The trailer for HBO’s “Looking,” about gay men in San Francisco, debuted this week, and I want to be excited about the show. The series is executive produced by Andrew Haigh, the director of 2011’s “Weekend,” one of the best and most honest gay dramas in recent years. So why does “Looking” make me so nervous?
There’s an easy answer: The show is “looking awfully white,” as blogger Justin Huang puts it.
In an essay for the Huffington Post, Huang takes the show to task for what appears to be a whitewashing of the LGBT community.
“It definitely isn’t the San Francisco that I know and love,” he writes. “Clearly they’ve never walked around the Castro and looked at the beautiful gay men of the Bay Area. […] I don’t think there’s another place where I have felt more accepted and celebrated for being a gay man of color.”
It is, perhaps, too early to judge “Looking,” which doesn’t air until Jan. 19. And it should be noted that the broader cast does include Frankie J. Alvarez, who is Latino, and O.T. Fagbenle, who is black. But if the trailer, which is centered around white characters, is enough of an indication, HBO should brace itself for another backlash.
Lena Dunham’s “Girls,” also on the cable network, became a cultural lightning rod in 2012 after bloggers from Jezebel, Racialicious and the Hairpin criticized the show for leaving out women who weren’t white.
You’d hope HBO would be savvy enough not to repeat the same mistake, especially given that a recent study from UCLA “found that [millennial] viewers were drawn to shows with ethnically diverse lead cast members.” If a premium cable network wants millennials to tune in and pay up, the network must acknowledge the diversity of its potential audience, as Fox has smartly done. People of color are less likely to tune into something they don’t feel represents them.
It’s been almost a decade since “Queer as Folk” went off the air, yet the LGBT community continues to be overwhelmingly represented by the same characters: white, upper-middle-class, able-bodied gay men. The diversity of the queer community -- our multiplicity of identities, backgrounds and mind-sets -- is its greatest strength, yet too many of us remain invisible. Worse, statistics from GLAAD, the national LGBT media research group, show that representation of LGBT people of color on television has plummeted a steep 21% this year.
If “Looking” wants to win in the ratings while also escaping the criticisms that plagued “Girls,” it will have to do more than sprinkle in a few men of color to placate the gay community. Beyond that, as the only drama on TV centered around the lives of gay men, “Looking” has the opportunity to became the face of a community. This is a chance to show queer people of color that their stories deserve to be told, just like everyone else’s. “Looking” would be wise to do right by those it’s depicting.
We don’t need a “Girls” for gays or another “Queer as Folk.” If “Looking” wants to engage a diverse, dedicated and paying audience, it will consider this advice before the backlash kills the show’s chance for success.