Sometimes, the heavens open up and it rains buckets. Sometimes, the heavens open up and out of the sky drops a small, perfectly wrapped gift for women who like watching other women make out on screen. Um, I mean who like very cinematographically rich works with high production values and fantastic chemistry between the lead actresses.
Have you seen “RED”–available for free on Vimeo–yet? “RED” is a Brazilian web series, very modest in its scope, whose audience is basically just lesbians and bisexual women. It’s the story of two actresses who, in the course of filming a short film, collide romantically both onscreen and off. Mel Béart (Luciana Bollina) is married but bisexual, while Liz Malmo (Ana Paula Lima) is a brooding lesbian lothario with a drug problem. Together, they simmer with sexual chemistry.
Season 1 is about attraction: We see that Liz is already attracted to Mel, who starts to reciprocate the attraction. The season speeds by quickly, and the finale ends with Mel initiating a kiss with Liz outside of work after Liz kisses her on set, paving the way for something more between them in the next season.
Season 2 is about desire: Liz’s frustrated desire for Mel, and Mel’s smoldering but forbidden desire for Liz. The finale crescendos with Liz and Mel consummating their relationship, followed by Mel discovering she’s pregnant and Liz confronting her drug demons.
Season 3 is about struggle. Mel is pregnant and grappling with being separated from her husband while fearing that Liz will reject her for her pregnancy. Liz, meanwhile, is slipping deeper back into drug addiction. The season finale ends with a miscarriage, but where do Mel and Liz stand? Viewers who can’t get enough of “Meliz” can also spring for a subscription to “Shades of Red” (“seasons” 1 and 2) which offers additional scenes to support the main storyline, for example Mel and Liz’s first meeting on set and more scenes of the two of them together.
“RED” is unlike anything on American TV right now. It’s a lovingly crafted artistic creation, like a cinematographic sculpture: the cinematography is unusual and sometimes almost experimental, leading to interesting visual effects, and each episode gets its own soundtrack. The setting is intended to be realistic—there is a grittiness to Liz’s apartment especially—and the characters feel like real people. Scenes are often drawn out with no dialogue, letting the mood settle. There is no rushing even though each episode is woefully short.
Key to the series is the great chemistry between Bollina and Lima. In comparison to their kisses, most other couples feel tame. Part of this is Lima’s natural smoldering sultriness, which inherently projects as sexual magnetism, but part also comes from their natural comfort with each other. In a Q&A session for fans, the two clearly have a genuine camaraderie and enthusiasm, which translates well to the screen.
For readers not familiar with “RED,” it has a fantastic backstory: writers Germana Belo and Viv Schiller, feeling that there was a lack of LGBT content in Brazilian telenovelas and internationally, partnered with director Fernando Belo to create an independent project to tell a same-sex love story the way that they, as viewers, would like to see on TV.
To produce season 1, the three used their own money to pay for basic production costs. For season 2, fans contributed to pay for some of the costs, allowing the show to improve its production quality. For both seasons, the cast and crew donated their time and talent, working for free on this passion project. By season 3, “RED” had leveraged Catarse domestically and Indiegogo internationally to crowdsource some production costs and provide an honorarium to the cast, and as of July the show had met its funding goal (about $10,000) to start on season 4. In addition to the fundraising, however, most of the money raised for “RED” comes from its on-demand content. In addition to “Shades of RED,” viewers who want to binge watched “RED” can pay to see it all at once rather than wait for the weekly release.
But let’s pause and talk about that for a second: $10,000 for same-sex content specifically catering to women while also trying to bring attention to the potential size of that viewer base as a business case for other studios and producers around the world? We should be making it rain for this project, and at the same time spreading word so that it can get more views! Seriously, if a random guy in Ohio can raise $70,912 on Kickstarter to make a serving of potato salad, then I hope that globally, the lesbian community won’t let itself down by underfunding this project and others like it. As I’ve mentioned in the past, if our community wants to see ourselves on screen, we have to put money towards it and prove that we’re an audience demographic that’s willing to financially support projects.
Also, as part of that, “RED” appears to have seen a drop in viewership to as low as 56,300 plays an episode by season three, which is a fraction of its initial viewership. For a free webseries, “RED” deserves better than that. Not only is it a genuinely interesting, well-done project, but there’s all the more reason to watch it if it’s going to be used as a case study for proving same-sex content is a draw for viewers. If we want LGBT characters on other programming in the future, we have to prove that women around the world will not only watch, but turn out in droves. If nothing else, since it’s free, just take a moment to click through some of the episodes to boost their metrics. They’ve had over 1 million views from 145 countries, so let’s keep it up. Help them help us.
Season 4 will be pre-released on demand in April and in May, it will premiere for free streaming. Finally, Bollina, Lima, Schiller, Germana Belo, and Fernando Belo will all be at ClexaCon in April. This is amazing because they’re the only international attendees (excluding the Canadians) and they’re coming all that way just to be part of ClexaCon. So if you love the series and are going to ClexaCon, look out for their panel!