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If Hollywood Won't Tell Our Stories, We Must

If Hollywood Won't Tell Our Stories, We Must

If Hollywood Won't Tell Our Stories, We Must

An exciting new way to access LGBT content is on its way, writes Allie Esslinger, and not a moment too soon.

For too long there's been a content-audience disconnect and a quantity-quality divide when it comes to "gay content." I don't buy into the idea that there is a genre of film called "LGBT," but for the purposes of this conversation, let's talk "gay content" as an inclusive descriptor to qualify films and television that feature LGBTQ+ characters and creators. Let's consider it in the historical context of Section II of the Motion Picture Production Code, which until 1968 limited "gay content" to stories in which queer characters almost always died, often through suicide, and absolutely never lived happily ever after. Most importantly, let's think of "gay content" as a transformative, radical act that could shape the way our allies and enemies perceive LGBTQ+ people.

It is simple to point to the Code-era content as damaging to LGBTQ+ people looking to film and television as not only a reflection of society but as a guidepost for their own lives and self-perceptions. But what's more is that those mainstream portrayals seeped into the consciousness of pop culture and became damaging to the perceptions that straight people had of LGBTQ+ people as well. Better representation of LGBTQ+ people on-screen is good for all of us, not just LGBTQ+ people. Film and television became a foundation for misconceptions and stereotyping that linger in today's conversations and content landscape. It's sometimes hard to focus on art as anything more than a luxury in a world where violence threatens the LGBTQ+ community. It's perhaps hard to think about long-term outcomes when the situation now seems so dire, but we can't achieve a better tomorrow without starting the work today. We can't believe that we'll achieve new benchmarks for representation if we're not laying the groundwork today.

At this moment of ever-increasing importance for intersectionality, we must come to realize that being an ally -- or what I like to call "allyship" -- is more than a declaration. It's a commitment to deconstructing privilege and an ongoing practice of building trust. The best allies don't self-identify as such but rather do the work that signals to the oppressed that we have someone to turn to, someone who supports us and believes in our rights and our goals the same way we do. It's a consistent record not only of "showing up" but of truly being present. I immediately recognized this sort of active solidarity in Perrin Chiles and Brittany Turner at Adaptive Studios when they first took a meeting with me, the founder of Section II, a startup streaming platform for LGBTQ content and audiences.

Adaptive Studios is the parent company of Project Greenlight and the machine behind Project Greenlight Digital Studios. It's a story-driven creative community with a mission to empower the next generation of great filmmakers. It is dedicated to supporting independent filmmakers and underrepresented voices in the filmmaking community. Allyship rejects the notion of entitlement, and in an industry built on hard work (but also good luck and good looks), there is a lot of ground to make up when you're not classically trained (or classically beautiful or classically rich). I reached out wanting to talk about opportunities for the filmmakers in Section II's network of 500+ creators. I wanted to find something exciting to deliver to our audience of tens of thousands of monthly visitors seeking contemporary stories that show diverse representation of queer life on screen.

What I got was a partnership between Project Greenlight, GLAAD, and Section II. The See Yourself competition is looking for web series in development that boast LGBTQ+ characters or creators, and it offers a cash prize and a development deal with Adaptive Studios and Section II Films. It's a chance to put new depictions of LGBTQ+ characters into the hands of LGBTQ+ creators. It's a dedication to the equitable redistribution of opportunity. In a word, it's allyship.

At this moment of ever-increasing interconnectedness online amid fractured political discourse and rapid social change, we must come to realize that allyship is more than our straight/cis friends and family supporting our right to get married. Our movement hinges on individual moments of LGBTQ+ people and groups sticking up for each other as we transition the fight to a more holistic protection of queer rights and organized actions towards the dismantling of inner- and inter-circle privilege. Part of progress is recognizing that a community once dependent on activism alone has grown into an emerging domestic market that supports not only organized action but also art and commerce across industries.

It is work like GLAAD's annual Where We Are on TV report and Studio Responsibility Index that quantifies the problem, articulates the damage, and makes room for companies like mine. Ray Bradford at GLAAD has been a solid advocate for the See Yourself competition and the continued growth of Section II. To have his support and a partnership with GLAAD on this project means so much for a startup like mine. It's an honor to work with such a stalwart leader. It's the years spent on the front lines by LGBTQ+ advocates and nonprofit organizations, indie filmmakers and niche distributors that have paved the way for the diversity initiatives and nook-and-cranny platforms that are building spaces for queer content, queer voices, and queer audiences. By supporting this new competition, GLAAD continues its work by encouraging people to tell the stories, amplify their voices, and accelerate acceptance of LGBTQ+ people everywhere by making sure their lives are represented in the media that surrounds us all. In a word, that's leadership.

Section II is a new film company and streaming platform dedicated to #BetterRepresentation. We've reclaimed our namesake with a platform and business model that positions us as an ally to content creators and consumers. We are thrilled to be working hand in hand with Project Greenlight Digital Studios and GLAAD, industry and community visionaries who are as energized and dedicated to cultivating talent and creating new opportunities for LGBTQ+ creators and audiences as we are. By working alongside our role models, we continue to learn how to be a dedicated accomplice to change. To that point, it's no coincidence that we announced this competition at Los Angeles's Outfest film festival in July. It was there where we premiered our first original series, For Ex-Lovers Only, by Andrew Gitomer and Jonathan Stromberg, so that we could both showcase and court the sort of high-quality series that make us excited about the future of LGBTQ content. It was there that I had the pleasure of seeing John Cooper, the director of the Sundance Film Festival, be honored as the Outfest Achievement Honoree for his courageous vision, unfailing good taste, and the innumerable careers he's helped to launch as a curator and creative director at the intersection of the film and LGBTQ communities. And it was in his introduction that filmmaker Rose Troche articulated everything the See Yourself competition is about when she said, "We are not marginalized voices. We are just in the margins. ... And it's time to be seen and heard."

ALLIE ESSLINGER is the founder of Section II.

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Allie Esslinger