Emmys and Impact: Dishonestly Representing the LGBTQ Community

This year at the 66th annual Primetime Emmys, three of the shows which seemed to dominate the award ceremony had significant LGBTQ themes: The Normal Heart, Orange is the New Black, and Modern Family. The Normal Heart and OITNB both explore complex gay relationships and struggles, while Modern Family is a sitcom, bound to thirty-minute time constraints and the imperative to produce steady laughs. It’s expected that programs like OITNB and The Normal Heart would fare better than sitcoms at a ceremony honoring brilliance on the small screen, but Modern Family did remarkably well yet again, while the others earned only one statue between them.

The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the voting body that decides what show receives an Emmy, cannot control what the television audience watches. However, it can have a huge impact on great shows by bestowing them with television’s highest honor and bringing attention to their brilliance. Yet, the Academy decided to give the award for Best Comedy to Modern Family for the fifth year in a row. It seemed to ignore OITNB and The Normal Heart in almost every category, making critics and highbrow television viewers curious as to why the two remarkable programs were snubbed after receiving so much critical praise.

Although it’s unclear as to why these shows were snubbed, the strong LGBTQ themes and sexual relationships within the two programs may be the reason. When Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams earlier this year, he gave his boyfriend a congratulatory kiss. The media and social media reaction was telling. Athletes, like Don Jones of the Miami Dolphins and Marshall Henderson of the University of Mississippi, both tweeted their outrage and disgust. On Dallas’s version of The View called The Broadcast, two women walked off the set because they felt maligned by people who were not offended by the public display of affection. As Henderson put it, “innocent eyes” should not have to see gay men kiss on television. This sentiment may reflect the general disparity between Modern Family’s success and OITNB and The Normal Heart’s disappointment.

While Modern Family presents a stereotypical gay couple, a flamboyant stay-at-home dad and a levelheaded lawyer, OITNB and The Normal Heart delve deeper into gay culture and feature sex scenes. OITNB, a Netflix series about a female prison, is sprinkled with lesbian intercourse. It isn’t superfluous, though. Rather, it is integral to the storyline. The Normal Heart, an HBO film about a group of gay men in New York City during the AIDS crisis, focuses on the personal struggles of the men involved as well as Larry Kramer’s real efforts to provide medical assistance to HIV/AIDS victims. Central to the film is Larry Kramer’s character Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo) and his relationship to his boyfriend (Matthew Bomer) who eventually contracts the virus. Early in the film, there is a passionate sex scene between them. It cements their relationship and contributes to the overall somber mood when Bomer succumbs to the disease. Again, the sex is important to the overall storyline.

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Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Alfred Molina, Ryan Murphy, Larry Kramer, and the other producers of The Normal Heart following their 2014 Emmy win for Outstanding Television Movie [x]

Matt, you did the HBO TV movie The Normal Heart, which was nominated for many Emmys and won the Emmy for Outstanding TV movie. It’s a love story set during a time when AIDS was an epidemic. So when you took on the project, what kind of personal experiences did you bring to it?

I read the play when I was 14 years old (I had a very progressive drama teacher). And when I read it, I was immediately struck by the social injustice, the way that the gay community was being treated and it immediately lit a fire in my belly. I was flabbergasted that nobody I knew in suburban Texas really talked about it or was doing anything about it. Then I started working in theatre, when I was 17, in Houston, and that was when I had the first experience of losing a friend that I had. It was the ’90s. [X]

The Normal Heart cast photoshoot at the Emmy’s. [X]

The star-studded cast of the Emmy-winning HBO movie “The Normal Heart,” including Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer, are gracing the cover of Emmy Magazine’s Emmy Bash Photo Splash issue. [x]

Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Alfred Molina, Ryan Murphy, Larry Kramer, and the other producers of The Normal Heart following their 2014 Emmy win for Outstanding Television Movie [x]