The 100 writer: Gay death was “a massive wake up call”

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As any fan watching The 100 knows too well, the recent death of Lexa has triggered an outburst from fans.

After the character, played by Aussie Alycia Debnam-Carey, had sex with Clarke (fellow Aussie Eliza Taylor) and was summarily killed off in the very same episode, fans went into meltdown.

“#LGBTfansdeservebetter”was tweeted more than 280,000 times in just a few hours. Their fury was not just fans mourning the death of a character, but that the writers had succumbed to a common entertainment trope: once a character comes out, it is a sign they will be written out.

Writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who penned the episode, is in Melbourne working with local writers on the Story Lab initiative.

He told TV Tonight, the backlash of the last few weeks had been a real eye-opener, and has copped the criticism on the chin. More than that, he gets that writers have a responsibility.

“I am in a situation where an episode I wrote created a great controversy and been a little bit of a lightning rod because it is a part of a greater trend that exists in our greater culture. It’s part of a tradition of lack of representation of LGBT characters and representing LGBT characters in a way that is negative and pejorative,” he explained.

“That doesn’t mean we presented that –we presented a gay character who a lot of people believed in, and wanted to live and survive. We were one of many shows this year that killed a gay character. There’s a movement within that community –and it’s something I understand and respect have come to a much greater understanding of in the last 5 weeks- that there are narrative tropes that need to be retired.

“Just because you’re writing on a show and believe in the subject matter and the story you’re telling, doesn’t mean you’re writing in a vacuum.”

“The last few weeks have been a massive wake-up call for me”

Even a storyline with narrative integrity could still represent something disempowering to viewers.

“I believe very strongly that as storytellers we have a moral duty to not do that on purpose, or by accident,” he continued.

“One of the things I keep saying is ‘I’m a well-meaning Hollywood leftie.’ I have many friends who are gay, lesbian and trans. You think you understand certain things intellectually and that that’s enough. But sometimes you realise ‘Maybe I didn’t know these things as well as I did? Maybe I’m still susceptible to things that are wrong in my craft?’

“As much as I perceive myself to have a good perspective on the world, I can still fall into traps that are sending the wrong message.”

This year alone has seen several lesbians die in drama. The Walking Dead‘s Denise (Merritt Wever) and Jane the Virgin‘s Rose (Bridget Regan) were both part of recurring storylines that ended with them getting shot. In Australia Janet King‘s partner Ash was killed off at the top of its second season. The Bury Your Gays trope observes that too frequently, gay characters aren’t allowed to have happy endings. The 100 fans let writers know that loud and clear.

“The last few weeks have been a massive wake-up call for me, in terms of that,” Grillo-Marxuach acknowledges.

“It’s a situation that needs to be rectified and the way you rectify storytellers falling onto narrative tropes that were never good and certainly no longer viable, is through representation and making sure there are more writers representing diverse communities.

“I’m a member of a minority. I’m a Latino and somebody who sees his people represented terribly in television for most of my life.”

“I don’t want to throw my Showrunner under the bus”

The 100 creator Jason Rothenberg also recently conceded that “knowing everything I know now, Lexa’s death would have played out differently.”

Whilst Grillo-Marxuach wrote the episode as a part of a larger writing team, he was quick not to direct blame.

“I don’t want to throw my Showrunner under the bus, necessarily,” he insisted.

“We were not rigourous enough in our consideration of the consequences of what we were putting on screen. We believed we were doing it differently enough, specially enough or poignantly enough that it would mitigate what were doing, and obviously it didn’t.

“We are seeing a backlash on it and I’ve had a really eye-opening experience with communing with fans of our show in a way that in spite of all the social media tools at my disposal, I’ve never had before.

“I would have preferred it not happen this way but I’m certainly grateful that so many fans have trusted me to share some of the things they have shared.

“The fact that they have been willing to meet me -the person who wrote the episode- to say ‘Here’s why we are angry’ I think speaks a lot to the technology that we have right now, and makes it possible for someone like me, who is in a position to manufacture mass popular culture, to really understand things that are very personal to the people experiencing them.”

But does a trope that rails against queer deaths mean those can never happen? Not necessarily.

“I think that as with all things it’s a question of execution –and that’s not a pun. How do you do it? Why do you do it? Are you doing it in a way that reinforces a stereotype?” Grillo-Marxuach suggested.

“Every person who tells a story has the right to tell their truth and tell their story. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also be looking at society as a whole and absolve ourselves from the duty of doing it in a way that is sensitive to some of these very triggering tropes.”

“Xena brings with it a huge responsibility”

The lessons are all something to take on board as he writes the pilot script for the rebooted Xena, The Warrior Princess. Whilst he was tight-lipped on the finer details (it is yet to be green-lit), he is very aware of its own LGBT following.

“As with any legacy property, Xena brings with it a huge responsibility. Xena means a lot to a lot of people, and obviously the events of the last few weeks have only brought that home further for me. But I always approach Xena knowing there are reasons why Xena is so important, and I want to respect those reasons.”

Meanwhile Grillo-Marxuach is attending Werner Film Production’s Story Lab initiative, working with writers Giula Sandler (Glitch) & David Hannam (Carlotta) on their project Hereafter.

“It’s a family drama with a high concept twist!” he teased.

“You can probably get an idea of what some of the themes are from the title.”

Shows such as The Returned, The Leftovers and Six Feet Under are all reference points in the writers room for Hereafter.

“I’m working with amazingly talented writers who have this wonderful idea for a TV show, and I’ve been brought in to bring whatever insight I can with the experience I have in serialised shows like The 100, Lost and high-concept shows.”

Javier Grillo-Marxuach also spoke at length with TV Tonight about writing Lost, to be published soon.

17 Comments:

  1. Fictional shows which are basically intended as entertainment should not have so much trendy social messaging imposed upon them, if there’s a developing audience for Gay themed shows then producers should start exploring these options, the business of entertainment should be kept strictly that. The 100 show has a dystopian theme and as seems to be the way recently key characters leave the show as seen in Arrow and Sleepy Hollow, viewers should just watch and enjoy.

  2. That’s nice. I wish he’d listen to all of the hardcore, nutball Xenites who are upset by NBC Universal’s ageism and complete refusal to even contemplate including Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor in the rebooted Xena: Warrior Princess TV series in some capacity, whether it’s as older, alternate-reality / parallel dimension hopping / time travelling versions of Xena and Gabrielle or as new, but important, characters (e.g. the goddesses Athena and Artemis).
    No-one has any issue with Harrison Ford, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Liam Neeson, etc continuing to play action heroes. Even Bruce Campbell is once again playing Ash. Yet, NBC Universal won’t consider allowing Lawless and O’Connor to reprise their iconic roles, even if it’s just to pass the torch to new, rebooted and younger versions of their characters.

  3. I’m impressed with The 100 by including LGBT characters without it being referred to, there is never a ‘Ta-Dah!’ coming out scene which I took to mean that in their world it was not an issue because everybody was accepted. This is the sort of society I believe we should be working towards, no one should be defined by their sexuality. I hope this doesn’t deter showrunners from writing in minority characters considering the walloping that’s happened for some situations I don’t think are warranted, e.g. when Denise was killed in TWD, that wasn’t BYG, it was just bloody bad writing! Things have gotten a lot better with LGBT representation although I know it has been predominantly with gay men. I liked how Max was portrayed in Happy Endings and The Fosters is great in depicting a diverse family, I think these are good examples of having interesting characters who happen to be LGBT and…

  4. I’ve found it hard to agree that this fits in the BYG trope because Lexa was marked for death since the moment she appeared on screen by virtue of being the Commander, a career not known for longevity, it had nothing to do with her being a lesbian and nobody is going to have a happy ending on this show. The only problematic thing for me was she died right after they had sex for the first time and right before Clark was leaving not knowing if they would see each other again, it was an eye rolling cliche whether gay or straight.

    • I agree with you, it was obvious her character was going to die, regardless of her sexual orientation as she was commander of the Grounders. The latest episode had a bunch of small children under 13 years of age getting beheaded that were in running for the Commander’s position as well. I can understand the frustration of LGBT viewers though that don’t always see strong LGBT protagonists in leadership positions in TV series, but Lexa was only ever a recurring character, that’s a warning sign in itself

    • Secret Squïrrel

      I agree. Just because some members of LGBTQ community have expressed outrage and the writer has decided to issue a mea culpa instead of backing up their writing choices, doesn’t automatically mean that this fits the BYG trope.

      It’s a trope but one that has also happened to heterosexual characters on many occasions – resolution of sexual tension between two antagonists providing a tender moment when all around has gone to shit, poignant usually accidental death of the one who is badder/weaker, sad-sad, strong leader stoicly continues on for the good of everybody else (and the story).

      • Secret Squïrrel

        Furthermore, when you also consider the actor’s restricted availability, I’m not sure what else the writers could have done but kill her off. She wasn’t going to be going away on some journey.

        They probably wanted to have the characters “consummate” their relationship beforehand and thought that they were doing a nice thing (for the audience as well as the character). It’s probably more the timing that irked people as there wasn’t enough time to properly process and enjoy this progression in their relationship before Bam! – she’s dead.

        • Yes, she had to die, it was the only thing that made sense for her character. She would never have gone off in hiding because she wasn’t a coward and if they want a war between the grounders and The Arkers they need a Commander. I am sad though that Lexa has gone because she was one of the best characters – male or female, gay or straight – on TV at the moment. And, superficially, she is so incredibly beatiful! I loved seeing how they would do her hair, makeup and clothes.

  5. The death made sense within the context of the show – there’s nothing else they could have done with the character once ADC became a regular on Fear The Walking Dead – she was too essential to the storyline and Clarke to simply be put into exile or leave. And the show runner has stated that AMC made it quite difficult for the 100 to borrow her, even with the episodes they did manage to shoot wih her this season.

        • And if they hadn’t grovelled? The 100 would be move to Summer and cancelled, the Xena reboot would be dead and they would be banned from Hollywood, Silicon Valley and NY. Just like the BBC cancelled Banished their top rating BBC2 drama and NBC abandoned Constantine before it even aired.

          Let’s not pretend this is really about fans of a little watched SF show on CW. This is another victory for critical theory’s long march through the institutions.

          It’s a modern day mob with flaming torches who will get their monsters in the end. Even Stephen Fry is in their sights now, even after all his work for Gay rights and mental illness he has had to shut down his twitter account after sustained attack in the media this week because he tried to stand up for authors and their right to deal with controversial topics.

          • Unclear how we made the leap from The 100 to Stephen Fry, but in any case the conversation I had did not sound like grovelling. If you chose not to take his comments at face value that’s your concern. Any modern day mob is using the same social media skills as you are here. Since time immemorial audiences have responded to stories. That’s the basis of the writer / audience relationship. I actually didn’t report The 100 backlash, but I certainly felt the writer deserved a right of reply given he was in town.

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