If you’re white, straight and male you’ve probably never stopped to think about diversity in genre entertainment; but if you don’t fit into that very specific box it can be a very important subject indeed. Peter MacKenzie examines representation and depiction of alternative cultures in geek entertainment, highlighting when it goes right and explaining why it’s a problem when it goes wrong…
So, The Doctor is a woman…
Ooh, look at those four pretty horses and the mushroom clouds on the horizon…
“15The coming apocalypse shall be heralded by upheaval and terror and by the massing crowds of young men and women confused over their carnal desires.
16Beware the Levine who calls himself the Gift of God for he will deny the fourteen prophets and their followers.
17Do not speak of the prophets! For it is only by your words that Armageddon will have the strength to come! Speak only of the disciple!”
Revelation 5: 15-17 (possibly)
So, Bill was fantastic wasn’t she?
I have to admit was a bit wary at first. I was quite annoyed that the BBC seemed to trumpet her sexuality like a, well like an apocalyptic horn. Doctor Who’s first gay companion! I began to imagine her sexuality would be crucial to her character and form part of some major, yet ultimately unsatisfying, plan that Steven Moffat wanted to rush through before his tenure was over.
However, I was rather placated by his immediate response that this was not the case and he was actually quite frustrated that it seemed to have been made a “thing”.
Once it was out there, it was actually quite pleasing to see where the majority of fan debate went. With LGBTQ characters already established in the show like Captain Jack, Vastra and Jenny, even Clara, not to mention Canton Delaware, Mike Yates and the almost-but-not-quite retcon of Harry Sullivan, the arguments seemed to be focusing on what constituted a “first” or a “companion”, rather than the usual “gay agenda”.
And, as the series aired, this proved to be the case and we were rewarded, not only with one of the best companions of the modern era, but one whose sexuality genuinely had nothing to do with the storyline, and was presented as just a fact of life. In fact, I loved the way that they subverted the usual trope at one point by having Bill’s modern monosexuality seem odd to the Roman soldiers.
Although even I’m not entirely sure that centuries of oppression by the Catholic church should have been played for laughs…
I have to say that, over the last few years, I’ve become quite impressed with the increasing representation of LGBTQ in genre, and even mainstream, media… at least in a numerical/statistical sense. However, what I’m being increasingly irritated by now is the way we’re portrayed which, with a few notable exceptions (Bill being one), is verging on the stereotyped and, at worst, highly offensive.
The most recent, and most surprising, were in the so-called Arrowverse… both in-universe and, shockingly, also behind the cameras – or at least in front of the San Diego Comic-Con audience. In the former, during the extremely underwhelming musical episode of The Flash, alternative versions of Joe West and Martin Stein are a gay couple, about which Barry quips…
Millie’s Dads: “You got a problem with that?”
Barry: “No, I love musicals, so…”
Because, of course, all gay men love musicals. We’re also all brilliant at interior design, wax our chests and are the snappiest dressers on the planet.
The rest of the Arrowverse gay community doesn’t fare much better. For a start, the vast majority are the straight man’s safe choice of girl on girl action and, when they are male, they’re usually in an unhappy marriage with a mostly off-screen partner. No sex, please… we don’t want to upset the Bible Belt. Incidentally, for a great example of how this can be done properly, just watch Brooklyn Nine Nine.
And then, behind the scenes at Comic-Con, the team were seen to ridicule the fans who ‘ship Kara Danvers and Lena Luthor – although at least Katie McGrath (former Morgana and, more recently, dinosaur food) had the grace to appear uncomfortable during the debacle.
What makes this particularly galling is that a large proportion of the actors are gay or self-proclaimed allies themselves. I was particularly dismayed by Jeremy Jordan who hit the headlines last year by coordinating a campaign to help his cousin leave a gay conversion therapy camp, and yet seemed to be the ringleader of this sorry farce.
The trouble, as I see it, is that this sort of mockery will be seen by young people who are terrified about accepting and declaring their sexuality as it is, and this can only serve to make things worse - and we’re also in terrible danger of revisiting the dark days of the seventies, where the only role models for such people are negative stereotypes, amid a general feeling of being told we should be happy with what we’ve got. As someone who struggled myself through those bleak times, it’s heartbreaking to see us starting to make the same mistakes all over again.
We need to stop the resigned acceptance of any and all portrayals of LGBTQ people and issues, and decry the bad ones as much as we do non-representation. But we should also be praising the great and the good, which is why we should be shouting the name of Bill Potts – and Pearl Mackie and Stephen Moffat – from the rooftops… and why I am literally praying that she returns to travel with the Thirteenth Doctor. We need to see more of Bill.