It’s a Sin, a Channel 4 series exploring the 1980s AIDS crisis through the eyes of a patchwork group of young Londoners, has rightfully captured the attention and hearts of UK audiences in the fortnight since its release. The show follows housemates Ritchie, Roscoe, Ash, Colin and Jill, as they build friendships and navigate life at the fringes of society, all while their new-found community is menaced by the mysterious HIV virus.
It’s an emotional watch but the agonizing experience of seeing one of the darkest periods, played out on home turf is balanced by the colour and veracity with which the characters are portrayed. Perhaps apart from Jill, each of the Pink Palace’s residents is afforded multiple facets and nuance which is helped by the fact that the casts identities reflect those of the characters. In an interview with Anothermag the show’s creator, Russell T Davis, who also wrote the iconic Queer as Folk, said “My take is to cast gay as gay… you not only get authenticity; you get revenge for 100 years of straight-washing”. Between Roscoe’s Yoruba flamboyance, Colin’s sweet Valleys humility and Ritchie’s inherited bigotry, there’s something for everyone- driving home the point that LGBT+ outlooks are just as varied as any other.
In past retellings of queer history, gay, transgender and non-binary voices have been denied agency in the name of making content palatable for cis, straight audiences. LGBTQ characters that are written or played by those outside of the community, are often two-dimensional, relying on lazy tropes which can lead to audiences taking a reductive view of said characters and by proxy, the queer people they encounter in real life. In Netflix’s Disclosure documentary, which looks at the representation of trans people in TV and film, several actresses talk about how they experienced a repulsion of their own trans identities as a direct result of conditioning by a media that was (and still is to an extent) obsessed with casting cis men in trans female roles.
The emergence of more earnest representation in shows like Orange is the New Black, Pose and Grace and Frankie, show the tables may be turning but these stories are limited to American backdrops, which is why a programme like It’s a Sin is so important. As February is LGBTQ+ History Month, it’s a good time to broaden our range of sources of queer histories. Histories of oppression are amongst the most complicated and by viewing them through many lenses we can appreciate how the plights of individuals coalesce to form collective movements.
Below is a list of some of my favourite narratives to get you started.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo: A book that looks at how the lives of very different and equally complex women, overlap and intertwine in magnificent and sometimes painful ways.
Twenties: A semi-autobiographical comedy series by Queen and Slim writer, Lena White about a queer Black woman chasing (and struggling to reach) her dreams in LA.
Bojack Horseman: An irreverent adult cartoon about a pompous and despairing famous horse, whose accomplice, Todd happens to be the sweetest and most genuine portrayal of Asexuality that I’ve come across so far.
Betty: Based on Crystal Moselle’s 2018 film Skate Kitchen, Betty is a comedy about young women reclaiming the sexist terrain of Skateboarding in New York and the fuckeries they get up to in the meantime.
The Colour Purple by Alice Walker: This classic explored the traumas and loves of Black women in 1930s segregated Southern America, it’s been adapted as a musical and a film for anyone who isn’t a big reader.
I May Destroy You: Paapa Essiedu’s portrayal of Kwame in this artfully gritty drama was outstanding in countless ways. The Golden Globes might not agree with me but I think it’s just one of many reasons Michaela Coel deserves all the flowers.
Sex Education: One of the best things to bless are screens in a long time, Curtis’ queer Black Britishness and the honesty with which the show investigates budding sexuality puts this show in icon territory.
Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola: One of the most coveted romantic fiction novels of last year, Love in Colour is about Black women loving and being loved loudly, freely and with whomever they choose.
Special: An 8 part comedy about a gay man with cerebral palsy, who masks his disability with a lie in order to go after the life he truly desires.
The Politician: A satire about a group of overly-ambitious and sexually fluid High school students.
Easy: Individual love stories about a loosely connected group of Chicagoans and their mishmash of relationships.
Sense8: A sci-fi drama about a telepathically connected multinational ensemble that was created by Trans writer Lana Wachowski.
Schitts Creek: The unapologetic way in which this Canadian sit-com presents gay love adds extra sparkle to its already hilarious brilliance.
We Are Who We Are: A BBC coming-of-age drama, from the director of Call me by Your Name, following teens on an Italian military-base as they grapple with their sexual and gender identities.