LGBTQ rom-coms struggle to find homes as studios are hesitant to give them the green-light.
By Jack Kelly, Special to the Star
Over the last few years, romantic comedies have managed to find a small renaissance on streaming services, giving viewers a moment to escape their collective anxiety. They have also seen a surge of racially diverse rom-coms — “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” “The Lovebirds,” and “Always Be My Maybe” — bringing color and fresh perspectives to an otherwise very white genre. The studios’ inclusion efforts are appreciated, but there is still a gaping hole in their slate: where are the LGBTQ rom-coms?
Some suggest the platforms are being extra cautious for financial reasons. “Netflix’s business model is crazy,” said Ashley Renée Smith, a creative executive at Marsh Entertainment who developed the hit LGBTQ television series “Pose.” “They take a lot of big swings and misses because of it. Certain decisions probably scare them.”
Smith specifically mentioned the backlash Netflix received over ”Cuties,” a French film about the over-sexualization of young girls that caused their cancellations to suddenly increase. “When it comes to the things [Netflix is] willing to take risks on, I think they’re a little safer,” she said.
It is not just studios who are hesitant toward new LGBTQ rom-coms. Writer Janet Quinonez is currently developing a script based on her own experiences as a bisexual Latina and has received the most resistance from older white LGBTQ writers. “It’s been done,” they tell her, citing “Imagine Me & You,” a 2005 lesbian rom-com starring Piper Perabo and Lena Headey, two white actresses.
Quinonez, originally from Texas, says her disillusionment has forced her to rethink her strategy to maintain her voice. “When I came here, I felt like Los Angeles, and the industry was very forward-thinking and progressive, and I was pretty shocked.”
“For all the discussion of inclusivity and diversity that Hollywood does, they can fail in development if they don’t see that marginalized community can make a universal story,” wrote Jennie Roberson, media critic for Bi.Org. Roberson contributes to “The Unicorn Scale” where she critiques film and television for bisexual representation. She hopes that successful, positive TV LGBTQ romances like on “Schitt’s Creek” will spark more film LGBTQ romances.
But LGBTQ creators are finding new avenues for their romantic comedies. During the pandemic, Hollywood has increased its purchasing of book rights. Roberson, also an author, plans to write the adapted screenplay to her LGBTQ romance novel to increase her selling likelihood.
Some paths are more straightforward. Comedy writers Sarah Soderquist and Kallie Tenney wrote and produced their web series “Gal Pals” on YouTube. “If we did it right, took our time, and focused on the story, we could find an audience,” Tenney said. And they were right. Over three seasons, their lesbian rom-com has amassed over 10 million views, showing a desire for these stories.
“LGBTQ stories tend to center around coming out of tragedy,” Tenney said, “and we wanted something that was super lighthearted, super goofy, and something that we liked.”
LGBTQ viewers are looking for their “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “10 Things I Hate About You,” regardless of its quality. Soderquist is excitedly anticipating “Happiest Season,” the new lesbian holiday rom-com starring Kirsten Stewart and directed by Clea DuVall. The film is one of the few LGBTQ rom-com offerings in the last decade.
“I don’t care if it’s bad,” Soderquist said. “It’ll still be fun.”