Australian film and television production has a very rich, long history of inclusive on-screen representation of LGBTIQ+, gender- and sexually-diverse themes, characters and narratives. Dating back to television shows such as Number 96 (1972 – 1977), The Box (1974 – 1977), and very well-known films such as The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) and Love and Other Catastrophes (1996), there are literally dozens and dozens of Australian films and TV series with queer characters and stories, ranging from older arthouse films to everyday soap operas such as Home and Away.
Yet this history is not well-recorded, and often people tend to forget about this vast array of examples and talk instead about invisibility of diverse characters in Australian media. When we do remember it, however, we know these on-screen representations are very meaningful to many of us while growing up, and we know that it can have an impact on young people’s health and mental health, on how minority subjects learn to engage as confident identities in broader society. We need to understand how this works so we can make sure Australian media and its creatives processes continue to embrace diversity representation.
Just as importantly, we need to know what role on-screen diversity has played in producing positive and progressive social change. Has Australian society become more accepting of difference when it has seen it represented on-screen? Do people gain more understanding when there is quality representation and diversity on television? And how can we try to encourage this important role of creative media in Australia?
What is this research about?
This project is investigating gender- and sexually-diverse (LGBTIQ+) characters, themes and narratives in Australian film and television 1990-present), and their impact on health, identity and culture.
We are providing the first comprehensive account of Australian media production’s contribution to gender/sexual minority representation, in the context of its importance for fostering (i) healthy identities, and (ii) acceptance of minorities to mainstream audiences in a digital media era. This knowledge will benefit the mental health, wellbeing and social harmony for both minority and mainstream Australians and help showcase a very important aspect of Australian media inclusivity and diversity in international scholarship.
How is the project funded?
The project is funded by the Australian Research Council under its Discovery Projects scheme. The researchers are grateful to the ARC for this funding, and excited to be working on the first LGBTQ+ Gender/Sexual Diversity project ever funded in the “Media and Communication” Field of Research area.
What are the project’s objectives?
- To map Australia’s rich history of gender- and sexual-diversity representation in film and television, and develop a framework for understanding the context of its production, textual themes and their creative origins, distribution and practices of spectatorship in the framework of screen policy, promotion and social change;
- To understand how sexual/gender minority and mainstream audiences interpret, understand and (digitally) reutilise texts, excerpts and samples in the context of identity formation, sexual pedagogies, community harmony, and education towards minority tolerance/acceptance;
- To provide a theoretical framework and an evidence base for making sense of the role of diversity representation in Australian screen media in terms of attitudinal, identity and social change;
- To develop mechanisms for ensuring continued and consistent practices for identifying, archiving and maintaining the record of gender- and sexually-diverse Australian on-screen representation in the context of changing identity terms, categories, frameworks, taxonomies and fluidities/diversities;
- To recommend key features of positive and inclusive screen representation of minorities in terms of best practices from media production to promotion for the benefit of Australian screen media futures.
What activities will the researchers be undertaking?
This is a three-year project and there is a lot to do before we can really understand the role of ‘queer representation’ on Australian screens, how the creative process works, how queer characters, topics, themes and narratives have an impact on the health and education of gender- and sexually-diverse Australians growing up, and what role it plays in fostering social change. Some of things we are doing include:
- Literature: An analysis of literature on gender, sexuality and screen media, particularly to review what has been written on queer screen representation generally, and to understand why there has only been limited focus on audiences and social change in much of this work.
- History: Conducting an analysis of the history of on-screen diversity in Australia by examining archives related to past queer film and tv, On-screen histories (screen and policy-focused analysis of archive materials, ephemera; interviews with creative producers, screen writers, etc.; international archival research for comparative perspective.
- Gathering Data: Building a crowdsourced database of meaningful examples and instances of gender/sexual diversity in Australian screen media so we understand what people are viewing and make sure we don’t miss anything.
- Understanding the representation: Doing some analyses of films and television examples so we can try to understand what works and what doesn’t work, and find ways to benchmark ‘good diversity’.
- Understanding what is meaningful and why: We will be conducting interviews with both creative producers and with audiences so we can make sense of the reasons why certain kinds of diversities have been represented and how people respond to them, how they play a role in a healthy life and how they foster positive social relations.
Who are the researchers?
Associate Professor Rob Cover is chief investigator on the Aus Queer Screen project. Deputy Head of the School of Social Sciences at The University of Western Australia, Rob is the author of several books, including Queer Youth Suicide, Culture and Identity: Unliveable Lives? (2012), Vulnerability and Exposure: Footballer Scandals, Masculine Identity and Ethics (2015), Digital Identities: Creating and Communicating the Online Self (2016), and most recently Emergent Identities: New Sexualities, Genders and Relationships in a Digital Era (2018). He is a chief investigator on the Australian Research Council 2015-18 project Queer Generations with colleagues Professor Peter Aggleton, Professor Mary Lou Rasmussen, Dr Daniel Marshall, Associate Professor Christy Newman and others.
Dr Duc Dau is research fellow on the Aus Queer Screen project. Duc is the author of Touching God: Hopkins and Love (2013) and editor of Queer Victorian Families: Curious Relations in Literature (2015). Duc was the recipient of an Australian Research Council Discovery Eary Career Research Award (ARC DECRA 2013-16) and is also a specialist in improving diversity systems and policy in higher education including as the lead author of a 70pp research report about LGBT student experiences in higher education–the first of its kind in Australia.