RAINDANCE – ‘Queering The Script’ Offers a Shallow Recent History of Lesbians in American Television

Canadian writer-director Gabrielle Zilkha’s documentary explores the modern history of LGBTQ+ women in American television and the symbiotic relationship shows have with their fans.

Zilkha’s feature-length documentary gives a shallow yet loving look at how the internet gave birth to an often-overlooked community of LGBTQ+ female fans all seeking representation on the small screen. The film makes a convincing case for why representation is so important and how significant writing a diverse range of fictional characters can be to audiences.

Queering the Script briefly retraces the steps that led to the fandom we know today. It starts with Xena, skims briefly over Ellen and The X-Files, Buffy and the L Word before going in-depth about the current batch of LGBT-friendly CW shows like The 100 and Riverdale. There feels like massive gaps in their history lessons, whilst there are brief mentions of LA Law and Ally McBeal there is far too much focus on post 90s American television.  Whenever the narrative lands on something interesting it soon flits somewhere else.

The film flips through different terms like ‘Shipping’ and ‘Slash Fiction’. If you know what they mean these segments won’t offer anything new, alternatively if you don’t know what they mean, this won’t offer too much insight.

Queering the Script does a good job at tackling the various lesbian and bisexual tv tropes, including  ‘Bury Your Gays’, Queerbaiting and ‘The Evil Bisexual’. Whilst they nicely list these annoying tropes, it’s all skimmed over too quickly with no resolution on how it could be fixed. Tackling these tropes could be a documentary all of its own. Queering the Script would have been much more effective if it had solely centred around the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope as it spends a significant amount of time analysing it. The documentary feels like a direct response to The Bloody Spring of 2016, where a disproportionate amount of queer characters died on scripted American television.

This feels like a documentary of two parts, and it would have worked better if split into two separate features. Half a history of LGBTQ+ history in scripted television, half a love letter from fandom to writers. It opens to an extensive segment about ClexaCon, a fan convention that celebrates LGBTQ+ women and later goes on a long tangent about the Xenite Retreat, an annual Xena-themed weekend camp. There are some heart-warming stories of women being inspired to come out, of fans finding like-minded fans and relationships being formed. It’s nice to see the real impact writing can have on audiences but it feels tangential to the rest of the narrative.  The clips where they show YouTube uploaded fan reaction videos to popular TV shows only encourage the bad reputation female fans of CW-type shows have.

There is a nice mix of talking heads from writers, fans and commentators, most of whom grew up actively participating in fandom. Especially noticeable is an extended talking head from L Word writer Ilene Chaiken, who speaks first-hand about the impact fans had on a show, and a sincere apology from The 100 writer Jason Rothenberg, whose show angered many queer fans. Actresses like Stephanie Beatriz, Lucy Lawless and Angelica Ross are especially underused.

Queering the Script ultimately bites off a little more than it can chew. The flow is disorientating, jumping between shows, themes and eras. Just when one theme gets interesting it’s interrupted with a completely different one. The editing is a little overenthusiastic, making the end result look like a college Prezi presentation.Queering the Script would have been a more focused feature-length documentary if it had taken one part of the fandom and concentrated on unravelling it. Instead, this is a whistle-stop tour of thirty years of LGBT TV and fandom that feels too shallow for those who are unaware of its importance and too basic for those who are part of it. 


Queering the Script screened at Raindance on the 22nd and 23rd September


by Amelia Harvey

Amelia Harvey is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy

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