How Celesbians Can Become the Champions We Need for On Screen Lesbian Visibility

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In my last article, I wrote that the lesbian community was in dire need of straight male allies who would act as champions for us within Hollywood and fight persistently for greater representation in both movies and TV. I highlighted that even producers and directors who had donated large sums of money to LGBT causes, men in a position to influence casting, had not used their levers of power to introduce more lesbian and bisexual female characters, allowing the perpetuation of a significant underrepresentation of this demographic in movies.

In point of fact, our community needs allies of any gender expression or sexual orientation, because with rare exceptions (I noted Emily Andras, Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy, and Greg Berlanti specifically), we are sorely missing such champions.

A while ago, I wrote about celebrities and social responsibility (the obligation of an individual to act for the benefit of society at large. To a large extent, I absolved celebrities of any expectation of an obligation to social responsibility—after all, they’re just celebrities, not Mother Theresa. And it remains true that no celebrity should be shamed or pressured into any sort of feeling of social responsibility.

That said, we in the lesbian community have a huge problem: we need champions for a very specific purpose—more lesbian and bisexual female characters in major movie studio productions—and so far we don’t seem to have found any.

In 2013, then-head of Sony Pictures Amy Pascal told a sold-out LA Gay & Lesbian Center gala that raised $1 million for homeless LGBT youth that Hollywood needs to scrutinize its depiction of gay and lesbian characters and stop using homophobic slurs in movies.

Pascal was right that derogatory references to gay people are bad, but the greater point in her speech was this: “What we see in the media today affects everybody…what we see teaches us about how to feel about ourselves and how to feel about each other.” The key word here is “sees”: in order to accelerate societal acceptance of homosexuality, people have to be repeatedly exposed to gay and lesbian characters on screen.

Yet, as the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California Annenberg has shown consistently over the last eleven years, viewers aren’t “seeing” many more LGBT characters in 2018 than they did in 2013. And by the way, despite Pascal’s speech about how important it is to have gay people on the big screen, according to GLAAD’s Studio Responsibility Index, since 2013 Sony Pictures has received the following ratings: failing (2014), adequate (2015), failing (2016), and poor (2017).

The point is, Hollywood isn’t exactly champing at the bit to put more gay people on the big screen, despite its rhetoric about the need for more diversity.

From the outside, it seems like it’s much easier for people in Hollywood to write a check than to tell a studio head that their studio needs more gays in the Marvel universe. Tons of celebrities have donated to the Human Rights Campaign or AIDS charities, including Anne Hathaway, Sally Field, and many, many more, but we need them to also demand inclusion riders and other measures of inclusion.

And despite what I just said about it being unfair to ask celebrities to have a sense of social responsibility, we desperately need our celesbians to be our champions in Hollywood. If straight people aren’t going to step up and be the champions that we need, for the most part, we need our lesbian power players in Hollywood to do that for us.

In another article, I suggested “It’s not that Ellen [DeGeneres], Suze Ormond, Holland Taylor, Rosie O’Donnell, Jane Lynch, Ellen Page, and Kate McKinnon should all form the Lesbian Sugarmamas For Better Representation private equity group, but there’s clearly a market gap for well-to-do [lesbians] who believe in representation and visibility to use their pink investment dollars in a targeted way.” There is some big money floating around the Hollywood celesbian scene and some celesbians are major power players behind the scenes.

Jane Lynch

 

While it’s not AfterEllen’s place to demand this money be recycled back into our community for the purpose of increasing visibility, if celesbians chose to give back to the community by using their influence and money on the production side to make sure there are more lesbians and bisexual characters in major studio productions, there’s clearly a lot of good that could be done.

Without intending to name and shame (not at all!), here are a few hypothetical examples of how celesbians could become champions for greater visibility if they wanted to direct their philanthropic efforts in that direction:

Ellen DeGeneres

No one can deny DeGeneres is a philanthropist. She has supported at least fifty charities, including for animals, clean water, music, education, cancer, and LGBT rights (GLAAD, GLSEN, It Gets Better Project, The Trevor Project, Straight but Not Narrow, Elton John AIDS Foundation).

With an estimated net worth of $360 million and earnings this year of $87.5 million, DeGeneres is perfectly placed to push Warner Brothers and her contacts in Hollywood for more representation on screen. And her own production company, A Very Good Production, she is positioned, like Reese Witherspoon, to develop her own projects as well.

The idea isn’t so far fetched. DeGeneres executive produced “One Big Happy” in 2015. If DeGeneres committed to investing 10% of her annual income, in this case $8.75 million, into movies with a significant lesbian representation, it would be sufficient to finance one “Carol” equivalent a year, or two “Disobedience” equivalents.

 

Megan Ellison

Who is the richest US celesbian? Probably producer Megan Ellison, whose estimated net worth could be around $1.5 billion. Conveniently, she’s also the founder of Annapurna Pictures production company, which has released multiple highly regarded films. According to Forbes, Ellison is considered a Hollywood “cool kid” with an eye for artistic projects (“Zero Dark Thirty,” “Foxcatcher,” “Her,” etc.).

Although Ellison’s only official connection with LGBT content so far appears to have been producing “Sausage Party,” with its lesbian taco, would she act as a patron to these types of projects? Maybe. According to Inside Philanthropy: “When Ellison was named by Time as one of [sic] 100 most influential people in the world, Academy Award-nominated actress Jessica Chastain wrote in the magazine: ‘The Italian Renaissance flourished because patrons like the Medici family sponsored artists and valued their craft. Today the film industry has been blessed with a modern version of the Medicis—a single benefactor who has the ultimate respect for cinema: Megan Ellison.’”

There are many celesbians in Hollywood who don’t have the vast funds or reputational influence to sway casting choices for major studio productions. They, too, however, can help our community achieve better representation by donating to smaller projects. They could donate to Tello Films, for example, which creates web series, screens lesbian movies and aspires to make full-length features. They could donate to any of the more than 52 web series currently on air, all of which have shoestring budgets. They could even form, yes, the Lesbian Sugarmamas For Better Representation private equity group. The movie “I Can’t Think Straight” was made for less than $1 million.

If a celesbian really wants to become the modern Medici of lesbian representation, the cost is pitifully low.

As a final point, this article suggests that in the absence of heterosexual champions, we need celesbians to step up. The truth, however, is that anyone, of any orientation, in any field, could be the sort of champion we need. Money can buy a lot of quality, independently made movies or web series, no matter the source.

So to every millionaire out there looking for a cause to support, consider becoming a patron of representation. Because everyone wants to see themselves on screen.

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