According to Glaad, in 2022, almost 12% of regular characters on broadcast TV programs and series are members of the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, and more) community, a record high. However, Hollywood still has a long way to go to achieve equality in all aspects of film and TV production, specifically in roles behind the camera. There are a scarce number of studio executives, directors, cinematographers, and producers that are openly gay. Having actors and actresses that are proudly out is great, but it’s also important to know that there are still a minority of LGBTQ+ people that are in creative positions of power beyond the screen and stage.
For that reason, we at the Copyright Alliance are featuring seven LGBTQ+ changemakers, ranging from directors to producers, to highlight representations at the highest level of power in entertainment in celebration of 2022’s Pride Month.
Megan Ellison is arguably one of the most important independent film producers of the past fifteen years, and a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community. Ellison founded Annapurna Pictures, an independent production company that specializes in director driven feature films. Her first breakthrough as a producer came with 2010’s True Grit, a remake of a classic western film directed by the Cohen Brothers and starring Jeff Bridges. The mid budget feature would go on to make 250 million dollars at the global box office and receive ten Academy Award nominations.
Following this initial success, Ellison became the first openly lesbian woman to receive two Academy Award nominations for Best Picture in the same year, with 2013’s Her and American Hustle. Ellison also became known for collaborating with filmmakers among the best of their generation, including Barry Jenkins, Kathryn Bigelow, and Paul Thomas Anderson. The 36 year old has since proudly used her platform to grant women and LGBTQ+ writers and directors the opportunities to make their features, with their visions uncompromised.
Lily and Lana Wachowski are some of the first openly transgender directors in Hollywood and continue to be ambassadors for LGBTQ+ storytelling on a massive scale. The siblings are primarily known for their work on The Matrix films, an action science fiction series noted as a widely accepted example of trans allegory. Following their box office success with The Matrix, Lily and Lana went on to produce more widely successful action films, with the latter transitioning in 2016 and the former in 2010.
Since the mid 2010’s, the pair have shifted into TV work, with both siblings writing, directing, and producing Netflix’s Sense 8. The two season mini-series has been noted for its advances in LGBTQ+ focused storytelling, as well as representing queerness from a variety of perspectives. Lily also went on to direct and produce lesbian dramedy series Work in Progress, with Lana returning to film work on 2021’s The Matrix: Resurrections.
In 2022, Jerrod Carmichael released Rothaniel, a comedy special where he detailed the process of coming out as gay, while being a Black man in an American household. Notably, he did so for the first time publicly in front of the audience, an incredible display of vulnerability as he talked about the hardship of revealing his sexuality to his mother.
Carmichael is a former network television actor, producer, director, documentary filmmaker, and critically acclaimed stand-up comedian. He also accomplished the majority of this while still being closeted and feeling unable to be fully open with his own sexuality. Now, the 35-year-old is slated to star in and produce two upcoming film/TV projects and continues to make strides toward a more inclusive attitude for LGBTQ+ black men in comedy.
Jeremy O. Harris
Jeremy O. Harris is an openly gay playwright known for bringing his personal identity into his works through inventive methods. His sophomore production Slave Play holds the record for most nominations for a nonmusical show at Tony’s with ten and has been lauded as a scathing critique of racial and sexual politics in the United States.
Following his success on the stage, Harris’s work has gravitated toward the screen; he served as a consultant for season one of HBO’s Euphoria and became a formal producer on its second. The 32-year-old received an Independent Spirit award nomination for his work on Janzica Bravo’s Zola, the first film and script to be adapted directly from social media. He has since signed a deal with HBO that will allow him to produce a pilot for the network, in addition to working on other programming.
Isabel Sandoval is a trans Filipina filmmaker, with a bright future in front of her. Initially immigrating to New York in pursuit of her M.B.A, Sandoval instead decided to pursue a much less stable, but more creatively fulfilling career in the film industry. After making a variety of acclaimed short films, the 40-year-old director broke out at the Venice Film Festival in 2019 with the release of the trans led drama Lingua Franca.
A complex romantic drama discussing the issues of trans identity and immigration in Tandem, Lingua Franca made Sandoval the first trans woman of color to ever have work displayed at Venice. The film went on to be acquired by Netflix and ARRAY, Ava DuVernay’s distributor, and provided huge opportunities for the promising director. Sandoval is currently directing an episode of FX’s Under the Banner of Heaven, starring Andrew Garfield, and has announced her intentions to focus on directing and producing feature films centering on trans people of color.
In 1991, Todd Haynes’ directorial debut Poison made waves at film festivals across the globe for its openly gay themes and innovative storytelling. This lauded piece LGBTQ+ filmmaking was largely made possible due to the hard work of Christine Vachon, one of American cinema’s few openly lesbian producers. Vachon is the co-founder of Killer Films, an independent production company that has produced and financed several LGBTQ+ productions since 1996.
Vachon is a credited producer on over 70 feature films, boasting Oscar nominations for the likes of First Reformed, Boys Don’t Cry, I’m Not There, and Carol. The Brown University graduate also published Shooting to Kill, her memoir and a crash course on the ins and outs of independent producing, which is used as a valuable teaching tool across American film schools. Vachon has given voices to dozens of LGBTQ+ filmmakers over her career and continues to do so today.
Roberto Aguire-Sacasa is the creator of the CW’s hit series Riverdale, and credited as one of the most successful TV showrunners of the late 2010’s. He also has the proud distinction of being one of cable television’s first openly gay lead producers, following in the footsteps of his former coworker Ryan Murphy. In addition to his credits on Riverdale, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and Glee, Sacasa is also known for his work as a comic book artist and playwright. The Nicaraguan American creative had a critically acclaimed run as a story artist for Marvel’s Fantastic Four comics, as well as drawing for multiple of “The Spectacular Spider Man.”
This work on the page would eventually lead him to bringing stories to the screen, as he used his work on a series of Archie comics to help pitch an adaptation of the character for television via The CW. Sacasa continues to be a vocal advocate for LGBTQ+ inclusion and representation in television, as well as advocating for increased opportunities in the space for Hispanic writers and producers.
While each of these figures represent huge leaps in representation for LGBTQ+ creators in powerful corners of entertainment, it’s important to recognize we still have a long way to go. June is a month where we celebrate and recognize the achievements of LGBTQ+ people everywhere, but they continue to struggle in the professional world because of their identities every day. These folks navigated industries full of homophobia and transphobia to get where they are today, and one must hope that their work and the advocacy of creators around the world will craft a more inclusive, and welcoming environment for all—both in front of the camera and behind the scenes.