The past year or two has seen some pretty major examples of mainstream media producers publicly patting themselves on the back for being diversity champions.
Meanwhile, their actual idea of LGBT representation reads onscreen a lot more like throwing breadcrumbs at best, and quite possibly being bizarrely surprised that we’re not lapping them up as though they were an entire seven-tier rainbow sponge cake with sprinkles: I’m side-eyeing you, certain major sci-fi/fantasy/youth-oriented superhero films.
An ambiguous throwaway line here, a blink and you’ll miss it background moment there – anything where plausible deniability is written in or the creators tell us that it’s up to the audience to decide. It’s exhausting.
And then there’s Doctor Who’s new companion Bill, played by the splendid Pearl Mackie. And I was wary of the announcement that we were getting an actual, officially confirmed, bona fide LGBT companion, because goodness knows an audience can only live on crumbs for so long. And then we get a companion whose very introduction to us is an anecdote about having a crush on a girl. As in a romantical crush. As in gay. And it feels like maybe we’re finally moving away from crumbs to an actual cake. With a side of chips.
There’s a lot we learn about Bill in the 46 or so minutes we share with her in her first episode: she has a thirst for knowledge and an intense curiosity; she’s passionate enough about learning that she sought out a job at a place of higher education. Her home life is less than spectacular, but she also has excellent taste in jackets. And she likes girls.
It’s not the only thing about her, but it’s a part of her story and who she is, because these things are. It’s also not just an afterthought or a sly wink to the audience that hey, this one’s possibly not into the fellas: ‘The Pilot’ happens as a story in no small part because Bill meets a girl, and they like each other.
Representation, actual representation, is so important. It’s important to LGBT viewers to know that they have a place in the media that they enjoy, that their stories are worth being told, that they can be companions too – and it’s important as part of the larger culture that our media reflect the diversity of people who actually exist in the world, that we see the things that we share in common as well as the things that make us special. Bill is a smart, fun, engaging person – and she also likes girls.
It’s representation, actual representation, in the form of one of the main characters on one of the BBC’s flagship television shows. It’s not sidelined, it’s not ambiguous, it’s just normal. And it’s about time.
What did you think of Bill’s introduction in ‘The Pilot’? Let us know below…