Babbel asked four of the UK’s most respected queer screenwriters to share their thoughts on how TV and film around the world have both succeeded in, or failed in, queer representation. What resulted was a deep dive into the intricacies of representing queer identity, an exploration into the role language and dialogue have in developing characters on-screen, and the importance of representation in the transition to a more inclusive society.
The films and TV shows that got the highest acclaim for their subtle portrayal of the queer experience included Barry Jenkins’ 2016 coming-of-age film Moonlight, praised for its lack of sensationalism, caricature and exaggeration, and two of Netflix’s recent hits, Heartstopper and Sex Education, which were also highly commended for their representation of queer characters and their use of inclusive language.
Of course, some of the most beloved TV shows of recent history have not stood the test of time, as screenwriters reveal their disappointment in the presentation and mockery of LGBTQIA+ identity in certain shows, including 90s American sitcom Friends and 2004 British Sitcom The IT Crowd.
Here’s what they had to say.
Four Screenwriters On Their Favorite (And Least Favorite) Examples Of Queer Representation
Euphoria: “Bright, brash and in your face, Euphoria’s high school teens have much for which they might be bashful: blackmail, violence and drug abuse to name but a few. Their irreverence and utter disregard for the lines of sexuality and gender, however, are only to be celebrated. Lead Hunter Schafer plays Jules, a young woman like catnip to many of her peers, her trans identity rarely referenced and never an issue. Vital viewing.” — Jake Graf
Pose: “This was widely touted as ‘the biggest trans female cast ever,’ which although revolutionary wasn’t saying much given how rarely we had seen trans women playing trans roles. Pose is a celebration of all things queer and each and every one of our leads is proud, fierce and unapologetically themselves.” — Jake Graf
Heartstopper: “Heartstopper is a show that, as a queer man in his 40s, I wish I had when I was younger. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans characters are all grounded portrayals that speak to all audiences about alienation, bullying and self-discovery. Like any LGBTQIA+ people in real life, the characters’ desires, fears, dreams and pastimes extend far beyond their sexuality and gender identity.” — Oliver Warren
I May Destroy You: “It was one of 2021’s best shows, and a large part of that for me, was the character of Kwame, Michaela Cole’s gay best friend. He existed with enviable shamelessness, and a refreshing complexity. While his later explorations of bisexuality have courted controversy [particularly his friends’ dismissive reaction to it], it certainly speaks to the challenging path that pan/bisexual people face, both from within and from outside, the LGBTQIA+ community.” — Oliver Warren
Moonlight: “There’s something refreshingly grounded about the queer characters in Moonlight; there’s no sensationalism, caricature, or exaggeration to them. They feel like real people. The decision to have a near-silent protagonist could have risked it feeling like he was being prevented from having a voice, but instead his silence speaks volumes, and when he does speak it feels incredibly important to listen to him.” — Charlie Tidmas
Sex Education: “It is fantastic that young people have genuinely entertaining resources like Sex Education to inform and, well, educate them. The queer characters are complex, multifaceted, and developed as characters beyond their sexualities and gender identities, which is refreshing. The show handles its queer characters with real care and makes a point of using inclusive language at all times, which is a great way to normalise diverse identities.” — Charlie Tidmas
Brokeback Mountain: “A beautiful film where the narrative doesn’t only centre around the struggles of the gay couple but also explores the overwhelming attraction they have to each other when they first meet, the deepness of their love for one another and the absolute grief of losing the love of your life.” — Jade Winters
Kiss Me: “A Swedish film which uses subtle dialogue to create an intimate and heart-warming portrayal of two women who fall for each other despite both already being in relationships. It’s an honest and authentic depiction of love between two people that anyone can relate to.” — Jade Winters
Friends: “A show which at the time appeared full of upbeat, positive storylines and light humour has not stood up well to the test of time. Endless references to Ross’ lesbian wife and her lover, the ubiquitous toxic masculinity and the cruel mockery of Chandler’s clearly transgender parent, misgendered throughout and mislabelled as a gay man, all make for some very uncomfortable viewing.” — Jake Graf
The IT Crowd: “The transphobic episode of this occasionally funny Channel 4 series written by notoriously anti-trans writer Graham Linehan was deemed so offensive that the network pulled it in 2021. Matt Berry’s oafish ‘Douglas’ meets a trans woman, falls for her and sleeps with her. Upon discovering her trans identity, he violently attacks her, this trope echoing the tragic fate of so many trans women every year. Berry has since gone to great lengths to distance himself from both the episode and Linehan’s unpopular beliefs.” — Jake Graf
Game of Thrones: “The queer representation was reductive to the point of ridiculousness. Queer characters were oversexualised to ‘prove’ their queerness, and more often than not predatory. There is no attempt to offer these characters an authentic voice or represent the lived experiences of queer people; it could not be more obvious that straight white men were the creators of this show.” — Charlie Tidmas
Glee: “The reliance on stereotype with the queer characters in this show was simply disappointing. That it was considered somewhat ground-breaking is sad, on reflection, especially considering that the creator is a queer man. The show was a wasted opportunity and was surprisingly bad at respecting and reflecting the language that members of the queer community used at the time to describe themselves.” — Charlie Tidmas
Basic Instinct: “It followed the classic stereotype of the promiscuous bisexual woman who would sleep with just about anyone. Catherine Trammel (Sharon Stone) was also a murderous psychopath. This kind of narrative only helped to reinforce society’s already damaging view of bisexual people.” — Jade Winters
Movies With Queer Representation That Can Easily Be Edited Out: “There has become a trend in major Hollywood franchises, such as Harry Potter, and the vast Marvel Cinematic Universe, to flatter the LGBTQIA+ community with queer characters—which, on the surface, presents itself as a positive step. However, when the recognition, and direct expression, of these characters’ sexuality is compressed to short moments in minor scenes that can be easily cut by authoritarian regimes when screened overseas, it ultimately reinforces the notion that queer characters, and the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole, must continue to exist half-in, half-out of the closet.”
“Recently, Warner Brothers allowed international cuts, of a mere six-seconds, to Fantastic Beasts 3, that sent Dumbledore back into the closet, while, to their credit on this occasion, Disney refused to cut the requested twelve-seconds of Doctor Strange 2 that outed lesbian character America Chavez. However, as long as queer characters are portrayed in a way their identity can be easily masked by cutting a few short lines of dialog, this cannot count as positive representative of the LGBTQIA+ community in film.” — Oliver Warren
Meet The Screenwriters
Jake Graf is a multi-award-winning director, writer and actor based in London, known for his roles in The Danish Girl and Colette and for viral hit Headspace. Jake aims to elicit acceptance and understanding through the medium of film, and his first 9 films have screened at over 100 festivals worldwide. Jake speaks internationally on trans issues, particularly in relation to film and media. In 2015, he was invited to the first trans-specific event at The White House, and the following year was invited to present at Speaker’s House, London.
Oliver Warren is an award-winning queer British-born writer-director. He writes a mix of feature and television scripts, and was recently named one of the International Screenwriter’s Associations ‘Top 25 Screenwriters to Watch’.
Charlie Tidmas is a screenwriter and filmmaker. He received the first MA Distinction grade in MET Film School history in his specialism of Screenwriting and, most recently, been commissioned to write and direct a short film by BFI NETWORK.
Jade Winters is a best-selling author turned screenwriter and filmmaker. After writing and directing a number of short films, she made her directorial feature film, One Four Three.