Netflix's 'Tales Of The City' Allows Much-Needed Queer Experiences To Shine On Screen
Tales of the City hit Netflix today, and you should definitely go watch it ASAP. The 10-episode series made me laugh and cry and gave a window into so many real, honest queer experiences. It isn’t only for queer viewers though. Everyone should watch, because there are a lot of important conversations that happen throughout the series (also it’s just really well written and acted).
On the show, 90-year-old Anna Madrigal owns 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco. The collection of apartments have become a safe haven for lesbians, trans men and women, gay men, queer people, and people who just didn’t feel like they belong anywhere else. The show depicts the stories of these people’s lives.
Many of these stories have yet to be told in a mainstream manner, making this series all the more important. It’s the perfect show for Pride Month because it doesn’t shame any of its characters for living their authentic lives, and even the more complicated stories get told from multiple sides so you can make up your own mind about what happened.
The series is an adaptation of a 1978 book of the same name, which was also turned into a miniseries in 1993. It contained groundbreaking content in every stage of its life, but the 2019 Netflix adaptation has a much-needed diverse cast of characters. This allows for an even richer exploration into different queer perspectives, including one of the most important scenes of the whole series. It takes place during the gay dinner party version of Get Out, as the character Ben, who is black, called it.
In that scene, Michael, who is an older white man, brings his younger boyfriend Ben to a dinner party. All of the other guests are also older white men. They make racist jokes over dinner, and they throw around offensive words for transgender people. When Ben calls them out, one of the dinner party guests launches into a tirade about how much his generation of gay men suffered. He said the HIV/AIDS crisis killed so many of his friends and that he struggled every day to make way for the kind of acceptance Ben can experience today. Because of all that suffering, he wanted to be able to use whatever language he wanted about transgender people.
Toxic masculinity in gay culture often goes unchecked or overlooked. Being marginalized in some degree doesn’t give you free rein to not check your privilege in other areas. Also, language changes. Everyone of all ages needs to adapt to that. If someone is telling you what to call them and what not to call them, listen to them. It doesn’t make you a snowflake to have empathy and an ability to open your ears and actually listen to a marginalized community.
The dinner scene struck me as something I haven’t seen on television before. It was an honest (and much-needed) conversation about how a marginalized group can still have privilege. The scene gave you both perspectives on the matter (two perspectives that many real gay men likely have). But it ultimately served to highlight that just because you’re gay, it doesn’t mean you get to say or do whatever you want. You may have fought and suffered, but those are not excuses to refuse to grow.
The show approaches every gay issue and character in the show with honesty and without judgement. For example, Jake has recently transitioned and he suddenly finds himself newly attracted to men even though he also loves his girlfriend. The actor who plays Jake, Garcia, was excited to see this authentic storyline told on screen.
"I just never thought in a million years that someone would want to put that on television,” Garcia told Digital Spy of Jake’s post-transition journey. “You think, 'Oh wow, people will watch this and have an insight and understanding of what some trans people go through with these kinds of identity exploration'. So to play him was also a privilege.”
Jake’s feelings are treated as just as valid as his girlfriend’s in that she’s struggling with being a lesbian in a relationship with newly shifting gender dynamics. You can understand her own plight as she struggles to accept a new life. She is always supportive of Jake’s journey, to the point of letting him explore with other men, but she’s also given the space to feel her true feelings, no matter what they are.
Everywhere the show turns, it’s highlighting some new perspective or shattering some old stereotype. The characters don’t always do what you want or behave how you think they should, but they are always real.
Garcia specifically appreciated the different stories of the people of color on the show. The actor echoed Ben’s argument at the dinner party in the Digital Spy interview, saying, “Just because you may come from the same queer community, that doesn't mean that you are marginalized and underrepresented in the same way. And so to have queer people of color on screen is so important.”
And as glad as the actor was to portray Jake’s unique story, Garcia doesn’t want the buck to stop here. “This is only one role, right? … there are so many of us and there are so many stories.”
The queer community is made up of so many different perspectives and backgrounds. This show obviously can’t tell them all, but it builds a small mosaic of experiences for viewers to better understand. It is more than a step forward for representation, because it really does wonders from just about every angle of the LGBTQ experience. But, just like how our language is always changing to become more inclusive and less offensive, there’s always room to grow and get better when it comes to representation on screen.
Every queer person deserves to see themselves in a fictional character, and every ally should see those experiences represented so they can be better educated about real queer experiences. And Netflix’s version of Tales of the City is a great place for a viewer to start.