The last couple of years have seen a well documented growth in black LGBT characters in TV drama. From Oz to The Wire, Glee to Greek, OINTB, HTGAWM, Empire, even Brooklyn Nine-Nine. A report from Glaad found that in 2014/5 there were 36 Black LGBT characters appearing on the five major broadcast networks, cable channels and streaming services in the US.
But what about British television? When did you last see a black gay man in a British TV drama or comedy? Here are a few ‘highlights’ from recent years. We tried to come up with a top ten, but could barely find ten characters!
Marigold (1985) In Sickness and Health BBC
2. Stephen Carmichael (2012) Bad Education BBC
3. Noah Alexander (2010) Footballers’ Wives ITV
4. Leo Charles (2006) The Line of Beauty (BBC)
5. Lance Sullivan (2015) Cucumber/Banana Channel 4
6. Dean Monroe (2015) Cucumber/Banana Channel 4
7. Antoine Malick (2011) Holby City BBC
8. Ben Trueman (2006) Hotel Babylon BBC
9. Bernie (1993) Desmond’s Channel 4
10. Max O’Reilly (2001) Metrosexuality Channel 4
What do these characters tell us about the way black gay men are understood in the UK’s mainstream media? In need of saving? Confused? Marginal?
Given this limited palette of options, it is unsurprising that black gay filmmakers have found ways of creating dramas for narrowcasting that better reflect their experiences. Here are two of the best examples. (Let me know what your favourites are).
In The Deep (2013)
In The Deep is a web drama series about four fun-loving best friends who live in the heart of London’s vibrant East End, each harbouring secrets of their own.
2. Say My Name (2008)
SAY MY NAME! began life in 2006 as a 5 minute play at the Royal Court Theatre where it was a winner of the “Angry Now” competition, a joint initiative between the Royal Court and the BBC. As a short film it has been screened at many film festivals around the world, notably the acclaimed “Outfest” film festival in Los Angeles.
However, it wasn’t until 2008 when renowned and leading club promoter and gay activist Thomas Mukte screened it at ‘Bootylicious’; the UK’s internationally famed premier urban gay club that its true resonance and impact came into being. It had in a sense come home.
Such was the overwhelming response and hunger from the crowds pouring out of the make shift cinema that it became apparent that SAY MY NAME! was a story whose time had arrived. SAY MY NAME! was then put online and for over a year developed a loyal and supportive fan base from all over the world.
Is this turn to online, self-financed work, an admission that our mainstream media simply don’t get us, or will talent developed from a grass-roots base breakthrough onto our TV screens? Surely a top ten shouldn’t be this difficult to find!