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.