Op-Ed: Character or Caricature?

by Charlotte Brandman

As an avid cartoon watcher, when I heard through an LGBTQ+ Tik Tok creator that a new queer cartoon titled “Q-Force” was set to come out on Netflix in Fall 2021, I was initially excited; it was a new form of queer media for me to relate to. However, after watching the trailer, the first thing I noticed was a lack of queer femaleand gender queer representation in the show as the only characters featured were gay men. Even with this intial hesitation, it was soon clear that the lack of different diverse LGBTQ+ representation in this show was not the main issue but rather, how the gay male characters were represented on the show.

Based on the trailer alone, Q Force writers had seemingly fallen into the same trap The Prom writers did: it was not queer representation, it was a caricature. By that I mean that representation of queer people in the media and making a mockery of queer culture are two seperate things, oftened disguised by corporations to be the same. 

The debate of what representation for marginalized groups in the media truly is has been a debate since producers realized that only producing media with white, straight, cisgender people was not covering a queer demographic of viewers. The Arab Film Institute defines representation as “How the media, such as television, film and books, portray certain types of communities.” Using this definition, representation in the media is purely how different people are represented online. There are more complex representation theories, such as Stuart Hall’s representation theory that essentially argues that true, honest representation of any group of people cannot be fully represented in the media; however, instead, we fix or try to represent these groups through stereotypes to try and cover a larger demographic of people. 

In Q Force, characters say things like “That’s my play-daddy” and “You twink!” From the trailer, the characters are constantly referencing the fact that they are gay and seem to only be relevant within the show because of their sexualitites. The issue with queer representation in the media is that often, we are reduced to our sexuality, thus characters within the media are having their personalities reduced to purely being queer. This idea that queer people make their queerness their entire personality is not only a stereotype but also a microagression.

A common misconception about this type of failed representation is that queer people, because of our stigmatized existence in the media, should be content with any form of representation we recieve. But that’s what the point of representation is: to introduce people to our existence through showing queer people living normal lives. No one is going to come around to supporting the LGBTQ+ community if our only representation is us focusing solely on our queerness. Instead, we need characters that have personalities and backstories that don’t focus on their sexuality.

However, while many media companies have faced challenges in portraying queer characters, shows and films with positive and honest representation for the queer community is not impossible. In fact, a piece of queer media that I would consider representation would be Sex Education, also a show on Netflix. Within it, the coming-of-age and coming out experience of a queer, Black teenager in the UK is detailed. It’s raw, it’s emotional, and most importantly, the character is not only existing to portray a stereotype of a gay man to boost representation. Eric, the queer character in the show, maintains an identity that is comprised of his Blackness, his fireyness, his loyalty to his friends, and also his queerness. It’s merely a part of him, not all of him, and that is where filmmakers and TV producers that create media like The Prom and Q Force go wrong: they make the queer characters only an accumlation of their sexual orientation.

Representation has been misconstrued as something to be grasped at, something to force into shows so that they can reach a larger demographic and qualify as progressive. Speaking from my own experience as a lesbian, I would rather have a queer show that has complex characters and is well developed than a queer character randomly thrown into a daytime soap opera that makes fun of queer culture rather than weaving into popular media. Queer representation in the media is not hard to achieve when created and curated by queer people. Queer characters will always be more accurate to our community when created by LGBTQ+ writers. We need queer representation in the writer’s room so we don’t see caricatures of queer people on our screens.

Charlotte Brandman (she/her) is a queer, Chinese-American high school student. When she is not writing, she loves to hike, crochet, and cuddle with her dogs, Max and Ollie. She hopes to continue her efforts in LGBTQ+ rights activism in the future through both writing and policy advocacy.

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