Filmmaker, former programmer at Outfest and NewFes and co-curator/host of the Queer/Art/Film series at the IFC Adam Baran has offered a really smart response to the cancelation of Looking—and to the elation coming from some gay people about that development:
Rantin' time: For years LGBT people did not see themselves on the screen in films. You had to look for side characters who may not have represented who you were, you put up with because that was all you got. The sissy. The villain. The butch gym teacher. The majority of gay people wouldn't allow themselves to even enjoy or see those characters as positive steps, and so they turned to coded portrayals of straight relationships, and tried to read between the lines. Was Brief Encounter actually the story of a gay relationship? Nowadays, things are different. Sort of. We have gay movies, but since straight people won't go to see them, they have to be made for far less money, and so they often have lower production values. Gay people don't want to see movies that don't look like big-budget Hollywood fare, or read subtitles, and so they don't go see these movies either - the wonderful and the garbage alike. The Way He Looks. The Duke of Burgundy. Pride. 52 Tuesdays. Dallas Buyers Club. But everyone has TV and TV is our American birthright and so we think we get to decide what should and shouldn't be on it. The decisions of filmmakers, writers, and other artists should be determined by a popular vote, by the audience. We're the fans. We want to see the show done this way. You wanna make it some other way? Fuck you I wrote a blog post about why you suck! I'm not free from sin on this one either, as anyone who follows my Facebook knows. And calling out TV shows can be fun. But Looking was a peculiarly hot button show from minute one. The reaction was loud and vociferous - I don't see myself in the show. Those guys don't behave realistically. It's boring. The lead character is sex negative. It's not an accurate representation of San Francisco. It's not diverse enough. It's not an accurate representation of what I think gay people are or should be or how I want other people to see us. Maybe these concerns were legit. Maybe not. Maybe they were the result of people's internalized homophobia, and the fear that straight people would look at us in a bad light if they saw how we behaved - which was my reaction to Queer As Folk when it aired. But guess what? There's literally no pleasing all gay people as a monolithic bloc. Working at Outfest and NewFest for three years taught me that. Some people will look at a wonderful gay movie that has sex in it and hate that there's sex. Some people will lament that there's a sissy character. Some people will say there's not enough sex. Some people will watch the worst piece of shit and say it's wonderful because there are shirtless guys or topless gals in it. Most people don't want to see anything that's challenging. Some object to the casting. How dare Jill Solloway cast a brilliant cis male actor to play a character who's beginning her transition! And so when Looking was cancelled today, and I started seeing reactions on my feed like, "Good!" "At last" I felt sick, and I felt like I finally understood what my subtly homophobic screenwriting teacher at NYU meant when she told me that if I wrote about gay people it would be "limiting" - a note I have spent years proudly ignoring. It's not that I didn't have my own feelings about Looking's strengths and weaknesses. I would have loved to have written for it, but I wasn't hired. Still, I watched. And I think it really is the ghost of the generations of homophobia that forced our own stories to be squashed, hidden, and coded or put unwholesome characters in our films that caused us to react the way we reacted to Looking. Better no representation than imperfect representation! Instead of protesting a blatantly homophobic film like GET HARD, we are cheering the demise of a piece of film by a great gay filmmaker which starred all openly gay actors giving moving and powerful performances. Nowadays we criticize every single bit of representation or lack thereof and shun the films and media by not watching. I'm not saying those conversations were wrong, and shouldn't have happened, but the failure of Looking to make it past two seasons is a bad thing for gay filmmakers, and a bad thing for people trying to put gay characters on the small screen. Doubtful HBO or any other network will put time or effort into making another show about predominantly gay characters - starring REAL gay actors for ten or twenty years. Producers will think twice about funding gay TV, and even film. And so we have one less explicitly, openly gay show on TV today, and it makes me feel like the future is bleak for gay filmmakers in general, and I wish we could all just take a breath next time, consider the context for the work being made, and cut each other some motherf@cking slack. Every film's not gonna be perfect. LGBT filmmakers have it rough. It's hard to get money, and it's hard to get good actors willing to play gay, and then you can't find anyone to watch it if and when you finish it. So lets just cut each other some slack. Even if you didn't like Looking, don't cheer it's demise, please.
Sometimes, a bad show is a bad show. But taking joy from this show's exit makes zero sense.