Jill Soloway, Margaret Cho, Alia Shawkat And More Talk Shift In LGBTQ+ Representation In Hollywood At YEA Event
Having just launched earlier this year, Young Entertainment Activists (YEA) is already making waves in the industry when it comes to its advocacy.
The non-profit organization is a huge network of more than 1000 entertainment professionals organizing young Hollywood to use their skills and resources for a local and national impact.
YEA held an LGBTQ+ panel and workshop Saturday at Netflix, where Transparent’s Jill Soloway moderated a conversation about queer representation with Margaret Cho (Fresh off the Boat), Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development, Search Party), Ian Alexander (The OA), Rowena Arguelles (CAA), Nina Lederman (Sony Pictures Television) and Kalen Allen (The Ellen DeGeneres Show). However, it was not your usual diversity panel.
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With an audience made up of members of the LGTBQ community in Hollywood, the event very much felt like a town hall. Yes, the panelists shared stories about being queer in the industry, but the conversation went beyond that, as the audience started to chime in.
In addition to sharing their blunt opinions and unfiltered experiences, Soloway encouraged the panelists and the audience to talk about solutions on how to make the workplace and sets more inclusive to the LGTBQ+ community in front of and behind the camera. It wasn’t just talking about diversity in Hollywood. It was about taking action.
“Hi, queer Hollywood!” Soloway said excitedly as they took the stage. “They asked me if I wanted to be on the panel and I said, ‘I want to run the panel’!”
The panel talked about making queer people feel seen on TV and film, but they also unpacked a lot. They talked about bringing their queerness and transness to work, how some members of the LGTBQ community have privilege, their different experiences (both good and bad) and the changing landscape of Hollywood post-Harvey Weinstein.
One of the standout statements came from Rowena Arguelles from CAA who talked about what CAA is doing to help change the landscape when it comes to choosing inclusive clients for projects and what she is doing to move the needle in a company that is traditionally full of white, straight, cisgender men. “I’m not an artist — what I am is an advocate for people who I believe are talented — to help them guide them through the industry,” she said.
In a time when inclusive casting is front of mind for movies that call for a person of color, an LGBTQ character, a disabled character and things of the like, Arguelles recognizes the demand for authentic casting. She said one of the main tenets of CAA is that “they respond to people as artists and who they are and how they present themselves is second.” They avoid checkbox culture and tokenism. Even so, she stressed that they need more people from the margins. She said that the bigger point is to be one step ahead of themselves when it comes to spotting inclusive talent in a system that likes to play it safe when it comes to signing people.
“For me and my colleagues, one of the things we do is we pay particular attention to the people on the outside,” she said. “I think one of our jobs is to try to identify and sign these people before a big agency would normally do so.” She cites when she signed Taika Waititi and Patty Jenkins before they hit it big because she saw something in them.
“I hope what I do is to help the next generation of people who want to be agents to be brave to take those chances because recognizing talent and authenticity is one of the things we are supposed to do and you shouldn’t be in this job if you can’t, she added. “That’s how I want to fix the balance of people you see in front of and behind the camera.”
The other panelists shared their experiences.
Cho, who has been a trailblazer for gay rights for decades, said she uses comedy as a tool for advocacy. She identifies as bisexual and although there are some naysayers who don’t necessarily subscribe to bisexuality, she has aligned herself with members of the queer community. so it has never been an issue — for the most part. However, in the ’90s, she talked about how her manager told she had to be “100 percent straight.” But she said, “Nowadays it feels so freeing to just be… it’s a little easier now.” For Shawkat, her sexuality came to light in her indie Duck Butter and she came out as queer in an interview with Out magazine. She has since found honesty with her art through her sexuality.
Allen, a content creator who was practically handpicked by Ellen DeGeneres for her show, recognizes the advantage of working on a show fronted by a powerful member of the gay community. Still, he talked about being a black gay man and how he wants to represent for that intersectional community.
He referenced Billy Porter and wished he would have had someone like him on TV growing up. Allen points out that if the Pose actor was more prominent in his life, “I could have realized who I could have been sooner.” For Alexander, he admits he, like Allen, recognized his privilege in that he started the industry at a time when Hollywood is changing, developing and adapting. He said he is often the only openly trans person on set and there are times he feels alienated, but finds comfort in the fact that there are allies supporting him.
The panel championed inclusivity in Hollywood, specifically within the LGBTQ community as Lederman pointed out, “It is the perfect time to come out and be who you are. The stories are authentic across the board.”
After the panel, there were breakout sessions for the audience to discuss acting, agent representation, development and production, and on how they can use their entertainment positions to advocate for queer representation. The workshops were led by industry professionals including Sherry Cola from Good Trouble, Tonatiuh from Vida, content creator Alexis G. Zall and others. YEA encouraged audience members to sign up to join the organization and to spread the word to young Hollywood of their advocacy.
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