian sexuality for ratings while communicating the idea that lesbianism is a harmful secret. It didn’t help the ratings enough: FOX recently canceled the series.

BEST REALITY TV SERIES
Survivor: Vanuatu
Survivor: Vanuatu viewers may have differing opinions of Ami and Scout, and Mark Burnett clearly applied a different standard to allowing lesbian affection to be shown on camera. But these openly gay contestants on one of America’s most-watched reality shows challenged stereotypes of lesbians and gave a face to lesbianism in an otherwise lesbian-less year on network television.

WORST REALITY TV SERIES
Drawn Together
Comedy Central’s Drawn Together prominently features a relationship between two female characters: Foxxy Love the “promiscuous, melodious, and even possibly infectious” and Princess Clara, who “sings like an angel but spews racist bile like a Southern Congressman.” We like a good satire as much as the next person, but since there are actually very few lesbian or bisexual women among the glut of heterosexual women on reality shows, this satire seems a little premature. And by prominently featuring a kiss between the two characters in their promotion of the show, Princess Clara and Foxxy just reminded us again that lesbian kisses are okay on TV as long as they’re not real.

BEST TV NETWORK(S)
Here! and Q Television
While these fledgling networks are still in their infancy—Q Television is available in a handful of cities, while Here! is now available nationwide via satellite—their launch in 2004 marks the beginning of a new era in which we may not have to settle for lesbian storylines like the ones on North Shore.

WORST TV NETWORK
FOX
FOX has long employed a double standard around lesbian representation, and 2004 was no exception. The network continued its policy of promoting random, ratings-grabbing lesbian kisses between guest characters or straight women—North Shore, Quintuplets, and last week, The O.C.—but forbidding them between actual lesbian couples on shows like Wonderfalls. That policy may be relaxed in January with the upcoming lesbian relationship on The O.C., but that remains to be seen. FOX also canceled the only series with a new recurring lesbian character on TV in 2004 (Wonderfalls).

BEST THEATRICAL RELEASE
KINSEY
Lynn Redgrave’s excellent two-minute scene as an older lesbian in the biopic Kinsey makes this film the winner for 2004, but it wasn’t exactly a crowded field: lesbian and bisexual characters were almost non-existent at your local theater this year. And good lesbian and bisexual characters? Forget about it. Have we mentioned Lynn Redgrave’s scene in Kinsey? Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

WORST THEATRICAL RELEASE(S)
She Hate Me and Dodgeball
The entire plot of Spike Lee’s She Hate Me reinforced the heterosexual fantasy of lesbians who sleep with men, while Dodgeball reinforced the stereotype of bisexual women as promiscuous and non-monogamous with a cheap scene at the end of the film. Although lesbian stereotypes were much more prominently paraded in She Hate Me, the film was seen by far fewer people than the monster box office hit Dodgeball.

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