QUEERING THE SCRIPT, directed by Gabrielle Ziikha, is a confident introspective subculture documentary about queer female fandom. While it may seem baffling for those on the outside looking in, for those of us familiar with the arguments the documentary presents this is well-worn territory and doesn’t present anything particularly new. Still it is an enjoyable and well put together film, giving a more formal, traditional presentation of information that is easily available online, but perhaps not in places the average viewer would think to look.
The documentary starts at Clexacon, a convention centred on media that features female/female relationships, such as Winona Earp and Carmilla, as well as more well-known shows such as Orange is the New Black and Orphan Black. The name of Clexacon refers to the fan name for the relationship between the character Lexa and Clarke Griffon from the CW’s The 100.
Shortly after these two characters consummate their relationship on screen, Lexa is shot and killed in front of Clarke. This development on the show upset and enraged fans who saw themselves in the characters, and started an online movement called #wedeservebetter. One of the results of this movement was the convention, which was established in order to ‘move the conversation forward in a positive way’, according to its founders.
For those unfamiliar with the debate the natural counter-argument is to ask whether the plot required the death of the character. However, the problem with this argument is that ignores historical and cultural context; at this point the documentary takes the lead of the seminal documentary THE CELLULOID CLOSET, starting with the Hays code and the fact that the only way a homosexual character could appear onscreen is if they were punished for their immoral ways, which has led to a convention in television where the natural conclusion for every homosexual character’s story is a bloody violent death.
The reason Clexa had these fans so upset was not just because Lexa died, but because she died in the context of several other lesbian and bisexual character dying on several different shows within weeks of each other. According to LGBT Fans Deserve Better, in the 2015-2016 US television season 42 lesbian and bisexual characters were killed onscreen, including Lexa. This accounted for 10% of all scripted deaths on television (and bear in mind that would include nameless extras killed off at the start of a crime show for example) even though named lesbian and bisexual characters only comprise 10% of all named characters on scripted television.
The documentary also touches on the more insidious side of the equation as well. Television producers know that, because there are so few queer characters, if they have a queer character on their show the queer community will be drawn to it, and will be loyal to it. However, the danger of having a queer character is the enduring perception that the general public may be turned off from watching. The solution, as they see it, is to entice the queer community to watch the show by using subtext between two characters to imply that queer representation will be present, and then once that queer fandom is established, to kill off one of those characters before or right after that subtext becomes text. In this way, they can have their cake and eat it, at only the expense of the emotions of their LGBTQ viewers. This is known as queer-baiting in fandom.
The documentary doesn’t hide the rage and anger felt by these queer women because of these choices, and there is a very moving sequence where they show the reactions of fans of the show to the death of Lexa: it is very difficult to watch a young person stare into the camera and declare that they are tired of seeing themselves die. It’s important that the documentary shows these very honest reactions, because it is very easy to see the entire argument as academic, to dismiss the topic because it’s about fictional people and it doesn’t matter if fictional people are killed. The people in this film are real and their reactions are real – they should always be kept in mind during these kinds of discussions.
The information the documentary provides from GLAAD is also important; the more LGBTQ characters on screen, the more likely the general public will be accepting of the LGBTQ community. The data is fascinating to look and also brings a real-world context into why it matters if queer women are killed off more than other kinds of people.
After these heavy discussions and the anger thrown at the television producers throughout the documentary is very surprising to see Javier Grillo-Marxuach, the writer of the episode that killed Lexa off, appear to be interviewed. While the documentary interviews other ‘outsiders’ – including a thoroughly charming Lucy Lawless happily chatting about her time on Xena – Grillo-Marxuach’s perspective shows how ignorance to fandom and fandom discussions can have truly terrible repercussions for both fans and the creators. “It wasn’t malice but it might as well have been because the result is no different,” is a very important insight for someone who is responsible for such a backlash. It’s very refreshing to hear a writer admit to the faults of his work, especially when fans are used to hearing hollow non-apologies focusing on the necessity of tragedy for story-telling instead.
QUEERING THE SCRIPT is very clearly made by fandom for fandom; for a non-female non-fan the topics discussed in this documentary such as queerbaiting and the relationship between television representation and the personal lives of the people being represented may be novel, but these topics have been discussed at least since the late 90s if not earlier. Despite this, as the documentary points out, representation is representation, and the showing of documentaries such as these on the film festival circuit is just as vital for the community as the television shows it discusses, if only so a queer woman can see themselves and feel validated. And with any luck it will lead to at least one writer choosing not to Bury Their Gays.