An increase in LGBTQ storylines and characters may appear to be on the up, but the international nature of streaming means that progressive agendas in the boardroom can sometimes hit legislative roadblocks.
Recently the Chinese government received complaints from fans and international commentators when they censored same-sex plotlines and references on the ‘Friends’ reunion.
It is not the first time Chinese censorship of LGBTQ issues has come under scrutiny; in 2018 Mango TV was told it could no longer air the Eurovision Song Contest after it censored Irish and Albanian entries, as well as blurring out a rainbow flag in the Lisbon crowd.
“China is a funny case,” says Marshall Moore, senior lecturer in English and Creative writing at Falmouth University, who left Hong Kong in 2020 due to increased Chinese control.
“It was heading in a progressive direction and there has been an about-face since Xi Jinping has been in power.
“They’re heading towards a cultural revolution style of governance.”
Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, a Malaysian MP petitioned the government to censor all LGBT content on Netflix, a request which was denied.
Meanwhile in Turkey, Netflix canceled their Turkish original ‘If Only’ in 2020 after pressure from the Turkish government to remove a gay character from the show. The Turkish government is already able to take action including fines for shows which have LGBT content.
All this begs the question; whilst streamers are writing an increasing number of LGBT storylines, will they stand up for their characters against censoring regimes?
“I think the way that some of the bigger media corporations and tech companies have actually played along sets the precedent,” says Moore.
“Media companies who are playing along with places like this are doing it for financial reasons. Do I think they will stand up to regimes? I don’t know that I have seen any examples of that,” he continues.
Netflix teen drama 'Never Have I Ever' features many LGBTQ charactersAP Photo
Highlighted in the report is an increase in non-binary representation with special mentions for Netflix teen drama ‘Sex Education’ and the introduction of LGBT+ plotlines to other Netflix shows ‘Never Have I Ever and ‘Dear White People’.
HBO Max was recognized for its featuring LGBTQ characters in comedy shows including ‘Hacks,’ ‘Sort Of,’ and ‘Sex Lives of College Girls’.
Meanwhile, on Disney+ more queer characters entered the Marvel extended universe with Loki’s bisexuality confirmed and a recurring LGBT+ character in ‘Hawkeye’.
The report noted that 29 percent of LGBTQ characters across streaming, broadcast, and cable in the US are bisexual, with more marginal sexualities represented by two asexual characters on streaming platforms.
The racial diversity of LGBTQ+ characters on streaming services was found to be at 52 percent of people of color which breaks down into 17 percent black, 13 percent Latino, and one-tenth Asian-pacific islanders.
Diversity within LGBTQ casting, i.e. having characters who are not all white gay men, can be a hot topic within queer circles, as is the subject of representation itself.
“The diversity we have on streaming platforms is not enough. Not only in numbers, but in scope. White gay men and women are still "the standard" when it comes to representation,” says Rivers.
“Representation in film and television, on its own, isn't an effective counter to the real-life experiences of discrimination, erasure, and violence that Black LGBTQ people face daily.”