Leticia De Bortoli, you are Canadian writer, producer and film director who made a very good TV mini series Queering this year. Where did you get the idea for the story? Namely, having an older woman (Val) coming out at 60 years old and posting coming out on youtube is really unique idea we haven't seen before in any other LB-films and TV-or Web-series. It is also refreshing to see an older woman so ful of life, energetic and open to embrace new ideas, new life-style and accepting dating.
Just a small correction am I actually Brazillian.
The core conflicts of Queering came from my relationship with my mother. She didn’t necessarily came out as bi, but I started to see her trying to discover herself, try new things way later in life and I though that situation of women of her generation was very interesting. Have lived their “younger years” with a lot restriction and 1/10 of the freedom we have and now later in life have more space for their own whishes and desires.
In Queering series you tackle another stereotype or the same stereotype you also tackle through Val, namely regarding bisexuality. Bisexuality as a stereotypical label in LGTIQ-community has been present through the whole series. Why did you decide to present it in the series? I also like how Val's daughter Harper expresses the same prejudices towards bisexuality as many other LGTIQ-members and how she finally comes to terms that her mother is bisexual.
A lot comes from my personal life. I’m a lesbian woman and often displayed Harper’s behavior in the past. Maybe to try to affirm myself, or to follow what other where doing. But as an adult, with many bisexual friends and started to think about why we replicate this microaggressions towards bisexuals even though we know how hurtful it is.
You currently work on writing and producing second season, can you tell us a bit about what or how is going to unfold, maybe Val getting a girlfriend, will Harper finally got over her former girlfriend of 10 years?
Yes! Harper will have some sort of closure with her ex. And Val will experience life past the “coming out” phase, which quiet often if the harder thing to handle. We also have a lot of knew characthers joining!
Do you think that sexual orientation of the writer, director and actresses is important while doing LB films and series? I mean, I wouldn't say that it is at utmost importance, however I would think that it can contribute to a better understanding of the topic written, directed and played, is that correct? It is interesting how we hear today straight actresses saying they can play LB-roles as good as LB-actresses.
Honestly, I think it is important. We had our stories told by the “straight lens” for so long, and ends up being empty and not as close to reality. We all have different experiences as Queer people, but also very universal ones that we can all relate. I don’t think you must be queer to write/direct queer content, but I would for sure partner or consult with someone who actually lived those experiences.
You also made short films: in 2015 you co-produced and wrote Ada. A young woman struggles to set free from the mental and physical harm of an abusive relationship and another film, A beauty shot about a young woman tries to find peace with her self image using a controversial and disturbing product. What made you wish to do these two short films and where did you get inspiration from? Is there any lesson in these two stories you wish to convey?
Both Ada and Beauty Shot come as very natural ideas. Domestic violence is an issue close to home for me and that deeply disturbs me. That pressure of beauty and how that affects women is probably close to home for all of us. So whatever I think about it a lot, ends up on the page. I don’t think I ever attempt to convey a lesson, I guess I just hope to promote some reflection.
It is also intersting you made a short film Meu Nome é Clint (2014). A day in life of a man whose idol is Clint Eastwood. Unfortunately, not everyone in the real world understands this man with no name. This is interesting, where did you get an idea for film and why exactly Clint Eastwood and not some other famous Hollywood name?
I directed this piece, but the story was created by the lead actor Mario Luiz. Who’s a huge fan of Clint Eastwood. He invited me to direct, and I got really excited and joined him.
What is your biggest inspiration and where do you get your inspiration from the most?
I think my biggest inspiration is other people’s work. From friends to huge famous filmmakers. When I watch something amazing, I get inspired to work. I don’t think I have a source of inspiration, everything I write is about things that I can’t stop thinking about. And those are unpredictable.
What are you plans for the future projects?
I want to keep investing in Queering, but I also have a feature script about being queer in rural Brazil that I hope to produce in 2019. And also an new webseries idea, some queer Sci-Fi.
Iva van Hoek, student at Faculty of Arts, a Dutch teacher and LGBT-activist in Association DIH – Equal Under the Rainbow. What brought you to Slovenia and what do you do and what activities do you do at DIH?
I moved to Slovenia primarily because of my studies, and I later found out that this was an excellent decision for many more reasons. I study psychology, I teach Dutch and I volunteer for the associations DIH and Legebitra. At DIH I facilitate the Lezbofé and I am coordinator of the volunteers.
You told me that this season you will lead monthly meetings for women only from LGBT+-community. What are the goals and activities of these meetings? What results do you expect?
It's called Lezbofé, it's intended as a safe space for women of the LBTQIA+ community to share about their experiences. Each meeting we have a different topic, sometimes preceded with a short opening activity and sometimes just in the form of a moderated talk. The aim is to offer queer women a space to meet and discuss topics that are relevant to them with individuals who can relate to their experiences. At the end of each meeting the participants are invited to suggest the topic for the next one, so the topics stay relevant to the community.
You were volunteer at Ljubljana Pride 2018. What inspired you to be a volunteer and what tasks did you have as a volunteer?
I had participated to many Pride parades before, but never as part of the organisation. I wanted to experience the parade from this side, and I also felt that this was something I really wanted to be part of. The Pride parade always meant a lot to me as the most visible event of our community and I want to do what I can to support it. It was my first time volunteering for the parade and I did not have a specific role, I helped out with various technicalities (repairing last year's signs, making badges, selling merchandise and similar) and I lead one LGBT tour of Ljubljana for a study visit group, but even this small involvement made the difference. I felt that the Parade was truly mine.
You were the Slovene group leader of several Erasmus+projects, Rainbow Summer Camp, Slovakia, Youth in Activism, Netherlands, and Queer Lab Europe, Italy. You obviously like to travel and exchange experiences, knowledge and information, why is it so – is this a personal or also part of your psychology profession?
It's difficult to say where my personal interests end and my professional interests begin. My initial interest in Erasmus+ youth projects connected to the LGBTQIA+ spectrum started as a personal initiative, I had never before been in a space that was meant specifically for queer people and after my first project I realised that there were many aspects about my sexual orientation that I did not yet fully value or even accept. It inspired me to become more actively involved in my community and this summer I decided to take the role of group leader in three projects connected to the LGBTQIA+ spectrum and activism, this time with more professional motivation. The experiences supported me immensely in my activist work, but also professionaly as a psychology student there are numerous skills and knowledges I acquired during these projects that will support me in my career.
Do you think that society and youth needs more education about LGBT-topics or sharing knowledge and experience about it, if yes, why?
Of course, people need to have knowledge about topics in order to understand them. Nowadays it seems that many people adopt this "we are not that discriminated anymore" mindset which leads to less conversations and silencing of our experiences – it's absolutely wonderful that many of us do not fear physical violence from outside in comparison to decades ago, but growing up queer without any conversations about LGBTQIA+ topics, without any knowledge at all and without anyone in our close groups talking about it, can still make us feel terribly lonely and like there is something wrong with us. And it takes years and years of processing to get from there to a point where we can celebrate our own differences.
And last but not least, what inspires you the most and what are your future projects?
What inspires me the most is the work of other activists in Slovenia. I am delighted about the amount of effort all the LGBT-related associations are putting into creating safe spaces, building community, raising awareness, educating, discussing, organizing and caring for each other. There is still a lot of work to do, things to celebrate as well as to fight for. My future projects for now are the coordination of DIH's volunteers, which means I will support them in developing their ideas and putting them into action, I am also part of an informal activist group that does not operate under any association, with which we do various street actions and produce educational videos, and I plan to get more involved with non-formal education and activism through study visits and Erasmus+ projects.
Monika Kropej, you are employed at Unesco chair on Open Technologies for Open Educational Resources and Open Learning (at Institute “Jožef Štefan”, Ljubljana). Do you meet homosexual researchers and scientists at your work, especially lesbians and bisexual women, if yes, in which way?
Our project on open education resources is one of our first projects that directly focuses on marginal groups among which we collaborate with the LGBT-community and therefore LGBT-researches. Apart from that, our previous (research) work was mainly oriented towards dissemination and organization on topics, where we did not focus on the social perspective- (e.g. artificial intelligence, machine learning, sensors etc. and the dissemination activities, workshops/conference organizations). And of course, in these research fields the LGBT-researches were also involved. They are regularly included in the research activities as colleagues, co-workers as all other project participants. I haven't noticed any specific issues regarding their sexual orientation.
Do you think that sexual orientation and/or sexual identity has any influence on educational, scientific-research work?
I believe that within my field of work the sexual orientation or gender identity of my colleagues or co-workers does not play a role. However, I can only report for the work, where I am directly involved and I cannot with certainty state that the same holds true for every field of research. To my knowledge, I have not witnessed any discrimination or systemic inequalities within my research community.
Have Unesco chair on Open Technologies for Open Educational Resources and Open Learning had any project that dealt with LGBT-people, if yes, how lesbians have been involved – how are your work experiences with them, how they have contributed to the project?
As already mentioned so far our work on open education resources is first project where we collaborate with this community. I can only compliment on their work so far, they are dedicated, very open to new ideas and collaborative.
Your diploma and Ph.D. deals with the meaning and influence of graphiti and symbols on politics, national identity, music and also feminism and LGBT-issues. Can you tell us more about that with emphasis on women and lesbians?
Within my primary research field, cultural studies, I have come across many feminist and LGBT-graffiti and street art. I have noticed that this community is very active in these fields, which I see as very encouraging. What I discovered, is the graffiti and street art or guerrilla actions are very innovative and subversive. I also study graffiti and the so-called graffiti wars and I can say that in Slovenia there have been many humorous and politically subversive actions. My work is closely connected to libertarian/autonomous activism and, therefore, with various feminist as well as LGBT-groups. I am a feminist myself and fully support the actions they are involved in., Nowadays, when the world is faced with fascism that is invading our everyday life in a very subtle way I believe the struggle for equality is again of great importance. There is a need for all to actively participate in the struggle for a more inclusive and equal community and such groups are an important contribution to the fight for a better world. Or to conclude with Emma Goldman's quote: »Women need not always keep their mouths shut and their wombs open.«
What are your plans for the future – include among others working with LB-researchers and scientists? Would you be interested in such work and if yes, why?
I am open to collaborate with LGBT-researchers, however I believe the sexual orientation does not define the researchers or their work.
Hanna Szentpeteri, film director and (screen)writer, you grew up between New York, Slovenia, and Hungary. You also made a film in Tel Aviv, Israel and studied in London, UK. How was growing up in so many different languages and culturally diverse environments? How did all that contribute to your art?
I think it was the best possible way to grow up. As a diplomat's kid, you get to move every four years, so you have to be open to people, you have to be talkative and polite, otherwise you end up alone. Growing up in this way has made me very extroverted and has taught me many important social skills. Every place you live for a prolonged period leaves it's mark on you, of course. It's always hard to leave, and you never quite know where home is. But that's such a small price to pay for all the amazing experiences you get along the way.
You had a youth theatre group in London, for which you also wrote and directed plays. It's called Act Your Stage. What was the main goal and mission of the theatre group and why did you found it in the first place since you are a film director - how does theatre differ from film?
I founded AYS because I wanted to make plays that were for and about young people. I'm a little obsessed with coming of age films, books and plays, so I wanted to create a space where young people can tell their stories about growing up. Even though I make movies now, my background is in theater originally. I wrote my first play at the HB Playwrights Foundation in New York City when I was 14 years old, before I made any films. I originally thought I wanted to work in theater, because of it's spontaneity and accessibility. You can easily make and put on a play for free, but films require a lot of funding. So it was simply an easier way to get started and get young people involved. Now that I am finishing my masters, I have access to funding so I can make movies too, but I will always love doing both film and play directing.
Recently you made a documentary Band vs Brand (2018) with another non-straight director, Simona Jerala about Slovenian female music managers Eva Kristina Filipčič and Maša Pavoković. What is the message or the main point of the documentary? Is the title itself meaningful to you?
Simona and I made this film to shed light on the music management profession in Slovenia. It's always fascinated me how bands need to be "on brand" and have this pressure to produce authentic content. Managers play a very important role in that and while they help bands thrive, not every band is ready for the commitment that takes, as you can see in the film. Simona and I also related to the fact that Maša and Eva are working in a male-dominated profession like us, so we wanted to explore that.
Your Bachelors short film Sonny and the Lost Room (2015) is about a boy who creates a special place for his deceased brother and all the things he lost. The short film was also screened in Cannes Short Film Corner. Can you tell me where did you get the idea and why it was important for you to share with the others?
When I was in high school, my grandfather passed away when I was 15. It was the first family death that I had experienced. I remember getting upset about this phrase "sorry for your loss" that people say to you when someone dies. I was like "I didn't lose him, he's not going to appear under the couch one day." The phrase really troubled me. So I got the idea then, for this "lost room" where everything you've ever lost ends up- people and objects alike. But I didn't really have the guts to make a movie about it until many years later, when my uncle passed away while I was doing my BA in London. I just thought: This is what my diploma film is going to be about. It's time.
Your short film Marushka (2017) is about a growing teenager who builds her popularity through a web of lies. Why did you choose this topic and what did you wish to achieve in the audience?Marushka is about my experience of being the new kid at the film academy (AGRFT). Marushka is about my experience of being the new kid at the film academy (AGRFT), in a way. As you know, I had been the new kid many times before, but I didn't expect it to be a difficult transition as an adult. Coming to Ljubljana from London was harder than I thought. As an extrovert, I attended a bunch of Academy events in my first year, hoping to make connections, but I felt like I was tapping on a window- I could see everyone, but I couldn't really break the glass between us. (Thankfully, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote a song about exactly this called "Waving Through a Window" for the musical Dear Evan Hansen.) But because films are not real life, Marushka does break the metaphorical window pretty forcefully. She lies to everyone to become popular. I think high school is a weird time in life because you're doing all these adult things, maybe for the first time - like drinking or engaging in relationships, but you're still a kid living with your parents. Marushka circumvents this social barrier the only way she knows how - by making up some adulthood that will probably eventually actually happen. It's an exciting time though because Marushka just got accepted to the Scout Film Festival in Vermont, USA.
Your masters film, Iva, 24 is about a girl finishing college with no prospects for a good future. Is this something that concerns your generation?
Certainly. In the film, Iva works at a fast food bar alongside college, which she hates. She is suffering from depression in the film and feels that even if she fumbles through her degree and manages to finish, her life will not change for the better once she obtains it. But that isn't my brilliant idea, it's a based on a beautiful short story of Alja Debeljak. I just wanted to shine a light on depression among young people, because I think awareness and education is the first step towards ending the stigma around depression and mental illness in general.
However, it is worth mentioning that I was accepted to the film academy with a short film about two lesbians who wish to have a baby. That was supposed to be my masters film. We workshopped it for 1 year at the Academy and I handed in a new edit of the script every week. Regardless, my script was too ambitious for a short film, so I made Iva, 24 instead. I still hope to realise a topic like this into a feature film someday
Do you think film art should be progressive and portray certain values and attitudes (i.e. portraying more diverse, inclusive, free, democratic relationships and world)?
Of course. Representation of minority groups has been a serious problem since the media was invented. But I’m happy to say that the awareness about this issue is growing, so I hope to see more LGBTQ+ characters in movies, commercials and TV shows soon that have their own agency and don’t die in the end.
Do you think that sexual orientation of the film director matters in a lesbian and/or bisexual-storyline the same as it matters that transgender actors play in or transgender directors direct transgender story lines?
I think that more LGBTQ+ people should be making media content, that’s for sure. I would actually love to teach a film class specifically for the LGBTQ+ community, to encourage them to tell their authentic stories, so that we won’t only have straight cis people representing us in the media. Having said that, I’m proud that the history of Slovenian Cinema has two feature length fiction films about LGBTQ+ characters and I wouldn’t give that up, even though both directors, Maja Weiss and Nejc Gazvoda, are straight as far as we know. We need fair and respectful representation in the media, and we need it now. If you’re LGBTQ+ and have a story to tell, please write it and make it. Please apply to film schools, get out there, and let’s make diverse content together.
What is your biggest inspiration (film or not film career wise) and what are your plans for the future projects?
My biggest inspiration is Miranda July, hands down. She makes amazing films, art installations, plays and writes books. She just really figured out how to use every medium of art to be perpetuating the same distinct vision - most of her work is about trying to figure out who you are, which is very similar to my favorite topic - coming of age.
I am currently writing my first feature film, which is of course also about coming of age, which I hope to workshop this year
Jenna Laurenzo, you are screenwriter, director, producer. You made a debut with the short film Girl Night Stand. What inspired you to make this sweet story about one night stand which revealed to one of the protagonist that she could be at least bisexual?Girl Night Stand was inspired, because I wanted to make a prequel to Lez Bomb, along with something I could use to pitch a TV series. With Girl Night Stand, in particular, I was interested in exploring the character moving through her sexual identity and discovering something new along the way.
You also wrote, Lez bomb movie. Could you tell us what Lez bomb movie is about and what message do you try to send to the audience?Lez Bomb is a comedy about a still closeted young woman who brings her girlfriend home for Thanksgiving, only to have her coming out efforts thwarted by the unexpected arrival of her male roommate. The protagonist in the film comes to realize the acceptance she is fighting for is her own, and the theme I was most interested in exploring through Lez Bomb was self acceptance, not just with the main character, but with all the characters that make up the family and ensemble.
Your feature and short movies belong to comedy genre. There are quite some lesbian comedies but your really tend to be 'light' – what do you try to accomplish by using comedy as genre in lesbian storytelling and in lesbian audience in particular, since Aristotle defined comedy as portraying people who have some character flaws (and thus he defined them as 'ugly'). Namely, Aristotle defined comedy as an imitation of men worse than the average. However, „the characters portrayed in comedies were not worse than average in every way, only insofar as they are Ridiculous, which is a species of the Ugly.“ This definition is rather odd today and with time it lost its meaning and comedy became only as something to provoke laughter. Romantic comedy which is a very popular genre which depicts romance in humorous terms also focuses on the foibles of those who are falling in love. Do you think your stories coincide with these definitions and if not, why?Yes, I am a fan of Aristotle, though I think his breakdown of storytelling in relation to comedy is representative of the time he lived in. Personally, when it comes to quotes about comedy, I tend to think on Robin Williams quote "Comedy is acting out optimism." I once had a spiritual teacher tell me that laughter was the distance between what we expected to happen, and what happens. I think tragedy is when we hold too tightly to how we wanted life to go, instead of embracing reality. A little distance between our personal struggles allows us to look back through a comedic lens. In life, very often even the greatest of tragedies have comedic moments. I love comedy. I love to laugh. And I love when an audience comes together and shares laughter. In approaching this subject matter through a comedy lens, I hope to tap into the universality of the subject matter, particularly with the family dynamics. I believe comedy provides an amazing access point into subject matters that are often tackled with heaviness through drama. Comedy has the power to invite the audience into the journey, without being heavy handed, hopefully uniting an audience through laughter.
Do you think it is important that lesbian films convey certain values and attitudes, even when it comes to comedy?
You also play in your movies, what is the difference among playing, screenwriting and directing and what do you like or prefer most?Acting, screenwriting and directing all provide an amazing opportunity to dive into storytelling and explore themes, characters and ideas. I don't have a preference, I love them all.
Where/if any do you see similarities and differences in lesbian storytelling in American and European lesbian films?I think every movie is different, continent aside. We tell stories through the lens in which we see the world. Someone making a film in Europe or America is going to tell a story through the lens of growing up wherever they grew up. Maybe if I grew up in California vs. New Jersey my projects would have a different shade! But all films in general are touched by the individual who's telling the story, and hopefully their voice comes through in the most authentic way possible.
What are your plans for the future; you also produce besides directing and playing, which films have you produced yet and why?I am currently developing another feature film and television project. Yes, I have produced, and love that process of bringing people together and collaborating and look forward to continuing to do that!
Thank you so much for your time and for reaching out,
Here is my instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jennalaurenzo/
Here's the movie's facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/lezbombmovie/?ref=bookmarks
Zehavit Sabag, Israeli film director, (screen)writer and producer. You made a short film Yes and No which was accepted at The Barcelona International LGBT-film festival this July and in this year's anniversary programme of the 30th Paris International Lesbian and Feminist Film Festival in October. What inspired you to write, produce and direct this short film with a contradictory title?
What inspired me in this specific story is interesting because it’s the first experimental short I ever did or write and the original script was even more artistic than the final result. I think the main inspiration is my trying to bring fantasia and realty together, and the conflict that love has for good and bad in both worlds.
Two years ago you made short film "She and I" with the same actresses and it was also screened at The Barcelona International LGBT-film festival. It is a really nice idea of how to present what happens when we have been in love (how mind, body and heart differently react to love). What inspired you to make that short film?
I wrote that script when I was dealing with broken heart and was in the healing process. and that short was my closer with that love.
Do you think that sexual orientation of the actres(ess) matter(s) in lesbian-storylines the same as it matters that transgender actors/actresses play in transgender
I think that it matters and not as matter. There is a thing when an actor or actress comes out, suddenly they get only gay parts in movies and television and I don't like the fact that just because they come out as gay they should only play LGBTQ roles. I think that actors should play a diversity of characters with the right and authentic direction and connection to the character.
How is a lesbian scene in Israel, we all assume Israel is pretty liberal when it comes to LGBT-rights and Pride is held each year in Tel Aviv; how is the actual climate regarding LGBT-people in Israel and also making LGBT-films: are LGBT-people accepted or tolerated, are there many lesbian-gay bars, discos, LGBT-film festivals and events or there is a shortage of them? What regarding equality marriage, adoption of children and just in general LGBT-rights as humans rights?
Yes. we have an amazing pride parade in Tel Aviv and it’s getting bigger and bigger each year. I think that we have a lot of indie LGBTQ short and feature films here and every year we have the TLVFEST INTERNATIONAL LGBT FILM FESTIVAL that helds place in Tel aviv. Freedom, justice and tolerance should be the pillars of any society. We believe Israel must guarantee full social and political equality to all, regardless of religion, race, sex or sexual orientation.
As committed members of the Israeli LGBT community, we struggle for equality and respect by creating a serious, often controversial discourse through the medium of queer cinema. The Tel Aviv International LGBT film festival is the manifestation of this struggle.
The only LGBT film festival in the Middle East, TLVFest is a fixture of Tel Aviv pride week. MovieMaker Magazine chooses TLVFest to one of the 25 Coolest 2018 Film Festivals in the World. Selected twice (2014 & 2015) by INDIEWIRE as one of the 10 LGBT film festivals not to be missed, the festival offers a fascinating look into international and Israeli queer cinematic art. It is also an industry hub of activity. We take pride in the many collaborations and creative work that evolved from TLVFest meet-ups, seminars and workshops over the past decade.
What is it with Jewish lesbian-love stories in connection with Orthodox religion? In 2007 we watched an excellent lesbian-themed film The Secrets (Ha-Sodot) and last year Disobedience both dealing with lesbians and their love stories in oppressive orthodox Jewish community. What is your perspective on these two stories? How do you see religion in (dis)connection to lesbian love in nowadays Israel?
Both of them are very good films with a strong impact. I think it’s important to show the minority communities inside a community, especially when it comes to religion. It’s two thing that are connected to each other and people aren't talking about it enough, therefrom when a movie like this comes out it makes such a big impact. We need more such stories so people can relate to and understand better and to realize that love is love, and love has no boundaries or one god or rules. love is love, simple as that.
Do you think that lesbian love story and its main characters should portray certain important values, such as goodness, fairness, honesty, truthfulness and story to have either moral, political, philosophical message and/or background?
Yes but not only. lesbian, gay, straight, trans, non-binary etc... have all types of feelings and dark sides. It’s more than important to show characters and not only the important values, such as goodness and honesty ...
What is your next film project and most importantly what is your inspiration, where do you get your stories?
My next project is a story about a mother-daughter relationship, and the process that they are going through together as they both dealing with the daughter’s coming out. I’m also working on a Youtube channel named PUSSTHEMA which contains all women-all feminist-lesbian-bi-queer content, written and directed by and for women so I’m looking forward to it as well.
My inspiration is my everyday life, my life experience, I’m looking for stories in the little details in life.
I first noticed your article on AE about “9 Tips for Straight Actresses Who Want to Play Gay” and there is a similar article “Here’s How TV Can Win Gay and Lesbian Viewers’ Trust.” I have watched really a lot of lesbian films and TV shows and I couldn't agree more with all you wrote. What inspired you to write it?
I have a three-fold purpose with my articles: to influence, educate, and inform. Pieces like “Here’s How TV Can Win Gay and Lesbian Viewers’ Trust” are intended to influence the entertainment industry to have more LGBT representation. In essence, these articles seek to use compelling data and evidence to persuade Hollywood that there’s an easily reachable market for LGBT content, and then provide a roadmap for content makers showing them how to reach that market. Pieces like “9 Tips for Straight Actresses…” are intended to educate people within the entertainment industry about the LGBT community: what makes it unique, how to interact with it, etc. And then of course, the informational aspect of articles crosses multiple areas, whether it’s to alert readers to new shows that have good representation or some new trend that’s happening in the pop culture world. Over the last two and a half years, I’ve been purposely building a library of articles that is intended to act as an easy reference for people in the entertainment industry who want to educate themselves more about LGBT issues but wouldn’t even necessarily know what questions to ask or where to find their answers.
Specifically regarding the “9 Tips” piece, I’ve found there’s a tendency among heterosexual actresses to take an LGBT role without doing adequate—or in fact any—study of the LGBT community. I often hear actresses say things like, “Gay and straight people are no different; love is love.” I, personally, would argue that’s an oversimplification on their part that misunderstands and minimizes the uniqueness of the LGBT experience. One of the things about being LGBT that I don’t think is well understood by straight people is that it can be a primary identity for LGBT individuals. For heterosexuals, sexual orientation is like being right-handed: something so natural and common that they don’t think about it as a facet of their identity. But that’s not the case for most LGBT individuals. The LGBT community is a minority community that has a very specific set of experiences and worldviews that merit exploration and preparation the same way that an able-bodied actor would do background research on playing someone with a disability.
I really love how you frequently use statistics in your articles to point out the important facts, recently in the article 'Latin American Markets are the Future of Lesbian TV Characters'. This article is a nice example of how to fight with stereotypes and prejudices regarding female homosexuality in certain parts of the world. Can you tell us why you frequently use statistics to write articles on lesbian representation and what do you wish to achieve with it, do you think article contain stronger message when there are figures behind?
Several years ago, in a movie called “Moneyball,” there was a scene in which a group of old men sit at a table discussing baseball players that they’re considering recruiting for a professional baseball team. The men are using subjective and often flawed ideas on which to base their decisions, things like, “His girlfriend is ugly, so he must have low self-esteem. He won’t do well as a professional baseball player.” Then the young man in the room, who has studied statistics, presents a rigorous statistical analysis for each player, arguing that the recruiters need to base their decisions on data in order to get the best results. The team moves from using subjective feelings to objective information, and as a result the team starts to perform very, very well. This is a true story, by the way, of the Oakland Athletics baseball team in 2002. The point is: numbers can sometimes tell us a truth that is otherwise hidden.
Before 2016, many of us in the LGBT community recognized that lesbian and bisexual characters were consistently being killed off of TV shows, but it wasn’t until someone put together charts and figures proving that the actual number was around 25-30% of all characters ever on American TV, and that this rate was five times higher than the rate at which heterosexual characters were being killed, that Hollywood actually paid attention to the problem. Numbers have tremendous power because they move the conversation from the realm of qualitative (“feelings”) to quantitative (“evidence”). The Latin American markets piece was absolutely about using numbers to tell a story that was otherwise invisible, and in that case numbers were able to tell an immensely more persuasive story than would otherwise have been told using words alone. So I have a great affinity for statistics and metrics because I believe they add a lot of weight to arguments.
Lastly, the other reason that I use numbers so frequently in my articles is because numbers are the language of the entertainment industry. For example, the producers of a TV show might not be moved by the argument that adding a lesbian or bisexual character is a morally commendable and socially progressive thing to do, but if I can prove that having these types of characters will have a measurable impact on the show’s viewership numbers, which equates to profit for the company, that’s when Hollywood starts to listen. And I use “Hollywood” as a metonym for the entertainment industry in general. This same argument can be applied in the UK, Argentina, India, or wherever.
I myself 'strongly vote' for the happy ending lesbian storylines and wrote an article about the importance of happy lesbian love stories by using knowledge about (mostly philosophical) concepts of love through Western history... therefore I also love your articles on Happy Ending Project where it is shown your extensive knowledge on portrayal of lesbians in soap operas throughout the world. Do you think there are differences in lesbian story telling in American, European, Australian and Latin American films, TV-shows and soap operas regarding happy lesbian love stories and in general regarding contents, form and media representation, if yes how?
I would say that in my opinion there isn’t a difference in how stories are told around the world. In this sense, love and love stories are universal, and that’s why “Romeo and Juliet” is performed time and again the world over. Nor is there even much difference in the presentation, given that much of the world takes its inspiration from how Hollywood frames its storytelling. What has surprised me, on the other hand, is how many non-Anglo (US, UK, Canada) storylines have had happy endings, and I think that is a reflection of efforts by content makers in these countries, specifically in Latin America, to shape the reactions of their audiences to homosexuality to be more accepting and positive.
In which ways representation of lesbians in films and TV-series changed in the course of four decades and have we achieved goal of the equal representation of straight and lesbian characters yet? Can you give us five examples of positive change in films, TV and soap operas and explain why they can serve as good examples? What do you think still needs to be done?
Obviously, representation in the United States has changed dramatically in the last four decades, and the entertainment industry is doing much better by all measures both qualitative and quantitative. In the 1990s, one might have seen just three lesbian characters on all of American TV in a single year and one character in a movie. There was almost no representation at all. Then as more lesbian and bisexual characters—most of whom were on TV—were introduced, we started to see the “evil/crazy bisexual woman” trope. Hollywood moved away from that trope within a few years—I’d like to believe in large part due to websites like AfterEllen highlighting how toxic the trope was—and instituted in its place the “lesbians have sad endings” trope. Now we’re at a point where TV shows are adding so many more LGBT characters that it can be hard to keep track of them all, a situation that twenty years before would have been unfathomable.
On the other hand, American movies have a long way to go to catch up. Progress has largely remained stagnant in terms of the numbers of LGBT characters introduced each year despite pushes by groups like GLAAD and websites like AfterEllen and Autostraddle for increased representation. Of course, for both movies and TV we can’t talk about parity between straight and lesbian characters; it’s just not there. The amount of screen time, the amount of physical intimacy, these are tangible metrics that can easily be used to prove the inequality. But the first step for all of this is more characters in general. US TV may be doing better, but what about Canadian TV or German movies? We’re a global community, and progress can’t be limited to just a few Western countries. Progress must happen everywhere.
The five examples that I would highlight showing progress on LGBT representation would be:
Do you think it is important that lesbian actresses play lesbian roles the same as it is important that transgender roles are played by transgender actors/actresses?
I think that’s a very difficult question. LGBT actors are constantly being discriminated against, whether overtly or covertly, and that needs to change, first and foremost. To me personally, the problem is not casting someone who is cisgender to play someone who is transgender or casting a straight woman to play a lesbian, the problem is never casting the transgender or lesbian actors to play anything. To deny minorities the chance to represent even themselves on screen and have the majority take those and all other roles is the height of privilege. As a result, in the case of transgender actors, so long as Hollywood won’t cast them in cisgender parts, then I think absolutely they should have priority on transgender parts. For lesbians, I think it’s perhaps slightly less essential to give priority on lesbian parts because they’ve had some success at winning heterosexual roles. But ultimately, the real need here is for LGBT actors to have an equal chance to get any role, whether that role is cis-, trans-, straight, or gay.
What is it in lesbian community with so called 'lipstick or feminine lesbians'? I have noticed a lot of prejudices and stereotypes regarding them. Do you think that we 'need' to associate them predominantly with heterosexuality and male gaze?
I can only answer that question as it relates to representation on screen. Hollywood does an awful job of showing the great diversity of gender expression that we have in the LGBT community. In Hollywood, 98% of lesbian characters are high femme/lipstick lesbians and the remaining 2% fall somewhere further long the butch scale. That said, this is really just a reflection of Hollywood’s perpetual objectification of all women, regardless of sexual orientation. Hollywood seems to think that the only women worth putting on screen are the ones in mascara, lipstick, and dresses. I do think this limited view of what is “feminine” caters to male viewers—the male gaze—and it unfairly cheats female viewers of all orientations of a realistic depiction of who they are.
What is your next project: what do you hope to achieve with it and what inspires you the most?
My current pet project and future article is looking at the voices of influence in the LGBT pop culture community. Who are our thought leaders? Who drive analysis of trends in a way that has real impact? If I’d been trained as a data scientist, I would have done social network analysis and come up with more concretely backed data, but since I don’t have that training and knowledge, I’m asking pop culture commentators whom I know for their opinions and trying to use that anecdotally-based evidence to reach a conclusion. Mapping out this sort of understanding of our community is important to me to help me understand the intellectual parameters of our community. I often view what happens in pop culture as a barometer for the health of a community, so if I can find what voices have impact, I hope to be able to track what issues are affecting us most and where we see ourselves going. I like to stay busy and always have several projects on which I’m working, so I’m also finishing writing part two of a young adult fantasy fiction duology. Growing up, there weren’t many books that featured queer female protagonists, much less young adult protagonists in the fantasy genre, so it’s important to me to contribute to the community, so that young women today will be able to read stories that speak to their own experience and give them role models to follow.
Ultimately, I’m inspired—or a better word would be “driven”—by the desire to make change. I’ve always been a believer in the LGBT community and in the need to make the world better for my community, however possible. Everything I write is an effort to improve things in one way or another, pushing at the margins and trying to create incremental change that could one day have much greater effects. Although it’s very, very hard to see the impact of what I write, I keep faith that in some way, I’m making life better for the people around me.
Kate Maveau, a Belgian film director, producer, writer and dancer. You made a short lesbian film Shimi (2012). In one of your blogs you wrote about it as: „it tells a story which is close to my heart. The screenplay is based on a precious friendship that has been lost and changed my life completely“. Why and how?
It ended with his death. The film does not literally portray that friendship. No one but myself has ever pushed me to my limits. Whenever I meet someone I get inspired. People open up and I feel a certain naivity sprouting from friendships. You tend to trust someone and hope to gain their trust back. You do what you think is best especially when the other identity is amazing. You want to get to know them. Impress them. And that is what happened in SHIMI. Keely is amazed by her counterpart hence her naivity. Even when their morals do not match. It was merely symbolical. I once lost myself in my naivity during a friendship which had nothing to do with that person. Now I look at people in a more cold and rational fashion. I learned I don't have to pretend but remain true because every choice you make is your own. And that makes an introvert person like myself awkward.
Does personal experience(s) and/or sexual orientation of the director and writer should be an important part for writing a lesbian story? I read that Max Färberböck who directed Aimée & Jaguar wanted to write about a lesbian love story for a very long time. When he was 14 or 15 years old and was in Paris on a trip he saw two women standing in front of a mirror in a hotel, and he thought, “'What are those two women doing there?' They were looking at each other in the mirror, fully dressed, and I thought they might be lesbians — I was a little tense about it. This image came back to me one day when I was searching for a story — I said to myself, 'Who were those women?' and I started to fantasize about them.“
In our correspondence you said that you know many lesbian actresses that are prudish regarding shooting sexual scenes and if a lesbian story involved sexual scenes you would not hire them as actresses. You believe that sexual orientation of the actresses does not matter in a lesbian film as long as she does/they do her job properly?
This is taken out of context. I don't mind about someone's private live(s). This does not influence me when I look at their art.
For a long time I have wished to ask: do you have any explanation to why there have been so few choreographies involving lesbians? Lesbians in dance (and/or lesbian dancers) are even fewer depicted then in films, theatre or paintings.
No, not really.
Do you think that lesbian love story and its main characters should portray certain important values, such as goodness, fairness, honesty, truthfulness and story to have either moral, political, philosophical message and/or background?
No, it can but it does not have to.
Do you think film art should be progressive and try to change world for the better (i.e. portraying more diverse, inclusive, free, democratic relationships and world)?
No. Film art is a strong medium. It can be used for all purposes as long artists remain the right to offend.
What are your plans for the next film or another project: does it involve also lesbian character(s) and if yes, how?
I am working on a few scripts but they do not involve lesbian characters.
Natasza Parzymies, a Polish film director and (screen)writer. You wrote and directed short lesbian films Teddy and Control. What inspired you to write these two short stories and what message(s) did you like to convey to the audience?
Well to kick things of, I don’t see my shorts as the so-called lesbian films. To me, they are universal stories that all of us can identify with and they just happen to have queer characters. I think that’s the main message behind both projects. „Teddy” is a coming-of-age tale about growing up and letting go in which the main character has the same struggles as every other person but instead of falling in love with a boy at one point of her teenage years, she falls for her best female friend. Same goes for „Control”, the plot here is basically real life getting in the way of love. No matter your sexual preferences, you connect with the characters and feel the pain. A broken heart is something we can all relate to. „Teddy” and „Control” are both inspired by my experiences in life that I thought were worth telling.
You come from Warsaw, Poland. How things regarding making lesbian film(s) stand in Poland? Is country ready for this kind of stories yet and does the film academy and film center approve and give grants for films with lesbian contents?
As far as mainstream movies and series go in Poland we don’t have much lesbian representation yet. I feel that it keeps getting better as years go by though. Baby steps.
Does personal experience(s) and/or sexual orientation of the director and writer should be an important part for writing a lesbian story? If yes, why?
I think they are important but not crucial. Of course it’s easier if you’ve experienced what your characters are going through but as long as the story is truthful and conveys the right emotions I’ll be down to watch it.
Which lesbian films you watched made the biggest impact on you and why? What do you think it still needs to be done regarding lesbian representation in film and how do you plan to add/contribute to that?
Well obviously ‘Carol’ by Todd Haynes. It’s a masterpiece, fantastically directed and acted and oh my god, the visual side of the film! It just all works so well. ‘Carol’ inspires me a lot when I direct. Just how subtle and emotional it is, that’s the kind of directing I aspire to do.
I think what needs to be done the most is giving LGBT characters in movies and TV storylines that don’t revolve only around their sexuality. That’s not what should define them. There’s so much more to tell and so many interesting stories.
The way I am contributing to more representation in film is just when I feel it’s right for the story I create interesting queer characters and try to get my projects to as many people as possible. Especially the ones who still struggle to accept LGBT folks because they are the ones that need to see it being normalized.
What are your plans for the next film or another project: does it involve also lesbian character(s) and if yes, how?
I’m about to make a 20-minute short for film school about growing up and first love. It doesn’t include any lesbians. I had a version of the script where the main characters were gay but I just didn’t see it in this particular story. My next project however includes a lesbian storyline. It’s about a husband and a wife and how their marriage falls apart when they find out their daughter is dating a girl.
Eva Gračanin, you are long-term editor in chief of Slovenian LGBT-blog which covers a wide range of topics from news, life, people to health, culture and archive. Do you have any politics or philosophy as an editor in chief, what kind of authors and articles do you accept and if you refuse anyone, why?
Narobe blog is an LGBT blog covering different topics in Slovenia, the Balkans, Europe and the World through the prism of gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexuality. Writers are encouraged to approach topics in a norm critical manner and question social categories, concepts, phenomena through a lens or lenses of non-violence, solidarity and equity.
For example: If an oppressive apparatus such as armed forces in a particular country publically declare that they welcome LGBT persons among their ranks, we would try to analyse this statement and see how armed forces inclusive of LGBT persons contribute to non-violence, solidarity and equity. In short, we would examine the level of pinkwashing in such a public statement.
The politics or philosophy of Narobe blog can be deduced form its title. Narobe could be translated into English as Wrong. If I reuse a slogan of Narobe blog’s sister magazine Narobe, which is currently not being issued due to financial difficulties: Narobe is a blog in which everything is right. Also in a sense that anything goes from a standpoint of norm critical approach.
Does your Blog writer need to have a(ny) particular style of writing, does (s)he needs to pay attention to certain LGBT-sensitive words and terms?
When we write about a certain topic connected to a certain community, we try to use the language that a particular community is using to describe their identities and experiences. If such community does not yet exist in Slovenia, we turn to similar communities abroad, mostly in USA and UK. We then discuss how a particular word or phrase should be translated into Slovenian. Some of these translated words and phrases are accepted by the LGBT community and some replaced by more exact and respectful translations.
Writers are also encouraged the question the meaning of different words. Does a particular word really convey the meaning we are looking for or is it conveying a meaning preferred or even imposed by groups in position of power? For example: In Slovenian language diversity is still often referred to as otherness (drugačnost in Slovenian) although Slovenian language has a perfectly functional word for diversity – raznolikost.
Slovenian language is also very gendered and based on gender binary. Nouns, pronouns, adjectives, even verbs are gendered in most forms and tenses. Furthermore, the male grammatical gender is dominant as it is also used a generic grammatical gender. Therefore, we have decided to use a form, a way of writing that connects and divides both regulated grammatical genders and at the same time creates space for grammatical genders that do not exist yet. This form of writing is raising founded and most of the times unfounded concerns. However, currently this is the most comprehensive way of addressing cissexism and misogyny in Slovenian grammar.
Language is important. Words are important. They are our only tool to describe and create the world(s) inside of us and around us.
Do writers for your blog need to have any other particular knowledge, knowledge in journalism? What about intertwining knowledge of LGBT-topics with certain philosophical, sociological or historical knowledge/theories?
It is desirable that writers are familiar with at least the basics of journalism: how texts should be structured; how to assess the reliability of different sources; how to communicate with different sources etc. However, writers can also learn this by joining Narobe blog’s team. It is important that writers are familiar or get themselves familiar with the latest sociological, anthropological, psychological and/or philosophical knowledge and asses it. Not in a sense that they dismiss it, but that they find arguments that support the strong points and reveal its shortcomings.
At Blog you also covered reviews of lesbian films and recaps of lesbian characters in TV-shows. How were you satisfied with the reviews, as I was the one who covered these topics. Do you think that positive lesbian representation in films and TV-shows can (actually) improve life of lesbians?
I think visibility of any minority in popular culture is important, especially for people who are looking for their identity or identities or are in difficult situations because of their non-normative personal circumstance(s). However, I must stress that in order for a representation of a minority in popular culture to improve individual lives it has to be rooted in diversity of experience and reflect different positions of power in society.
Furthermore, I think it is crucial that the creators of such representations, writers, directors, actors etc., are themselves part of such minority or minorities. Why? For example, nowadays we find it unacceptable for cisgender male actors to portray female characters or for white actors to portray people of colour. It is especially crucial for the wellbeing and safety of transgender women to not be portrayed in popular culture by cisgender men.
This said, I think it is perfectly ok for an actress who is also a lesbian to portray a heterosexual character or for an actress_actor who is also transgender to portray a cisgender character. For me, this does not constitute double standards. Not, if I take into consideration positions of power in society and the meaning of authentic portrayal of minorities in popular culture for the wellbeing of individuals who are part of such minorities. To be more concrete: it has absolutely no effect on my wellbeing or safety if a heterosexual character is portrayed by an actress who is a lesbian or if a cisgender female character is portrayed by an actress who is a transgender women. It also does not affect the authenticity of such portrayal. Provided that the actress does her job properly. (Smiles.)
In my opinion, we cannot think popular culture as separate from our society or societies. Therefore, I was glad to publish your reviews of lesbian films and recaps of lesbian characters in TV-shows. I think you contributed substantially to the debate on how popular culture and real life experience are intertwined.
What about lesbian intellectuals (physicist, biologist and philosophers, sociologists) and artists, such as musicians, designers, painters, have you covered any topics regarding them, such as their theories, experiments, music, paintings?
Not enough. By far not enough. Not because I find these topics unimportant, but because Narobe blog has never been properly financially supported and has always relied heavily on volunteer work. Therefore most of the times we only have the resources to cover the most pressing issues.
And last but not least, do you have anything to add about things I haven't asked you but you wished I would and has to do with (the future) vision of Blog?
I see Narobe blog as a tool for LGBT persons and activists in Slovenia to quickly and easily access reliable, accurate and up-to-date information about different topics seen through the prism of gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexuality. I also see it as a safer space for LGBT journalists and writers to perfect their knowledge and skills. I hope that it will keep on evolving despite of the difficulties on the away.