Expectations around lesbian screen content

I was asked during a radio interview if, as a lesbian filmmaker, I feel a responsibility to represent the lesbian community on screen. At the time I answered ‘no’. I said that I didn’t think it was possible for one project to represent the community. That given the lack of lesbian content available, there was too much pressure on each new offering to be everything to everybody. Imagine if the same was expected of every new film, television show or web series that depicted heterosexual couples. You rarely hear a straight woman complaining: “that’s not what straight women look like”, “those actors aren’t heterosexuals” or “I’m not watching that because those characters aren’t like people I know”. This pressure, therefore, to represent all aspects of the lesbian community in one project is not only unfair, but also impossible. The reason you don’t hear this from heterosexuals, however, is because there is such a wide variety of content centred around heterosexual characters. While clichés and stereotypes still abound, there is so much content available, that each new offering doesn’t carry this weight of expectation.

That’s why we need more lesbian content and more diversity amongst this content. The more stories we tell that centre around lesbian characters, the less pressure there is on each new offering and the more varied the depictions become. The more we encourage women in our community to tell their stories, the more chance we have of seeing characters who are “like people we know”. The criteria on which the content is then judged can shift to areas such as entertainment value, the quality and engagement of the narrative, and the growth and arc of the characters. This is how we’ll get more quality content. 

Which, on one hand, has caused me to reconsider the answer I initially gave to the question: “do I feel a responsibility to represent the lesbian community on screen?” because, in a way, I do. I feel a responsibility to try and create three-dimensional, interesting, flawed characters who may not always do what we want them to, but we at least understand why they’ve done it. I feel a responsibility to try and create well-crafted narratives that not only entertain the audience, but also engage them emotionally. I also feel a responsibility to create characters who aren’t defined by their sexuality, who hold down jobs, pay taxes, struggle with relationships, fight, laugh, cry, feel joy and pain, characters who belong to a rich, vibrant and diverse community, and who, to some extent, aren’t that unlike the heterosexual characters we already see on screen.

By Julie Kalceff