TV in 2017: A Year of Queer in Review
2017 has been a big year for the LGBTQ+ community, and this year television gave us quite a few gems with some of the queer characters of color that found themselves either coming out or coming to terms with their sexuality/identity.
WARNING: there may be some character spoilers ahead if you’re not up to date with these shows.
One Day at a Time – S1, Ep. 10 “Sex Talk”, Ep. 11 “Pride & Prejudice”, and Ep. 13 “Quinces”
Norman Lear’s reboot of his own original sitcom was reimagined with a Cuban-American family, the Alvarezes, living in Echo Park and gave us another win for Latinx representation. The first season touched on many intersectional issues including the canonically lesbian character in Elena, who came out to her mother in “Sex Talk” under some pretty funny circumstances. The show then blessed us with 2 more episodes to complete this story arch in “Pride & Prejudice” where Elena’s mother, Penelope, is having trouble dealing with Elena coming out. It was a nice touch to see a parent’s perspective on this, one who doesn’t understand but wants to. And then we also have the parents we’re used to seeing, the ones who reject the idea outright. “Quinces” had Elena’s father disappoint us for leaving her stranded on the dancefloor during the father-daughter dance because he couldn’t accept her. Oh well, Elena still has all the love and support she needs anyway.
Star – S1, Ep. 8 “Mama’s Boy”
Cotton, played by actress Amiyah Scott (thumbs up for transgender people playing transgender characters), is a black, trans woman and a leading role in Lee Daniels and Tom Donaghy’s Star, now in its second season. Although her character’s story is explored throughout the show, this episode, in particular, shed a little more light on her identity and her struggles after she brings her new boyfriend home—who is understanding about who she is when she tells him. The conflict of this episode arises more so between her, Carlotta, and Pastor Bobby, and it isn’t pretty. Amiyah herself has talked about how grateful she feels to be able to play a character with a story that we don’t ever really see, and I expect for the visibility of trans people of color to grow because there are far too few and very necessary.
Dear White People – S1, Ep. 2 “Chapter II”
This series adaptation of the 2014 film by the same name premiered on Netflix in late April and laid out the season by giving us a different character perspective per episode. Lionel Higgins is our episode 2 character and a black, gay man. The importance of a character like Lionel is present in the viewers who see themselves in him, and it is what made the series adaptation so much richer than the film in terms of storytelling and the delivery of the messages in each character. The episode uses a rather interesting and not so pleasant party experience to unravel a couple of lingering doubts Lionel was still having about himself, the use of ‘labels’, and his sexuality before finally admitting it out loud to his roommate and man crush, Troy, and that about wrapped it up.
Master of None – S2, Ep. 8 “Thanksgiving”
Season 2 of Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s hit Netflix series gave us ten more glorious episodes, and “Thanksgiving” was no exception as co-star and writer Lena Waithe (who plays Dev’s best friend) shared with us her own take on being a black, lesbian woman coming out to her mother, played by the incredible Angela Bassett. The episode was short & sweet but, through a series of time jumps of Thanksgiving dinners, a perfect example of how coming out can be a lifelong process through her own lens. Lena Waithe is the first black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series and she’s making waves in the industry for future women of color to step into the light. If you haven’t watched the pilot for her new autobiographical series, The Chi, I suggest that you do.
Jane the Virgin – S4, Ep. 69 “Chapter Sixty-Nine”
Season 4 brought with it a new love interest for Jane, or rather her first love that we hadn’t met before. Adam, played by Tyler Posey, was a charming character and his sexuality was made canon in the later episodes of this season’s first half when an ex-boyfriend came up during a casual conversation. It was apparent that Adam was very comfortable in who he is and at this point, this was nothing he felt any doubts about. The episode instead gave us Jane’s struggle to come to terms with knowing this about Adam, her confusion and her questions were addressed in a conversation between the two. Given that bisexual characters are few, bisexual men are found even less in media. In fact, this may even be the first bisexual, Latino man I’ve personally come across. He may have broken ours and Jane’s heart, and while I was disappointed that the show wrote him off right after his coming out (which happens more often than it should, really), I’m glad they gave us a positive outlook on who he was and what he meant to Jane for the time being.
Brooklyn 99 – S5, Ep. 10 “Game Night”
The series, now in its fifth season, doesn’t shy away from lead queer characters being open about their identities as we’ve seen with Captain Holt, an openly gay man in a happy marriage. What makes these characters even greater is that they’re not supporting but rather leading roles and part of the main ensemble cast. The actress who plays her, Stephanie Beatriz, came out as bi last year and many were hoping that meant a little queerness would rub off on Rosa. So having her as one of the leading ladies and my personal favorite come out on the show was exciting for me and for many fans who were waiting for this moment. This episode hit home too as I could relate deeply to the way Rosa’s father reacted—the acceptance took the form of misconceptions and stereotypes at first, but his willingness to learn and accept her closed up a heartfelt scene. Gina adding that in another lifetime they ‘woulda been a hot-ass couple’ set the probably already existing ship on fire. Thank you, Brooklyn 99 writers, for giving Rosa agency in her coming out experience.
Though finding depictions of queer characters of color is scarce across all networks and platforms, I find that it only continues to be motivation for queer creatives of color to continue to push boundaries and break rules—we have to, we deserve to be seen. I hope 2018 will only bring more stories like these to the forefront of mainstream TV.