To say 2020 was an interesting year for on-screen entertainment is an understatement. On one hand, COVID put a stop to production and put actors out of work. On the other hand, the nation was stuck at home with nothing to do but absorb new content, and of that, there was a lot. It also became an inspiration for many celebrities to come out as gay, trans, non-binary, and bisexual, something that many of them have stated would not have happened without the COVID imposed time of self-reflection and lack of societal pressures. The boom of new content included an increase in LGBTQ stories and characters, from both mainstream and cable networks: documentaries, blockbuster films, horror flicks, reality shows, remakes, streamed plays, dramas, comedies, and even musicals. We were well represented. Families that may have not sat down together pre-COVID came together to watch TV, watching a diverse presentation of culture and characters they may have never invited into their home. New conversations about new movements were happening. Non-binary? It’s now a household term. The election also played a big part in discussions happening around the nation and often included members of the entertainment community. As much as entertainment suffered this year, we also won big.
At the center of LGBTQ representation and discussion in entertainment for over thirty years is GLAAD, started by a group of journalists and writers formed in response to the negative and sensationalized coverage of the HIV/AIDS epidemic by the New York Post. A thousand protested outside of the New York Post that first year. The organization has grown to become what Entertainment Weekly calls “one of Hollywood’s most powerful entities” and includes resources, events, and campaigns working through entertainment, news, and digital media to share our stories and promote acceptance. From its original title of Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, GLAAD works with entertainment and news platforms to ensure inclusion and proper representation, growing its scope to transgender, Latinx, Southern voices, and even global voices. And even though the scope of GLAAD has grown internationally, the organization still reflects the grassroots energy and individual stories that started with those journalists in 1985.
Jeremy Blacklow has served as Director of Entertainment Media since 2017, but his involvement with GLAAD began during his summer internship before his senior year of college. He continued to volunteer for the GLAAD Media Awards, but uninspired by his journalist career and enraged by the attacks of the Trump administration, he returned full time. Entertainment was always a key part of Jeremy’s life and helped form his vision of how our community was fashioned by the media.
I grew up a true child of the ‘80s. I was a latchkey kid who would watch MTV 24/7 after school. MTV, in its first decade, formed my love for pop culture and entertainment. I would wait all week for Martha Quinn to come on to host Friday Night Video Fights. But by the time I was in high school and figuring out I was gay, I craved LGBTQ role models and storylines at a time when there were very few. My earliest memories of queer representation, however, were the movie Philadelphia and seeing Norman Korpi and Pedro Zamora on MTV’s The Real World. During that naive teenage era of my life, the takeaway for me was to equate being gay with HIV/AIDS.
Jeremy’s journalistic vision and professional ethic were formed by his early time at NBC’s Weekend Today show, where he helped cover events ranging from the 2000 presidential election to the Iraq War, while also producing outdoor concerts on the Today show plaza. The people he worked with would inspire him to this day.
When NBC News journalist David Bloom died in Iraq in 2003, I had been working with him for two years and that was tough to absorb emotionally. Back then, I also worked with a dear friend named Barbara Simon, who’s now GLAAD’s Head of News & Campaigns. They all taught me early on never to burn bridges in this industry, and, as Michelle Obama told the world, to always go high when others go low. And, to not care what others think about you.
Jeremy would go on to work with CNN, Telepictures, and NBC Universal. He helped launch the TMZ brand and the CAA-created digital agency WhoSay. He would also serve as Managing Editor of AccessHollywood.com. His most vivid memories, though, would incorporate his world of LGBTQ activism, politics, and public interest events.
I will never forget covering the LGBTQ March on Washington in April 2000 and producing a live shot with Melissa Etheridge, who performed two songs to an empty RFK Stadium to close out Saturday’s Today. I met her again on GLAAD’s World Pride float in 2019 and I got a chance to show her the pictures. (Which I had on my phone as snaps of old Kodak printouts, of course!) But I was also in the control room the day JFK Jr.’s plane went missing, which is another moment seared in my memory. Covering the 2000 election and watching Tim Russert on-air that night was powerful as well. I rode down an elevator with him at the end of the night in 30 Rock and he was still holding his famous “Florida! Florida! Florida!” whiteboard.
In his role as Director of Entertainment Media, he is the main connection between GLAAD and multiple media genres, including the gaming sector, to ensure that GLAAD’s research and resources are being used by the industry to present the LGBTQ community in alignment with the ideals and expectations that GLAAD has introduced into the media world. Providing counsel and managing key campaigns are all in a day’s work in this ever-changing social and political climate. His favorite part of the job?
The opportunity to keep learning every day and to work with the most authentic, creative, and inspirational people in the entertainment industry. One of my main goals at GLAAD has been to build new relationships at every single studio, network, film festival, talent agency, guild, management company, and awards show. Plus, I get to watch every LGBTQ film and TV series about six months before the rest of the world does. (Which is the best perk, albeit I am consulting on many of them!) The two accomplishments I am most proud of so far have been working with the team behind A Fantastic Woman to help steer that film’s Oscars run (it won the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2018) and the launch of The GLAAD List, which is the partnership I helped GLAAD create with The Black List.
With the amount of work that GLAAD does, and new initiatives introduced each year, it is hard to succinctly describe to a layperson the importance of the work GLAAD does on a major level and how the work it does affects everything we see on screen, and even on a social justice level.
GLAAD is such a multi-faceted organization and on any given week my co-workers are doing so many amazing things! Every other week or so I have a moment when my jaw is on the ground in awe of something we have accomplished. This year alone, I have particularly admired the work my peers DaShawn Usher and Abdool Corlette have done with the launch of NEON (GLAAD’s content series for Black queer visibility), our work to end the FDA’s discriminatory blood ban for gay and bi men (led by our Communications Director, Mathew Lasky), and how we pressed the presidential candidates to talk about LGBTQ issues. At the end of the day, we are fighting to change culture through the media and to achieve greater acceptance for LGBTQ people. One thing that GLAAD’s President & CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis, always says is that you cannot change what cannot be measured and GLAAD excels at going into the field to do research. We are great at changing culture because we measure impact.
GLAAD’s biggest success story for 2020?
Probably our election work! Starting with our LGBTQ Forum with the Democratic candidates just over a year ago, all the way through our ongoing work to raise awareness about the Georgia runoffs. GLAAD has never been so involved in working to get out the LGBTQ vote and hold all candidates across the country accountable for their records on LGBTQ rights. Although, I am also very proud of the work we did last summer during Pride season supporting Peppermint and Bob the Drag Queen’s Black Queer Town Hall and other projects, such as the Noah’s Arc reunion, during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests.
GLAAD ensures a safe place in Hollywood for our stories to be told. The more our stories are told, the more celebrities will start to come forward as open members of the LGBTQ community as mainstream and unconventional Hollywood start to blend.
I think the more representation we have, the more inclusive visibility and the more opportunities for trans and non-binary folks to see themselves reflected fairly in media. This leads to more people coming out and feeling comfortable to be their full, authentic selves. It has taken the work of a lot of incredible pioneers to get here and now things are finally starting to turn for the better. The work my co-workers Nick Adams and Alex Schmider do in transgender representation in Hollywood is truly spectacular.
In the past, major films about the LGBTQ community have been met with critical success and cisgender, straight actors have been lauded for their brave portrayals of members of our community. But now, the acting members of our community are increasingly telling our own stories, and ratings and popularity of projects are now reflecting what audiences are ready for. Did we ever anticipate a moment that the real-life LGBTQ stories told during a drag race competition would now be mainstream?
Most Americans are comfortable with seeing lesbian and gay storylines on film and television, and bisexual representation is finally starting to move past the old tropes and stereotypes. Mainstream audiences still have a lot to learn about transgender and non-binary representation, which is why the new documentary Disclosure is so important. I believe that everyone in the world needs to watch Disclosure, which is readily available now on Netflix. And if you have watched it once, watch it again!
As Metrosource wrote about in our last issue, even holiday films experienced a boom in gay representation. Ultra-conservative Hallmark would hire two gay actors to tell the story of a same-sex couple in the middle of the adoption process. Other networks also presented several gay-inclusive holiday films, with Hulu’s Happiest Season including popular names from Hollywood, gay and straight.
The floodgates certainly opened this past year, didn’t they?! I had the honor of consulting on two of those projects, Lifetime’s The Christmas Setup and Hulu’s Happiest Season. So, I can tell you first-hand the creators I worked with were very passionate about getting it right. I do think now the glass ceiling has been broken for queer storytelling in this genre, there will be no turning back. In future holiday seasons, I’d like to see the full intersectional diversity of the LGBTQ community represented even more thoroughly.
The full after-effects of COVID on the entertainment industry are hard to calculate. With box offices taking a major hit, funding for smaller, unsure hits will be scarce. The future of movie theater going is unclear. Audiences seem content with watching features at home and perhaps more likely to click on a movie or show that might be as mainstream. This could be a good thing for the LGBTQ entertainment industry.
I think that more folks are going to realize that life is short and that it is time to stop living in fear or doubt. Queer folks are going to be more likely to write that script they have always had in the back of their minds and it is going to lead to more diverse and interesting storytelling. I think we are already starting to see a bit of that in the projects that have been greenlit since the pandemic began.
As far as 2020 is concerned, Jeremy’s top three entertainment milestones for the LGBTQ community are:
Disclosure, which is a game-changer for understanding the history of transgender storytelling, along with the new HBO Max series Veneno, from Spain, which I think is right up there with Pose as some of the best trans representation the world has ever seen. Also, I can count 18 LGBTQ-inclusive films, not counting documentaries, that are likely to be in the 2021 Academy Awards mix. That is a long way from when I first watched Philadelphia and thought that would be as good as LGBTQ representation would ever get.
His COVID binge-watch list?
I just counted and I have watched 103 films and 26 full TV series since the pandemic began! Some of the recent highlights for me on the TV side have been Veneno, It’s A Sin, and I May Destroy You. On the film side, I’ve really loved The Prom, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Supernova, Uncle Frank, I Carry You With Me, Alice Junior, The Forty-Year-Old Version, and Promising Young Woman.
When not at work fighting the fight on our behalf, Jeremy is still involved in the community. He is an avid reader about LGBTQ history, has done the AIDS/LifeCycle ten times, and his side gig as a DJ/Producer will often put him in the spotlight of a big gay party. But what fuels his passion is indeed the entertainment industry and the personalities behind the scenes. His biggest inspirations?
People with power who use their power to prop open the doors for those behind them. Especially anyone who comes from a more disadvantaged starting point and especially when it comes to mentoring and training the next generation. Queer folks in the industry like Ryan Murphy, Lena Waithe, Greg Berlanti, and Netflix kids programming exec Chris Nee.
When not clicking the remote with his GLAAD tinted lens, he can indulge from time to time.
I make sure to throw stuff in now and then that I do not have to watch for work. This summer, I finally binged all three seasons of Ozark – although there were still gay characters in it! And lately, I have been making my way through The Mandalorian. Because who doesn’t find joy with Baby Yoda?
You can find out more about GLAAD’s work at https://www.glaad.org/
You can follow Jeremy’s DJ antics on Instagram: @DJBlacklow
Last modified: February 9, 2021