By Chelsea Cabral, Managing Editor
The great thing about media is that it allows us a window into a world where we are gifted with characters to idolize, connect with, and ones that ultimately offer us a reflection of ourselves. The LGBTQ community is finding that harder and harder to accomplish than ever.
According to GLAAD’s annual report on LGBTQ inclusion in media, in 2016 alone, more than twenty five queer female characters on scripted television and streaming series were killed off.
When there are so few queer women on television as it is, the decision to kill off these characters sends a toxic message as to the means of their value as individuals; media creators should really think about what the repeated demise of queer characters actually communicates to an audience.
From Lexa’s tragic death in The 100, which created major controversy for a show that prided itself on equality and acceptance, other series followed suit with the death of its queer characters such as The Walking Dead, and The Vampire Diaries.
Has the television landscape become more diverse in recent years? Of course. GLAAD’s annual inclusion report reveals 5% of all series regular characters as identifying as LGBTQ. But this isn’t enough, as their presence on screen should also be met with narratives that are crafted with thought, attention, and depth.
Amidst the epidemic of dead gay and lesbian characters on television, one wildly successful web series has seemingly broken the mold in the way it represents its queer characters.
Carmilla has given queer representation in media a new level of nuance, giving its nearly all female cast the chance to portray multiple queer characters with developed backstories, chances for normalized relationships and romance, and of course, no spontaneous deaths.
For those that don’t know, Carmilla is a modern retelling of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s gothic novella of the same name. Predating Bram Stoker’s Dracula by twenty five years, the original story is considered the first vampire tale by literary scholars, and that it was Le Fanu who created the adverse, oversexualized lesbian vampire trope.
Now, nearly 150 years later, the story was revamped into a video-blog-style adaption that takes the cautionary tale of the “dangers” of female sexuality and completely turns it on its head. Instead of an antiquated and homophobic story, the creators of the series produced a rendering of Carmilla that brings forth both a queer-positive and feminist narrative.
Unfortunately, there are still many places in the world where being anything but heteronormative is not accepted. In some instances, it’s even illegal, causing those in the lesbian, gay, transgender, and queer communities (especially youth) to feel isolated, and that they don’t belong. Some turn to scripted content for escape, but even finding positive portrayals often prove difficult.
Media informs us of what is perceived as genuine and normal, and visibility is so vital to acceptance. When queer characters aren’t being seen and are given stories pitted with strife and grief, it just fuels the misguided conception that there is something wrong with being queer. Too often, queer character’s stories end in misery: they die, have breakdowns, or end up heartbroken.
What Carmilla greatly accomplishes is filling in the gap in television where social, gender, and sexuality issues are never questioned. When people want to see themselves in the stories they read and see, they don’t want to look for labels, they look for people like them—full-fledged, well-rounded people whose sexualities don’t define their entire identity.
It’s got a good package for a positive LGBTQ series. It has young adults solving supernatural mysteries, it’s filled with comedy and whim, and most importantly, sexuality isn’t in the foreground—it’s just the accepted norm. And, the series features a character that identifies as non-binary (played by a non-binary actor themselves), an aspect of the LGBTQ spectrum that is seldom brought up or is misunderstood.
Carmilla is one of the few positive queer love stories available on screen for LGBTQ audiences, and is now on its way to becoming a full-length feature film. And its success can be directly attributed to the honest and realistic queer storylines that have resonated with fans.
Without a doubt, there has definitely been remarkable progress made on television within the last two decades for the LGBTQ community. But there is still a great deal of work to be done to ensure fair, accurate, and inclusive stories are being told.
Think critically about the media you’re consuming; everyone’s stories are significant and everyone’s stories should be voiced.