the voice and vision of a new generation
Photo Credit: Carmilla Series on YouTube

How 'Carmilla' introduced me to the world of queer web series

May 17, 2018

In August of 2014, I had just moved into my college dorm, broken up with my first girlfriend, and embarked on the first part of my life where I was alone. My college dorm was tiny, I had minimal friends in the area, and no car. Only months prior to this had I begun to discover my sexuality, and truly untangle my identity as a lesbian woman. This move, though exciting, threw me into a new sense of loneliness and isolation.

Back home, television and movies were my solace, my go-to escape. However, on campus, there was minimal access to either of these things. The only way to watch a movie was to move all the way to the common area, destroy your sense of relaxation, and steal the remote from your peer. Not wanting to put myself through that trouble, I really only had my laptop at my disposal and whatever I could access on the internet. So, naturally, YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu became my best friends. However, the amount of LGBTQ-inclusive media that I could watch through these mediums was slight. In 2014, I think the best thing I could watch was Blue is the Warmest Color, which wasn’t always the vibe I was looking for.

Then came my introduction to the world of web series, all starting with the cheesy, supernatural series, Carmilla. This single-frame show followed the feisty freshman Laura Hollis, who is quickly thrown into the world of the supernatural and soon after that, into the heart of her punk-rock vampire roommate, Carmilla. The show started small at first, but it eventually grew into a series with four seasons, a Christmas special, a full-length movie, and a sizable fandom.

Although Carmilla was my first introduction to web series, long before that, there was a thriving community surrounding the content being uploading to video services like YouTube and Vimeo.  New series were beginning such as The Slope (2012) and The Newtown Girls (2012) which were some of the earlier widely successful web series that focused on the lives of queer women. Having whole shows that were dedicated to our stories was unusual for television of the time. Even today, GLAAD’s most recent Where We Are on TV report shows that queer women remain unrepresented (and representations of queer women of color are even further behind). These characters are also very rarely the lead of their respective series or the sole focus of the storytelling. It’s for this reason that web series still continue to reel in audiences who are looking for better representation of themselves.

For me, it was so refreshing to see a series like Carmilla that had characters who were unapologetically themselves and queer. Laura Hollis was gay without having to explain why or experience any shame. Carmilla and Danny, two love interests for Laura, were both powerful queer women with distinct personalities that defined them. This type of deep, personal connection combined with the opportunity for storytelling freedom has made web series such a popular platform for creators to get their vision out to a large audience. Television producers and networks have even begun to take notice of this growing medium. Brown Girls and 195 Lewis have shown that quality entertainment can be found on the web and even get picked up by major television production companies.

The number of web series focusing on queer women only continues to grow today. Numerous shows have sprung up that center on queer and trans women and their lives, including GLAAD Special Recognition award recipient Her Story, Couple-ish, Til Lease Do Us Part, and Retail Rejects. Queer women are still underrepresented on our TV screens, and even less are the leads of their own series, but the internet has provided a space for years filled with these interesting stories.

Logging into my YouTube account to watch Carmilla every week became routine for this exact reason. I needed to see women who were like me and who I wanted to be. Women who represented people that I know in real life. Women who were my friends, my classmates, my coworkers. Getting to see characters that were complex, real people was an experience that I needed at that time. To me, it didn’t even matter that it was on YouTube instead of my TV. What mattered the most was having access to these characters. The next time you are looking for quality storylines with interesting women and queer casts, try the YouTube search bar. You might be surprised what you find.

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Rebecca Down is an Entertainment Intern at GLAAD. She recently graduated from CSU Channel Islands with a Bachelors of Arts in English, and an emphasis in Creative Writing. Rebecca is passionate about the representation of LGBTQ people in television and movies.

the voice and vision of a new generation