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How Queer is Your Casting Criteria?

DOUGLAS SCHOWENGERDT

17 JUNE 2021

Pride is one of the most commercially-backed events of the year, generating enough exclusive content to rival the Super Bowl. The month of June has become a major marketing season, with what feels like every brand coming out to issue some statement of support––or at least a rainbow filter logo. This fusing of LGBTQ+ visibility and advertising is one of the most analyzed topics within the queer commnity today. From what began as political protests against police harassment, seeing floats at Pride sponsored by banks, telephone providers, and insurance companies is surreal.

 

Branded support of LGBTQ+ communities could signal progress for who can successfully participate in our economy, but access is not evenly distributed between each letter. More than a quarter of trans people have lost a job due to bias, and almost half of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have reported discrimination in the workplace. Based on this incongruity between corporate support for and corporate treatment of queer people, we’re investigating ways of making work-place practices more queer friendly.

 

One of the fastest growing avenues for queer people in the work place has been in front of the camera. Whether on runways or in campaigns, on TV shows, YouTube, or their own Instagram pages, representation of LGBTQ+ people in branded content has skyrocketed. While not to be confused with political progress, increased demand for queer visibility has allowed influencers to embrace their personal identities within their professional lives. Inherent within this dynamic, however, is the question of respectability.

This is a conversation that continues to be recycled in many forms, such as whether there should be kink at pride (don’t worry, we’re not hashing that out here). For content creators, tensions between professional interests and queer expression are perhaps most visible within the arena of social media. Combining our personal lives and professional appearance like never before, social media has opened up opportunities for people of marginalized identities. In terms of casting talent, many brands now favor outright expressions of queerness. However, as queer creators are often shadow-banned on TikTok and Instagram, it’s a sticky situation to consider––one we touched upon last week.

Take, for example, the casting of Munroe Bergdorf for L’Oreal Paris in 2017. She was the first openly trans model to be hired by the brand, but was subsequently fired for speaking out against white supremacy in a post on Facebook. The brand rehired her in 2020, after Bergdorf called out L’Oreal’s statement on Black Lives Matter as at odds with their treatment of her. This situation shows how a creator’s voice––specifically a Black, trans creator’s voice––can be stifled through their partnership with a brand and result in a policing of their intellect and expression. Casting is not only about a creator’s image, but also their perspective.

Pride began as a movement that demanded freedom of expression and existence. Casting for Pride campaigns should similarly embody these values. Social media has brought stigmas around body positivity, gender expression, and sex inclusivity bubbling to the surface, stigmas that many queer creators are actively fighting against. What would it look like for a brand to support a creator’s perspective, rather than just capitalizing on their identity? This is essentially the framework for Savage X Fenty’s Pride campaign, which interviews models already in the Fenty family. Arca’s contribution to Calvin Klein’s 2021 Pride campaign also comes to mind, as she shares her first experience of cruising. While I have offered criticism around this campaign, this piece of content, which gives a narrative of queer experience not often told through a brand lens, deserves praise.

 

As we work towards a more queer-inclusive future, we can incoproate more queer-inclusive practices into our work, such as:

 

  • Educating ourselves on different queer identities before reaching out to influencers
  • Ensuring gifted products or content storylines aren’t reductive of or conflicting with a person’s identity
  • Asking about pronouns and providing our own in introductions
  • Hiring teams of people across a wide range of intersecting identities
  • Avoiding tokenism and creating space that celebrates talent as full, complex beings

 

For more on queer landscapes and comprehensive synthesis of brand initatives for Pride 2021, slide in our inbox!

 

Lots of love,

Douglas (they/them)