What use is art if it doesn’t challenge the status quo, challenge you to think, or make you feel seen?

-Arnetta Randall

by Arnetta Randall

I think the more identity boxes you check, the more you yearn to see people like yourself in the media. For me, its young, Black, educated, queer characters on the screen. Even though we now have television shows like Queen Sugar, Love Is, Insecure and the groundbreaking Pose, there is still a long way to go before our screens and the stories told behind them better mirror the diverse society we live in.  

Most movies, television shows, and other forms of entertainment media continue to feature cis, white, heterosexual, slender, able-bodied characters overwhelmingly and disproportionately. If ever a character appears who exists outside of this established standard of normalcy, that character is often relegated to a supporting, minor, or token role.

While I was able to find some enjoyment in queer shows like The L Word or Will & Grace, they continue to affirm the status quo of centering whiteness as much as they challenged heteronormativity and homophobia.

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A single television show cannot represent everyone, every body, and every identity, but there can be more series which allow for a variety of stories to be told so that more people can see representations of themselves present in entertainment media.

The beauty of storytelling is in its endless possibilities. There are so many fascinating, interesting, and diverse characters to create. There is so much space and opportunity to create art, and what use is art if it doesn’t challenge the status quo, challenge you to think, or make you feel seen?

As an artist, it’s important for me to create the kind of art I want to see. With my latest project, Hook Ups, my goal was to create a queer web-series with people of color that felt honest, above all else. 

I think it’s important to continue to show queer love until it becomes normalized and commonplace in the mainstream. I was motivated to create Hook Ups because I wanted to see characters that were rarely featured on screen.

In episode one, I chose to explore the relationship between older lesbians. Sheila, a divorced 40-year old woman goes on her first date since the divorce. Most romantic comedies follow the young, twenty-something’s, and it was important for me to show that love can happen at any stage of our lives. 

Episode two explores bisexuality. I read and hear bisexual women speak about their experiences of not being taken seriously in relationships with women, as well as how others often dismiss their sexuality as a phase. I wanted to use this episode to explore bi-phobia and how it shows up in the lives of bisexual people.

Episode three features Brianna, a confident, fat, Black woman on a date with the outspoken Tyson. Many shows refuse to show fat characters at all, let alone someone fat characters dating and/or their bodies as objects of desire. While Brianna loves her dark skin and her voluptuous body, Tyson reveals that this is the first time that he has dated someone like her, referencing her body type and skin color. For this episode, I explore dating in a fat antagonistic, colorstruck world while existing outside the standard of beauty, i.e. slender with a light complexion. 

Episode four features, Jonah, a trans man going on date after transitioning. Trans visibility has increased over the past year in popular culture, but mostly to address the experience of transitioning and not necessarily delving into what life is like afterwards. I was i intentional about wanting to feature a trans character as the romantic lead and using the episode to explores what it’s like got Jonah to date and have to come out to potential romantic partners. 

For episode five, I wanted to focus on Black men dating, especially “effeminate” Black men to explore the femmephobia many of them endure. I feel like there is added pressure on Black men to be hyper-masculine,and that pressure becomes compounded when a gay Black man is automatically viewed as less masculine because of his sexuality. Additionally, I was intentional about including characters of varying body types because I feel that popular images of gay men typically feature stereotypically strong and physically fit men, usually topless. This feels like a suggestion that relationships between them are tied to superficiality. I wanted to challenge that.

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While Hook Ups deals with sensitive subject matter, it’s a comedy. The characters are relatable and fun. After the first screening, many viewers commented about how they hadn’t seen a single show represent so many different identities and they happy they were to see themselves in a show. That is a sentiment I hope is shared among many viewers.

Hook Ups is not only progressive but entertaining as well, showcasing people from various gender expressions and sexual orientations. The goal is to show that no matter how we identify, we all have the right to romantic love. 

Hook Ups is available to stream today.

Arnetta Randall is a graduate of the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign with a degree in creative writing. She is an avid blogger with a few articles published online. She is a self-published author of the book, Stereotypically Me. You can like her on Facebook to follow her latest news.