This year was a mixed bag for LGBTQ representation in entertainment media. While there has been a general uptick in the quantity of LGBTQ characters appearing in entertainment in the past year, these characters and stories have not all been particularly groundbreaking or original. There were some, however, whom audiences and critics connected with and noted for telling rare or never-before-seen stories.
Here are just a few of the newly introduced LGBTQ characters in 2016 that stood out from the crowd in film and documentary, television, video games, and comics. Check out our 2015 list here.
FILM AND DOCUMENTARY
Barry Jenkins’ hit film Moonlight, inspired by the short play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, has raked in over $12 million at the box office since its October 21st release and garnered awards nominations and critical praise. The film follows a young black man named Chiron living in a rough neighborhood of Miami in three acts from childhood to teen years to adulthood. Over this time, Chiron struggles with his own sexual identity, the concept of masculinity, and his feelings for his friend Kevin, all set against a challenging home life and bullying at school. Moonlight deftly balances telling a very intimate story about love, identity, family, and friendship with painting a picture of the larger experience of what it means to be a young, black, queer male. The film features a cast of very strong ensemble characters, anchored by the three actors who portray Chiron through his life (Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes). Studios that may be looking for a box office hit should look to Moonlight as an example of the kind of intersectional, inclusive stories audiences are hungry for.
The documentary Southwest of Salem opened in theaters this year before premiering on Investigation Discovery. The award-winning doc follows the “San Antonio Four,” a group of four Latina lesbian friends who were wrongfully convicted in 1994 of aggravated sexual assault and indecency against two young girls. In 2012 and 2013, after one of the accusers recanted and the forensic evidence used during the trial was debunked, the four women were released from prison but were still denied freedom. Last month, the four were officially cleared on all charges by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The documentary includes poignant scenes showing the impact of the amount of time the women have served and how that has affected them and their families. You can watch the full documentary Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four now on Investigation Discovery’s site.
Freeform’s new supernatural drama Shadowhunters premiered in January, and features bisexual warlock Magnus Bane (Harry Shum, Jr.) as one of the central characters. Magnus, as the centuries-old High Warlock of Brooklyn, begins working alongside his current love interest Alec Lightwood (a half-angel, half-human shadowhunter) to recover a relic that in the hands of the villain Valentine will send the shadow world into chaos and war. During the series’ first season, Magnus low-key affirmations of his sexuality and references to his past relationships have made it clear that he is bisexual without his sexuality being his sole defining characteristic or story. It is rare enough for a television series to include a well-written and nuanced bisexual male character, and it is even more rare for that character to be one of the leads. Hopefully, characters like Magnus (and Daryl (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) who came out early this year) will lead the way for increased and improved representation. Shadowhunters returns January 2, and the season will build the new relationship between Alec and Magnus.
This fall saw the premiere of Oxygen’s new docuseries Strut, executive produced by Whoopi Goldberg. Strut follows the lives and careers of transgender models Dominique Jackson, Ren Spriggs, Laith De La Cruz, Isis King, and Arisce Wanzer as they work to make names for themselves in the fashion industry. The models are all represented by Slay Model Management, the world’s first exclusively transgender modeling agency. The series gives an all-access look at the model’s lives; from booking jobs and navigating the highly competitive fashion world to conversations with family, coming to terms with themselves, and breaking down barriers. When only 16% of Americans say they personally know someone who identifies as trans, the majority of this country learn about trans people and their lives through what they see in the media. This is why Strut – and other shows which speak to the wide diversity of the trans experience and community – are so critically important.
Sundance TV premiered the new series Hap and Leonard this spring, adapted from the novel series of the same name by Joe R. Lansdale. The show is set in 1980’s East Texas, and follows best friends and Vietnam War veterans Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. They decide to try their luck at private investigating when Hap’s ex proposes a get-rich-quick scheme involving finding $1 million supposedly buried at the bottom of a river, and shenanigans ensue. The two men are near opposites - Hap is a straight, white, former hippie while Leonard is black, openly gay, and struggles with anger issues - but their friendship grounds a premise that could have easily gone too absurd. Hap and Leonard will return for a new season in 2017.
Although they only appeared in one episode, Kelly and Yorkie from Netflix’s Black Mirror made quite the impact on the year’s queer TV landscape, and their episode “San Junipero” has received near unanimous critical acclaim for its originality and story. The two women meet in a seaside town in 1987 and “form a powerful bond that seems to defy the laws of space and time.” The episode is one of the only episodes of Black Mirror to have a happier ending, and was a refreshing change from the overwhelmingly depressing year for queer female characters on television.
Over the summer, Electronic Arts (EA) announced an upgrade to the popular The Sims 4 game which allowed players a greater range of gender customization options for their created sims. Players are now able to create sims with more varied body shapes; all voice, hairstyle, and clothing options are available to every sim regardless of gender; and players can now modify their Sim’s gender later in the game. GLAAD consulted with EA on the enhanced options in the “Create A Sim” menu. “It was a pleasure working with developers who were committed to updating the game so that all players can create a Sims world that more accurately reflects the world in which we live today,” said Nick Adams, the director of GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program.
This year, Blizzard released the massively successful multiplayer first-person shooter game Overwatch, which was initially unveiled in 2014 as a closed beta. Players are grouped into teams and then choose to play as one of four classes of heroes, including “Offense” class character Tracer who has the power to teleport and travel through time. Tracer, a fan favorite character and the only to be featured on the cover of the game, was revealed to be a lesbian earlier this month in the tie-in comic Reflections which further develops the lore of the game’s world. The comic includes Tracer gifting her girlfriend Emily with a new scarf and the two sharing a kiss, and later attending a team party together. Blizzard said in a statement, “As in real life, having variety in our characters and their identities and backgrounds helps create a richer and deeper overall fictional universe.” Given that this reveal came so recently and in a tie-in product, it’s yet to be seen how Tracer and Emily’s relationship will be integrated into the source material. Still, the inclusion of a lesbian lead in such a huge franchise is notable. Overwatch won Game of the Year at the 2016 Game Awards, and in October passed 20 million registered players across PC, Playstation, and Xbox markets.
The Backstagers, an ongoing all-ages comic series from out bi writer James Tynion IV (Memetic) and trans artist Rian Sygh, premiered in August and features several gay, bi, and trans characters. The series kicks off with Jory transferring to a private, all-boys high school where he decides to join the stage crew, and is pleasantly surprised to find there is a door backstage leading to different worlds. “Kids, more than anyone, use fiction to figure themselves out, and when they can’t find themselves in the media they consume, they don’t feel like they have a place in the world. So we wanted to show them they do have a place. We wanted to write the book we desperately needed when we were young, queer, and didn’t feel like we belonged,” Tynion told The Advocate. Issue six will hit shelves January 18, previous issues are available online.
This summer, Black Mask Studios released the limited run comic series Kim + Kim. The book follows a trans girl and her best friend, both named Kim, as they set out to make a name of themselves in the world of interdimensional bounty hunting. The four issues see the Kims taking on complicated cases, trying to beat another bounty hunting team (whom they have a complicated past with) to the reward, and the Kims bonding over their pasts and exploring their identities. All four issues have been compiled into one volume, available to read now.
Though not new characters, several established LGBTQ characters starred in their own comic series this year after being introduced in earlier projects. DC Comics brought out the six-issue miniseries Midnighter and Apollo in October, from bi writer Steve Orlando, which gets further into the superheroes’ relationship as Midnighter works to recover Apollo’s soul from a hell dimension. In November, Marvel launched World of Wakanda from bi writer Roxane Gay. The series is a spin-off from the Black Panther title and focuses on Ayo and Aneka, two lovers who were formerly part of the all-female security force Dora Milaje.
Who were your favorite new LGBTQ characters of 2016? Let us know!