Positive LGBTQ Representation; Is the Right Message Being Sent?

Changemaker Catalyst Award recipient, Hailey Mozzachio, created an independent student film emphasizing positive queer representation. Hailey graduated this spring, Class of 2020, majoring in Digital Media production and Theatre (Performance) with a minor in Psychology.

I am completing my Senior Capstone as a film representing a positive and healthy Queer relationship. It is a non-narrative piece without dialogue starring Ellie (Xel Frame) and Rhyn (Jess Martel) who are filmed living normal lives and being happily in love. I began thinking about this project when I was a research fellow for The Center of Academic Equity. I wrote and researched a 20-page paper about LGBTQ representation in media. The results showed that a majority of Queer representation in media involved Queer people being murdered or tortured. When I say Queer in this paper, I am using it as an umbrella term for the LGBTQ community. After that research, I began to wonder what good Queer representation looked like and I decided that I wanted to create a film about an interracial Queer couple and have them portrayed as healthy and happy.

Over the past year, I contributed Roleplay, a play about the Tulane Sexual Violence Climate Survey. The directors were an outside local theater company called Goat in the Road. Jenny Mercein, who is the head of acting at Tulane, and 12 Tulane students were the cast. Together we co-wrote, designed, and acted in the play. There will also be a documentary based on our work coming out next year. The rehearsal process up to and including the final product took a year and a half of rehearsing and planning. The first draft of the script, which was supposed to represent all of Tulane’s population, had no Queer or POC views and was actively homophobic. I had to actively push the directors, all of whom are straight and white, to include representation in and outside rehearsal. Dr. Booke, the head of The Center of Academic Equity, mediated a meeting between the directors and I, and in this meeting Dr. Booke and I were able to share many resources with the directors. The end result included training for all directors provided by The Family Resource Center of NOLA and STARR, and we had trauma-informed therapists at every show. The directors then allowed the cast of students to write our own stories and allowed the main characters to be Queer and or PoC.

My experience with Roleplay inspired me to create a film that was run, directed, designed, and written by Queer and/or PoC people. A lesson I learned from Roleplay is how important it is to protect and compensate actors, designers, and anyone else working on my film. In this way, I hope to spare my actors and designers the emotional pain of having to validate why our views are worth portraying and, by paying them, to reinforce that we are valuable and deserve to be paid, compensated, and credited for our labor. I also hope to create a safe space to explore the art of queer interracial love by creating an inclusive environment with Queer and PoC people as cast and crew.

One of my two actors in the film is Xel Frame, a queer black person. A huge issue within the performing arts industry is a lack of education from designers about black actor’s hair, nails, and makeup. Xel has always had to pay for and do their own hair for every show they’ve been in at Tulane and in the professional NOLA community, which can cost between $300-$500. They are a very talented actor and have been in at least one Tulane show per semester for 3 years. To make the capstone film equitable and not exploit Xel’s labor. The scenes they will be in are intimate and focused on their personal experience of their queerness, and hair and nails are a big part of black Queer culture and will be very significant in the film. Funding for Xel’s hair and nails for the project is an important priority as this is an issue of racial equity in the film.

In addition to funding Xel’s hair and nails, I wanted to hire a black person as a designer for hair/makeup/costumes so that Xel can focus on their acting. In every Tulane and professional show they have done where they were cast as an actor, they also had to design their own costume, hair and makeup because every designer they have had has not known how to design for black people. Joye Pate is a black woman who goes to Tulane and will be doing both the actors hair and makeup for the film, as well as helping design and buy costumes. By hiring Joye, I will be making sure that Xel is not overstretched and can focus on their acting, as well as hiring a very talented black designer that has specific expertise in designing for black people.

In my time acting, I have been abused in many ways. I have had rehearsals until one in the morning, performed personal traumas on stage and in classes, and even been asked to burn myself on stage for dramatic effect, all for no financial compensation. The acting conditions for actors of color are even worse. Financially compensating actors is something I feel very strongly about. Actors do very important creative work, and especially if I am asking people in marginalized communities to be vulnerable and share their experiences on screen, I feel that being paid for their labor is extremely important. They will be doing 20-25 hours of filming which can be stressful and an additional overall workload for students.

The film which is linked to this article, depicts a queer interracial love story. The two actors will be depicting the couple moving in together and being loving together. The film just depicts them in their everyday lives, hanging out, painting, and snuggling. The point of depicting the couple in their day to day lives is to give queer audiences sweet tender depictions of queer people to enjoy and appreciate rather than just seeing ourselves get murdered over and over again. This project has taught me the value of telling stories and creating art with others in my community, as well as created a close knit group of talented queer people who were able to tell their stories through this film.
















Hair for actor







References for LGBTQ representation in Media

Barnhurst, K. G. (2007). Media Q: Media/queered: Visibility and its discontents. New York: Peter Lang

Bond, B. J. (2014).”Portrayals of Sex and Sexuality in Gay- and Lesbian-Oriented Media: A Quantitative Content Analysis. Sexuality & Culture,” 19(1), 37-56. doi:10.1007/s12119-014-9241-6

Costanza-Chock, Sasha, and Chris Schweidler. “Toward Transformative Media Organizing: LGBTQ and Two-Spirit Media Work in the United States.” Media, Culture & Society 39, no. 2 (2016): 159-84. doi:10.1177/0163443716674360.

Deshler, K. M. (2017). “Not another dead lesbian: The Bury Your Gays trope, queer grief, and The 100”. Walla Walla, WA: Whitman College.

DIMA, R. (2016). Screening Queerness: Moral Agency and Representation in Two Romanian Movies. Romanian Journal Of Journalism & Communication / Revista Romana De Jurnalism Si Comunicare- RRJC, 11(2/3), 45-52.

Erin B. Waggoner (2017) Bury Your Gays and Social Media Fan Response: Television, LGBTQ Representation, and Communitarian Ethics, Journal of Homosexuality, DOI: 10.1080/00918369.2017.1391015

GLAAD. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.glaad.org/