In recent years Netflix has become something of a haven for gay content. There are currently hundreds of titles to choose fromin the LGBT+ section, from critically acclaimed hits like Blue is the Warmest Colour to guilty pleasures and camp comedies like Priscilla Queen of the Desert, King Cobra, and Hurricane Bianca (both one and two).
Apart from giving a much-needed spotlight to independent gay cinema, Netflix has allowed its original content to include LGBT+ characters and themes. Unburdened by the restraints of traditional broadcast TV or the weight of box office expectations, the streaming service has created a unique space where content can just be.
“It commissions shows that other networks are wary of. It’s made eye-popping deals with notable talent.”
“Ever since Netflix began airing original series, it’s positioned itself a rule-breaker that didn’t have to pay attention to TV’s old and outmoded traditions.”
The first such eye-popping deal it made was with Jenji Kohan, just off her 8-year tenure on Showtime’s hit series Weeds. She created Orange is the New Black (OITNB), a bold and ambitious series that dove headfirst into the grim (though sometimes humorous) realities of life in a women’s prison. It didn’t hold back on depicting the LGBT+ side most prison shows ignore, with major characters having same-sex love stories. The series even gifted us with Lavern Cox, an indelible trans acting talent who has gone on to lead a movement.
“The queer relationships (on OITNB) go beyond acute discussions of sexuality and labels, creating an atmosphere of an understood sexual spectrum,” writes Elle Carter for Diva.
“Where often queer women’s narratives revolve around the struggles surrounding coming out, OITNB moves away from this singular trope and envelopes a myriad of circumstances and storylines. Somewhere between sitcom and gritty drama, it achieves a balance between a binge-worthy watchability and sincerity.
“We are getting queer women on our screens alongside real issues. The show's immense popularity is a testament to the fact that this representation has been desperately needed.”
Alongside Orange is the New Black is Netflix’s other big gay hit, Queer Eye. The Original Queer Eye launched in 2003 and ran until 2007. A huge ratings success, the show followed a team of five gay men as they gave a makeover to a clueless straight guy, teaching him about different viewpoints and attitudes in the process.
Netflix’s iteration is decidedly different. Relocating from New York to America’s deep south and no longer singularly focusing on remaking straight men but people from all walks of life. The new show has become a huge hit, not just commercially, but with critics too. This is something of a surprise for something many people initially dismissed as yet another cash-grab in our continuing obsession with reboots.
"I think it's what people really need right now," said Scott Bryan, BuzzFeed's TV editor.
"There's not much else on TV that's so positive. You do have Bake Off, in a competitive format, but this show is very much about guys helping each other.
"It's unusual to see a man opening up, crying on camera, and other guys helping him go through a difficult situation. It's very supportive and you don't see that often on TV.
"It's a makeover show, but it's unlike any other makeover show I've ever seen.
"With this, they spend equal, if not more, time working on the struggles of that person, it's as much about their emotional wellbeing as the physical space they live in. It makes viewers think very much about themselves, their own lives, what they need.
"For example, when I watched one episode, I went to go and buy stuff for my flat because for so long I felt I'd been neglecting buying stuff for myself. And the central theme of the episode had been about how you can look after yourself as well as others."
“What it is really about is masculinity and the problems it causes - and it seems to me there is no more important subject on our planet right now."
The show’s first season currently has a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
"Queer Eye is definitely the best TV show to premiere so far this year and one of the most important TV shows for a long, long time,” wrote Hadley Freeman for . “What it is really about is masculinity and the problems it causes - and it seems to me there is no more important subject on our planet right now."
Even more queer shows are coming up in Netflix’s future, with the recently announced Tales of the City featuring an array of onscreen and offscreen queer talent: including ( ), ( , ), ( ), and winner . With showrunner, executive producer, and writer and producing director, executive roducer both being part of the LGBT+ community. It will also star Ellen Page.
The series is set to bring us stories of ordinary LGBT+ people living in San Francisco.
Another new series is Elite, a buzzy Spanish teen drama in the vein of Gossip Girl and Riverdale, which features two gay leads – their onscreen kiss was a prominent part of the show’s marketing. Even Netflix’s horror fair have a substantial dose of LGBT+ themes. The Haunting of Hill Housencounts Theo – a psychic lesbian – amongst its principal characters.
Netflix currently operates in over 190 countries and distributes a lot of its content to places that are not traditionally LGBT+ friendly. Including LGBT+ characters and themes in its original content is immeasurable in normalising and teaching people about the LGBT+ community. Showing everybody who accesses Netflix – more than 94 million subscribers – that the LGBT+ community is just like them can only bring us closer to a more tolerant and accepting world.
By Tim Gibson