When was the last time you saw an LGBTQ+ character on the big screen?
GLAAD’s Studio Responsibility Index, which looks at the number of LGBTQ+ characters in the movies released by the eight biggest film studios every year, paints a picture of where we’re at with queer representation. Take 2020, where 18.6% of films released by the major studios contained LGBTQ+ characters – in other words, 96 out of the 118 films that came out in 2020 didn’t have any queer characters in them at all. With LGBTQ+ representation lacking in mainstream film, it’s little surprise that many queer filmmakers feel the need to carve out their own dedicated space to tell diverse queer stories.
This is exactly what Polari Creative is doing. Established in 2020, Polari is a brand new film company that champions queer storytelling. “I set up Polari, first and foremost, because I’m infatuated with queer people and our stories,” says founder and creative producer Luke Davies. “The experiences that stem from queer lives are so extensive in scope, and yet media that claims to centre our stories – whether we are the intended audience or not – typically revolves around identity crises, tragedy, stereotype, and/or heteronormativity. There is so much more joy, beauty, independence, expression, and complexity, and that is what I plan to spotlight via Polari.”
After finishing the BFI x Film Hub North Creative Producers School in 2019, Luke knew that he wanted to set up his own film company – an exciting and daunting prospect in equal measure. “The beauty, and sometimes terror of it all is that, unless you’re in a partnership with someone else, you get to decide what your company stands for and what stories you want to champion,” Luke says. “I’d say to anyone going down the same route, go ahead and focus on that, and you’ll figure out the rest when it comes.”
Polari’s ethos promises to, “Honour the boundlessness of queer lives”, and Luke is open to telling all kinds of stories through the company’s projects, “So long as each project is doing justice to an individual or collective queer experience.” The minimum criteria for every Polari project is modelled on GLAAD’s Vito Russo Test; to pass this test, a film must do the following three things:
- Contain a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
- That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- The LGBTQ character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect. Meaning they are not there to simply provide colourful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punchline.
This criteria was borne out of a desire to see more – and improved – representation of LGBTQ+ characters on screen. Is the current state of queer representation in film something that Polari is expressly seeking to challenge? “Are there great films and shows with queer representation coming out right now? Yes,” answers Luke. “Are we still assessing the worth of queer stories through the lens of heteronormativity? Also yes. Depicting queer lives in ways that reach beyond our ability to be loved, or how closely we match the conventional – exclusionary – portrayals of “sex appeal”, focusing instead on stories where we remain undiluted and three-dimensional, will only serve to further enrich all of our lives. It would also help dismantle the idea that a person’s story or being must be contained within a framework to have value.”
Why is it so important for queer creatives to have their own spaces to tell their stories? For Luke, working within his own community means not having to restrain his ideas – and he believes that building these spaces where like-minded people can collaborate will help the queer community move past the challenges we face, “As well as uplift those who are perpetually shoved aside within said community.”.
“I think queer people have always found inspiration and empowerment within spaces that feel specific and secure, so it seems only natural that we would continue to do this on a more professional level as filmmakers or creatives,” Luke says. “While there are so many nuances to moving through the world as a queer person, talking to someone who’s familiar with some of those nuances provides comfort, and when we’re comforted we can begin to clarify those foggy parts of ourselves that will further enrich our work.”
Polari is currently in early production on its feature documentary, “Other,” which explores the themes of identity, belonging, and family. There are also two short films and a comedy series in the works. Luke hopes that, pandemic conditions permitting, filming can take place in the summer. From there, Polari has big plans in the pipeline. “Looking into the future, I want to collaborate with artists both here and outside of the UK,” Luke says, “Especially on stories by those living in places where laws that are discriminatory and dangerous to queer individuals are on the rise. We’ve seen that film and other types of art can aid in the fight for change, so contributing to that fight in any way would be an honour. Oh, and more queer joy,” he adds. “Lots more.”
While Luke acknowledges that it’s a “dog-eat-dog world,” for creatives, particularly when it comes to paid work and funding, his advice is to be open to change. “Whatever you think a great career or a great life will look like, things will change and you’ll find yourself opening doors to things you never even entertained before,” he says. “In the meantime, you might simply have to find a way to pay the bills. Then, hopefully, you’ll be able to survive – and thrive – solely on income from your creative work, but it can certainly take time. That is the beautiful, and sometimes uncomfortable, unpredictability of working in the creative industries.” In other words, if you’re pursuing creative work, patience is key – and so is remembering that you have a whole lifetime to tell your stories. “Storytelling has been and will be around forever,” Luke reminds us. “So if you’ve put a time limit on achieving your dreams before you throw in the towel, feel free to take this as permission to let that shit go.”
Luke leaves us with the most important thing to remember for any budding queer creatives out there. “Your queerness is your superpower. You possess a unique kind of strength and intuition that remains omnipresent whenever you write, direct actors, design a set, or assist on a production – it’s something that nobody can take away from you. The industry, like life, has its cold patches and even colder people, but so long as you’re connected with the community and speak truth to power, there is so much fun to be had.”
To find out more about Polari and their upcoming projects, visit the website: https://polari.xyz.
You can follow Polari on Twitter and Instagram at @PolariCreative.
You can also find Luke on Twitter and Instagram at @lewkdavies – if you have any questions about routes into the industry, or managing finances in the early days of setting up a film company, he’s always happy for you to reach out.