As we have already seen in BBC AMERICA’s London Spy (watch episodes 1 and 2), TV and online shows are fast cottoning on to the idea that protagonists don’t all have to come from the same place all the time. In fact it’s better to broaden the experience pool if you want to tell a compelling story. And that means bringing in more female characters, more characters from different races, more characters with different levels of physical and mental ability and, of course, more characters with different gender identities and sexual preferences.
That latter point has been so well served over the past couple of years that we can pull together a truly international selection of shows with LGBT protagonists, some of whom are the leads in their own stories, some are part of a bigger story entirely.
You may have seen some of these already, of course, and some are fiddly to get hold of. But that’s all part of the fun:
Boy Meets Girl
Our trawl begins in Britain with a new comedy series that started towards the end of last year. Boy Meets Girl is the story of a new love and extended families, a young man meets an older woman and they form a bond. The older woman is trans (played by trans actress Rebecca Root) and the families have to take a moment to adjust to developments, but as this is played with the same kind of heart as the BBC’s Gavin & Stacey, the emphasis is on quirks and acceptance, rather than shock and horror.
Even if this were not a hugely celebrated show with an award-winning cast, you’d have to applaud the title, as it is literally the story of a parent who is transgender. A trans gag that is punning and yet not demeaning or diminishing? OK, this could work. And the key to the success of this show is that the emphasis is placed as firmly on the parent—with interwoven stories about the various successes and failings of the grown-up children—as it is on the trans.
Cucumber, Banana, Tofu
As seen earlier this year on LogoTV; Cucumber and Banana are intersecting dramas (with the online Tofu as a series of short films about sexual experiences) written by Russell T Davies. Cucumber is a dramatic farce about gay middle-age (no jokes, it’s the same age as everyone else’s) and mid-life crises, while Banana is a teen drama closer in spirit to Russell’s Queer as Folk. The clever bit is that you can see scenes from one in the background to scenes from the other.
Don’t Ever Wipe Tears without Gloves
There’s not really a great deal to say about this three-part drama that isn’t more poetically expressed in the trailer. It’s about a group of gay men in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1982, just as the AIDS epidemic is starting to take off. No punches are pulled; the title refers to a chastisement given to a nurse who wipes a tear from the eye of an AIDS patient, neatly encapsulating the cruelty, panic and paranoia of that time.
To Italy now, and a web drama about reunited college buddies who haven’t seen each other in five years, not since they got a little drunk and frisky around graduation. Julius and Thomas have to tease out the reasons that kept them apart, not the least of which is that Thomas is adamantly not gay, and lives with Serena, his girlfriend since high school. Events conspire to bring them together at work, and they have to find a way to get along.
The Pearl of Africa
A web documentary series with a deadly serious tale to tell. Cleopatra Kambugu is a transgender woman, in Kampala, Uganda, a country that has taken some very firm steps against homosexuality, passing a bill in 2014 that would allow a sentence of life imprisonment to be applied to anyone convicted of same-sex relationships. The Pearl of Africa follows her as she struggles to live her life to the full amid intolerable pressure both at a governmental and local level.
Wentworth and Unite 9
Two attempts below to match the success (and prisony themes) of Orange Is the New Black. Wentworth (or Wentworth Prison) is from Australia, and is an update of the classic female prison saga Prisoner Cell Block H. It tells the story of Bea Smith, who is awaiting trial for the alleged murder of her husband. Naturally she has to adjust to the brutality of prison life, and the variety of intimate bonds the inmates have forged between themselves in order to forge a community in trying circumstances.
Unite 9 is the same sort of thing, except with a lot more sexual tension, a slightly broader character base and, as it’s from francophone Canada, it is in French.
Despite the name, and the trailer, this isn’t exclusively a lesbian drama, more an examination of the various ways love exists between women, platonically and otherwise. Directed by Chloé Robichaud, this French Canadian web drama examines—separately and together—the lives of eight women aged between 18 and 42, to show how their lives, loves and sense of community have changed over the years.
Last Tango in Halifax
There’s a sly tale of life choice accommodation being told in Last Tango in Halifax, one in which a pair of British childhood sweethearts, Celia and Alan, are reunited in their seventies after the deaths of their respective spouses. Not only does their rekindled romance surprise their families, but their own preconceptions are rattled as their children enter that tricky mid-life period, and Celia’s daughter surprises herself by falling in love with a female colleague at the school at which she is headmistress.
We couldn’t very well leave out a sci-fi drama that questions everything about societal norms with ruthless efficiency, especially given that several of the characters are played by the same actress. In Orphan Black, Tatiana Maslany plays a series of clones from all over the world, and one of them, the nerdy Cosima, happens to be gay. Her clone status is even used as a plot point when she gets together with her girlfriend, who uses the devastating chat-up line: “As a scientist I know that sexuality is a spectrum, but social biases codify sexual attraction, contrary to the biological facts.” And it works!Read More