Streaming Services Are Doing Important Work

It’s that time of year again. On Tuesday, the GLAAD TV diversity report was released, forcing us all to take a long hard look at the representation of LGBTQIA characters on broadcast, cable, and streaming television networks. The report (also known as the Where We Are on TV report) comes out every year at this time, and it’s always a welcome wake up call to the networks and the general public about representation on television. And for the first time ever, GLAAD included in their findings a thorough analysis of streaming services — Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix. Considering that so many people find some of their favorite shows on streaming services, it’s as good a time as any to include these analytics in their overall report.

So, what did the report find? A lot of things, for sure. But one of the standouts is the fact that streaming services have nearly 3.5 times the number of transgender characters represented on their shows compared with cable programming. While cable programming can only boast two percent of repeating characters as transgender, streaming services took a staggering lead with seven percent of characters identifying as transgender. Even more impressive? Two of these transgender characters were series leads. And, while there's room for improvement, these numbers make it clear that streaming services are doing something right when it comes to representation and portrayals of diverse populations.

(As a side note, don’t even get me started on the broadcast television numbers. A whopping 0 percent of the characters featured on primetime broadcast programming are transgender. Can we seriously step it up, broadcast networks? Please?)

It probably comes as no surprise that streaming services like Amazon and Netflix have taken the lead on transgender representation on television over the past year. With huge critical hits like Transparent and Orange Is the New Black, both of which feature prominent transgender characters, it’s no wonder that these services are stepping out in front and leading by example, showing broadcast and cable networks how it should be done.

Transparent, a comedy-drama on Amazon, revolves around a Los Angeles family whose lives are changed when the main character, Maura, reveals that she is transgender. Throughout the first season, I found myself enraptured by the show’s characters as they struggled with their pre-existing family dynamics, and the news that the person they knew as their father is, in fact, a woman. The series shows a thoughtful and caring depiction of all its main characters — especially Maura — and how this revelation affects their lives.

Orange Is the New Black, a comedy-drama on Netflix, is doing equally nuanced work when it comes to representation. Sophia is given a thorough and thoughful backstory similar to the rest of the recurring characters on the show that works hard to avoid tokenizing her as a transgender women. The writers of OITNB were careful to avoid stereotypes and to add to the understanding of the transgender experience through the character of Sophia.

When it comes to the representation of transgender characters on television, it’s clear that streaming services like Amazon and Netflix are taking the lead in significant and important ways. I am glad that their work is being recognized, and I'll cross my fingers that cable and broadcast networking step up to the plate as far as transgender characters are concerned.

Image: Amazon; Netflix