For those of us who were fortunate enough to have taken a women’s studies class in college, we’ve heard the term "intersectionality" in regards to the layers of our identities that affect our levels of discrimination. No one can just be "female" or "transgender" or "black"; rather, it is the intersection of our multiple identities that nuance our day-to-day experiences, our privilege, and our disadvantages.
On Tuesday night, the Writers Guild of America panel, "Flipping the Script: Beyond Homophobia in Black Hollywood," discussed just that, and, specifically, the experience of being both black and queer in the entertainment industry. Though out African American characters sparsely populate the roster of TV and film roles in Hollywood, attendees filled capacity as they heard an expert panel composed of writers, producers, directors, and actors discuss the further complications race creates in the LGBT community in entertainment careers.
Jasika Nicole and Wanda Sykes
The panel, which was a collaboration between WGA West’s black writers and gay writers committees, raised prevalent issues including the exclusion of queer people of color from "networking and socializing on the Westside," the inconsistent support for "urban programming" from Fox, the CW and UPN, and the precariousness of an out black actor’s career.
Panelist Jasmine Love, writer of The District and Moesha, called for the replacement of "homophobia," with "heterosexism," arguing that it’s "easier for people to think that they are afraid" rather than oppressive. Love further compared discrimination against LGBT people to racism, because it institutionalizes oppression in terms of jobs and civil rights, just as racism has and continues to discriminate against people of color.
Other panelists included producer-director Paris Barclay of The Treatment, writers-producers-directors Quincy LeNear and Deondray Gossett of The DL Chronicles, writer-producer-director Maurice Jamal of Chappelle’s Show, vice president of talent development and diversity for Disney/ABC television Tim McNeal, GLAAD director of entertainment media Tajamika Paxton, and actor Wilson Cruz, whose roles include bisexual teenager Rickie on My So-Called Life and Junito on Noah’s Arc. The panel was also moderated by Sheryl Lee Ralph, one of the original Dream Girls on Broadway.
That the majority of the panelists identified as males sparked the discussion about the greater difficulty for black lesbians to succeed in Hollywood due to what LeNear calls the "glass closet." However, Love pointed out that "transgender characters are 16 percent more likely to be murdered on screen than the rest of the population," making it even harder to be black and transgender.
Perhaps the discussion most salient to LGBT women of any race in the entertainment industry is the pressure from the queer community to come out. Love went on to argue that regardless, being a female in Hollywood puts her on a "more precarious economic limb," and that coming out in one’s career "comes from a place of privilege." Above all, Love stressed, "We don’t have a right to ask people to come out, because we don’t know their stories."
While a few examples of out black females in the entertainment industry such as Wanda Sykes and Jasika Nicole prove that it is possible to land prominent mainstream roles in film and TV, and have a successful career as an entertainer, the WGA panel recognized the fact that it continues to be an issue for an entertainer to not only be queer, but a person of color, too.