In the eight years I’ve been a lesbian TV critic, I’ve never seen anything like the response to Lexa’s death on The 100. As I noted in this week’s Pop Culture Fix, in a matter of three short weeks, The 100‘s queer fandom has raised an astronomical amount of money for The Trevor Project and, through broad and relentless social media activism, forced mainstream media outlets to acknowledge the larger cultural ramifications of the ubiquitous Bury Your Gays trope for the first time ever. That pressure even coerced an apology out of The 100‘s showrunner, Jason Rothenberg, yesterday afternoon.
Riese’s overwhelming list of 148 dead lesbian and bisexual TV characters has been instrumental in driving home the frustration and helplessness queer women feel when we’re subjected to this trope. As her list spread around the internet, so did the pleas from our readers to dig even deeper and provide more context and stats about Bury Your Gays, so, with the help of TV Intern Karly, that’s what I’ve spent the last many sleepless nights doing.
To make it onto the infographic below, a character had to meet two requirements: 1) She had to be on more than one episode of a show, and 2) the show had to be available to American TV audiences, even if it wasn’t produced in the United States. (Lost Girl, for example, came to U.S. TV via Syfy and Skins did the same through BBC America.) It took weeks to compile all of this data (years, really, because more than half of it is just stored in my brain), and we didn’t have the time or resources to dig into the full canon of international TV. Those two qualifications account for the differences between Riese’s list (which includes all characters, including single-episode ones, from every country) and this one.
I’ve been beating this drum for almost a decade and I’m going to keep on beating it until I am shot through the eyeball with a stray arrow. Story is, in the words of the late great Alan Rickman, an ancient need. We need it like we need food and water, we need it like we need to breathe. Just like early explorers stitched together stars to make constellations out of the night sky, humans are constantly grappling for unrelated points of light to make stories out of our own lives. Stories guide us, they comfort us, they inform our understanding of who we are and where we belong in the world. Stories give us a safe space to explore every facet of our identities, and to engage with the unknown and render it a little less scary.
Stories exist in imaginary worlds but they are consumed in the real world, where, just this week, North Carolina passed sweeping and unprecedented anti-LGBT legislation. And where three presidential candidates don’t believe gay people should have the right to get married. And where a gay person can be fired simply for being gay in most states. And where LGBT youth homelessness is rampant. And where LGBT bullying occurs with alarming regularity in schools.
We need hope in stories. We need light in stories. And we need stories to work their magic in the lives of the people who would oppress and persecute us because we’re gay. Stories are fatal to bigotry.
To care about story isn’t to ignore the darkness of the real world; to care about story is to put your hope in something that changes the real world, more than anything else. There’s a reason all religious texts are made up mostly of stories. There’s a reason the same-sex marriage approval rating in the U.S. rose in direct proportion to the number of gay characters on television. Story gets inside us and changes the alchemy of who we are.
Here’s Graham Swift, one more time, and then you can have this infographic:
“Man — let me offer you a definition — is the storytelling animal. Wherever he goes he wants to leave behind not a chaotic wake, not an empty space, but the comforting marker-buoys and trail-signs of stories. He has to go on telling stories. He has to keep on making them up. As long as there’s a story, it’s all right. Even in his last moments, it’s said, in the split second of a fatal fall — or when he’s about to drown — he sees, passing rapidly before him, the story of his whole life.”
I know it will be an impulse to snag this graphic and paste it everywhere but here. Please don’t. Please link it and visit it right here on this page at Autostraddle dot com, so we can continue to make money to pay our staff so we can keep doing this work that matters. And if our work these recent weeks in the wake of Lexa’s death has helped or empowered you, please consider joining Autostraddle Plus. It’s the main way we support ourselves!
Hmmm… 95 lesbian/bi character deaths? Your list has 148 :/
Yep, check out the intro and you’ll find information about why there’s a difference in that list and this infographic.
Welcome to Riese’s nightmare.
“To make it onto the infographic below, a character had to meet two requirements: 1) She had to be on more than one episode of a show, and 2) the show had to be available to American TV audiences, even if it wasn’t produced in the United States. (Lost Girl, for example, came to U.S. TV via Syfy and Skins did the same through BBC America.) (…) Those two qualifications account for the differences between Riese’s list (which includes all characters, including single-episode ones, from every country) and this one.
I am pretty sure that list had foreign shows and this info graphic is on American TV… Don’t take my word for it.
Side Note: Can we have a list of the 99 shows that have lesbian or bi characters in 100 percent of the episodes.
the 16% of the 11% is wildwildwild
ALSO THANK YOU HEATHER AND KARLY
Thank you for all the time spent on making this, truly well done! Also, this just made me join Autostraddle Plus. Hoping many other will as well!
worrrrd. A+ is the best!
Thank you so much, Linnea!
Wow. those numbers speak for themselves.
This infographic makes me sad/angry. Thank you so much for all your work in putting this together.
I see you all are continuing to do the Lord’s work. It is not unappreciated as I’m sure it took some time to compile all this information. The more articles that get written about this the better.
Thanks so much for this – I do love a good graph, and this is a great, while extremely depressing, graph!
Thank you for this hard and important information. I recently became an A+ member because of the fantastic articles and the research you’ve all done with the bury your gays. You guys rock!
Same. Half way through reading this I signed up for an A+ membership subscription. Thanks to all who contributed to this invaluable and much appreciated work.
Thank you so much, Evan!
To give some more context to that 31% dead stat there, the percentage of characters in “Sons of Anarchy” who end up dead is around 45%. That’s a notoriously ridiculous bloodbath of a show. While that number is a bit deflated because it counts a lot of townspeople who don’t figure very highly in the plot, those percentages are much closer to one another than they should be.
Heather, I hope to shake your hand at camp. This couldn’t have come out at a better time.
Also I like that you said “coerced apology” because it is so obvious it was not meant for fans. It was meant for the industry, an illusion to make it seem like everything is wrapped up and can be swept under the rug. Blech.
And just in in time for his appearance at Wondercon too. What a coincidence, huh?
Yep! There’s a tumblr post going around after the apology titled simply ‘A lying fuck called Jason’.
PS: Robin, it’s Nolwenn (we met at camp) – I sent you a PM a while ago and it’s totally fine if you couldn’t/don’t want to respond, I just know that a lot of people never check them. I hope you’re doing well :3
I look forward to it!
Do you have any intersectional data? It’s not enough to point out straight versus queer characters without specifying race as well.
I think it’s pretty clear from Heather’s intro exactly what the parameters are for this graph. I 1000% agree with you that we need intersectional data, but let’s recognize that gathering data like this takes enormous amounts of time and work!
Thank you Heather for this amazing start, and let us all begin adding more data to this pile.
I do. Out of 383 lesbian and bisexual characters, 80 have been women of color (20.8%). Out of 95 deaths, 16 have been women of color (16.8%). The reason I didn’t include that information on the infographic is because if you just glance at the numbers, it seems like, “Oh, well, it’s just 16 and WOC are dying at a lesser rate than other characters.” I didn’t feel like the graphic representation of those characters — when juxtaoposed to white characters — could accurately reflect the compounded issue of killing black women in a society that dehumanizes, devalues, and hypersexualizes black female bodies. The numbers don’t convey the weight of the problem, and as this graphic makes its way around the internet without the benefit of commentary, I was afraid people (particularly the ones who make TV) would see those numbers and use them as an excuse to cause more harm to characters of color.
This is fascinating
Thanks for this elaboration, and for sharing your thought process.
I tend to agree; I don’t think you can accurate represent what the deaths of queer women of color characters means in an info graphic, without a lot of info on the underrepresentation of characters, especially women, of color generally and the “token triple minority” problem. But I appreciate A LOT your sharing the reasoning.
Thank you Heather and thank you Karly!
I could be reading this incorrectly (I wouldn’t be surprised if I am), but on that bottom graphic, the percentage of episodes they appear in, do you mean 75%? as categories?
Great graphic. Excellent work by both you and Karly. I can’t imagine how much time this must have taken. Thanks to the both of you.
Ha. Something happened and the symbols got taken out of my comment. I’ll clarify. I think right now your graphic says greater than 25% and less than 75%. Did you mean the opposite?
I had the same confusion…
Whoops, fixed! Thank you for the heads up!
Heather and Karly, this was great, thank you for all the hard work you put in to making this for us!
Ahhhhhhh Heather, your opening really got me and I’m going to be sharing it like crazy. It’s so true that we need stories. And we need stories that don’t treat us like plot twists. This also goes for that whole kissing-a-girl-for-ratings thing that doesn’t seem to be common anymore–we noticed it, we talked about it, and we got better representation. I believe that’s happening here, too. Thank you all so much for all the hard work! Upgrading to Gold as a ty :*
J, thank you!
Thank you for this. I would be interested to see how this breaks out in terms of race and ethnicity as well. Keep up the great work.
Look at Heather’s reply to Jo’s comment above :)
thank you for this. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your effort. I also just wanted to say if anybody is going to wondercon, the 100 showrunner has beefed up his security and people who work there have been told to shut off mics if anybody gets too riled up or insulting to him. I’m more partial to the dead silence approach. also, the cast arent people who should have to defend themselves.
I’m curious about how many of those who didn’t die were main or recurring characters?
that many? what makes a recurring character, exactly? just more than 1 episode?
It’s actually a contract thing for the actors. If you’re a guest, they can write you in and call you up whenever. If you’re a recurring character you get paid a little more and they usually promise you a certain number of episodes per season, which usually means they’re more committed to folding you into the larger narrative of the show.
This is why it’s not unusual for characters who only appeared in maybe two or three episodes over the course of several seasons to be recast.
This is perfect.
Thank you for all of this work. I just upgraded earlier this month from Bronze to Silver because of articles just like this–sad but necessary articles. And, I have to say, I also upgraded because of all the hilarious articles as well, also necessary in times like these.
Thanks so much, Judy!
*bangs head repeatedly against wall*
Thank you for all the work you put into this! I hope things change, and soon. I really, really do :(
Thank you Heather and Karly for such amazing work.
Ahh, about that “apology”, 3 days before he had this to say:
“Damian Holbrook: But it wouldn’t have changed the story you’re telling.
Jason Rothenberg: No, absolutely not. We would have told the same story. I stand behind the story; I just don’t think I would have gone out of my way to say ‘This is the best episode we’ve ever done!’ Nobody really anticipated that this would happen so now that we’ve seen it, the idea for me as the showrunner going forward is to learn lessons from it, you know? This is a show where characters die. That’s another reason we were so surprised..it’s a post-apocalyptic world set 100 years later in which anyone can die.”
“Despite my reasons, I still write and produce television for the real world where negative and hurtful tropes exist. And I am very sorry for not recognizing this as fully as I should have. Knowing everything I know now, Lexa’s death would have played out differently.”
This is actually the only part in the Medium article where he uses the word sorry. Also he is sorry for the wrong this. This is why so many people felt that this apology is not really an apology at all (besides the fact that it comes 3 weeks late and conveniently right before WonderCon is about to start).
Not an apology: “I am sorry your feelings are hurt.”
An apology: “I am sorry for hurting your feelings.”
However, the part you are referring to, I think by the “same” story he meant that Lexa still would have died but in a different way.
She is referring to another interview he did before the non apology
I know, I think I did not explain myself clearly, let me try again:
People felt that his apology was not sincere for a number of reasons, but including that he contradicted himself by saying “No, absolutely not. We would have told the same story.” in the interview whereas in his “apology” three days later it reads “Lexa’s death would have played out differently.”
I just wanted to point out that by saying this he could have meant that Lexa still would have died but in another way. So stating that he would have told the same story, i.e. Lexa dying, is IMO not a contradiction.
And for the record, I agree that it didn’t feel like an apology, mainly because he left his fans hanging for about three weeks all the while only tweeting about positive reviews and articles, factually ignoring the issue at hand, and only speaking up about it three days before WonderCon.
There were voices defending him by saying that maybe he needed time to understand the issue and learn about the reasons why people were grieving so much and that is why he kept quiet. But even if that is the case (which I doubt), it is just so horribly wrong to make people feel like they are not being heard especially after he was so engaged with them before.
I still need to commend Javi for how he handled this whole ordeal. He also stopped answering after a few days, but only because he recognized that what people really needed was to be listened to and heard. Not once did he defend himself, but reblogged many asks to let people know that he is still there…reading…listening…trying to understand.
I appreciate trying to give someone the benefit of the doubt, but if Lexa dies but in another way, it’s not the “same story” and until the apology he didn’t indicate any nuance to suggest he might have just changed how she died.
Thanks for clarifying.
Personally his “apology” feels like the work of some PR company at work. It is just a way to smooth things over for his public appearances.
To me it was pretty obvious that the only thing he regretted was making the episode such a big deal on twitter. He is just saying that he would make it different because he knows it is what people want to hear. I doubt there is a ounce of truth to him being “sorry”. Unless his talking about being sorry for losing followers and viewers, that I believe.
Well after yesterday, we can all agree that his “apology” has nothing to do with the fans really. He is a master in making everything about himself.
omg, what about Paulie from Lost & Delirious? What a shameful omission, I have corrected it with this infographic:
The person that can guess the straight film gets the next glass from my tetrapak of value rosé wine!
Nooooo that was a cursed person not a real bird!
But…but, Michelle Pfeiffer.
Kes it’s got to be Kes!
ding ding ding!!
All the wine to you!
Yes! Come on the tetrapak! I feel I have an unfair advantage being from Yorkshire. *Gives archers salute at stupid queer killing writers in the style of Kes VHS cover”
If I was feeling particularly scathing I’m sure I could say that coming from Yorkshire you need all the advantages you can get…but I wouldn’t say that because northern solidarity! rawr!
Knock yourself out:
There has to be something more than just “comment award”. This is an Oscar, Emmy, Tony, Grammy, Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, all put together, level of comment award.
i am so happy right now
Comment of the year
I would like to nominate this entire convo for all the awards.
Except the one for Best Movie, because that one clearly belongs to “Carol”.
Thank you amazing and hard working writers of Autostraddle for all you are doing on this as well as everything else you do.
And out of the .0176% of shows that give lesbian/bi character happy ending, how many of those do you think are characters who fall into the category of “sexuality is not relevant for more than 5 episodes?”
Thank you so much for this article.
Thank you for continuing to beat this drum, Heather. We’ll keep marching to it for as long as it takes.
PS. I’ve been intending to join A+ for a while, but this was the post that made me finally pull the trigger. Good call.
Fantastic work. All of the writing about Clexa and the movement against “Bury Your Guys” is absolutely why I joined A+ finally. Good stuff. Thank you and keep it up!!
I know this was a typo but honestly I’d be all for Bury Your Guys becoming the next trend in media. Alive, if they have to. They’ve got plenty to spare!
Hahahahahaha…I didn’t even realize I did that!! LMAO!!!
Ahahah good catch
Thank you so much, Lisa!
Wow this was so good. Fascinating and terrible!
This is fantastic! And provides so much more context. Thanks so much to you Heather and the team.
Being the data dork I am, quick question. Am I reading it wrong, but the pie chart in the top right about the fate of characters has “dead” as 31%, but the big numbers toward the bottom says 95 of 383 characters dead which is 25%? Is one looking at characters and the other shows? Is that why they are different?
I actually just updated that. The pie chart doesn’t include the 76 alive characters who are on shows that are still on the air (since they don’t have an ending yet) so that arrow connecting that 31% to the pie chart below was misleading (not on purpose). So I removed the arrow and separated those two graphs, and added a line on the big pink numbers portion to show the math. There are 307 characters included in the pie graph. I hope that makes it more clear!
Fab thanks for clarifying and re-labelleling the charts! Makes total sense now :) Fab work Heather. This really is interesting and really points out the facts, without hyperbole, which unfortunately has been quite prevalent from some people recently (not you or AS i hasten to add).
You are right, this reaction is like nothing I have ever seen in my many years of devouring all things lesbian pop culture. Hopefully, it is a catalyst for change. And yes Jason apologised way too late, but I am going to give him a chance to redeem and learn.
“devouring all things lesbian pop culture”
I love that!
This is awesome – thank you!
“to care about story is to put your hope in something that changes the real world, more than anything else”
Thank you for the statistics, and also for your writing which so precisely and powerfully expresses why these statistics matter.
Thank you Heather and Karly for researching and creating this.
Why does the title ignore bi women when the infographic includes them as well? In fact the article has a weird “Bi people are just lesbians vibe to it” which I thought autostraddle was better then that.
More info on that here.
Honestly, I really feel autostraddle should reconsider that policy because even unintentionally. I feel that really is demeaning to bisexuals and implies that we don’t matter, we are just “lesbians and gays under a different name” or “gays and lesbians who are confused” and other horrible stereotypes. It treats us like we should be ignored, that we should be seen but not heard.
It’s insidious bi-erasure and in a time where bi issues are dismissed, ignored or even worse, we’re to shut up or “get over it”, not something I think autostraddle should encourage that.
Plus, I am bi genderfluid person, what happens if it’s a lesbian/genderfluid sex-scene?
Quite frankly, that policy is very upsetting to me.
Adding “and Bisexual Female” to your title would bring it to 12 words and help alleviate concerns for bisexual readers.
(as in “Autostraddle’s Ultimate Infographic Guide to Dead Lesbian and Bisexual Female TV Characters”)
The word “bisexual” does appear on the infographic and everywhere in the text of this post, and when coupled with the word “lesbian” the way it is here repeatedly, it is understood to mean “bisexual female.” When you contextualize that with everything we do on our website every day, and have been doing for seven years, I think it’s very easy to see that we have no intention of erasing bisexual women.
The problem with adding “and bisexual female” to this headline is it makes this post Google-unfriendly. For starters, the title already has 86 characters and Google recommends a maximum of 65, so we’re pushing it there. Adding 16 more characters to the title would make it even less searchable. Also, the majority of people who will try to find this information will search “dead lesbian characters” or “dead lesbian trope.” Right now, if you start to Google “dead lesbian…” Google will even fill in the rest for you. (And when it does that, this post will come up in the top three results.)
We are doing the very best we can to survive in a world where giant media companies have LGBT verticals. That means they have teams of well-paid, very successful people dedicated just to SEO and social media to make sure their content makes it to the top of Google searches and the top of Facebook’s algorithm (which they often achieve by paying to boost their posts, a thing we definitely cannot afford to do) and to get their content in front of every user’s face on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Our social media team is me for most of the day, while I’m doing a million other things, and our SEO consultant is the free software that’s built into WordPress (which, by the way, gave this headline a green light but only a yellow light to the one where I tried with “and bisexual” in it).
Here’s the hard truth: Nearly every time we post something, someone complains about the descriptors we use. “Don’t use the word ‘queer,’ it’s a slur I have no intention of reclaiming.” “Don’t use the words ‘lesbian and bisexual’ because it isolates young people who don’t want a politicized label; use ‘queer’ instead.” “Don’t use the word ‘gay’ to describe bisexual women.” “If you don’t use the word ‘gay’ to describe bisexual women, you’re leaving them out of the umbrella.” And that’s before adding in gender identities.
So we have to make some hard choices every time we post something. We know absolutely 100 percent without question that the phrasing we use is going to make some readers unhappy (but that if we chose the phrasing that made those readers happy, we would make a different group of readers unhappy because they would have wanted the original phrasing). So what we do is ask people to look at the total work — in this case, the entire post and graphic, both of which include the word ‘bisexual’ every time the word ‘lesbian’ is written — and to assume good intentions on our part, and to try to understand the way the internet works and the constraints that puts on us if we want to survive.
Please look at the larger picture here. We want this post to do well on Google because things like this are crucial for our websites’s success, but also because we want as many people as possible to see the danger of this terrible trope and help us stop it from happening. Both of those things will benefit bisexual women much more than seeing the words “and bisexual female” to the headline of this post (because, again, it is included in the graphic and in the text of the post literally every time the word “lesbian” is used).
I came across complaints on Twitter saying that the graphic also ignores bisexuals because they assumed that “happy endings” refer to the character, whether lesbian or bi, ending up with a women.
Can you say how many of the bisexual characters got a happy ending? And how many of those ended up with a man?
That’s such a bizarre complaint. This graphic doesn’t ignore bisexual women, evidenced by the fact that literally every (female) bisexual TV character in America who appeared on more than one episode of her given show is included here. It doesn’t make a distinction between bisexual and lesbian characters because it’s not an important difference for the scope of this research, the point of which is to contextualize the Bury Your Gays trope as it relates to the total canon of combined lesbian and bisexual women on TV and make the world a better place for all of us. Bisexual women who are in longterm, happy ending relationships with men are still bisexual women. I can’t imagine anyone on our staff saying otherwise (in fact, more than one member of our staff is a bisexual women in a committed relationship with a man), and I certainly have never said that here in this post or anywhere else. My very own sister is bisexual and has been married to her husband for about a thousand years.
This complaint also shows a sort fundamental misunderstanding about how bisexual women are represented on TV. The vast majority of bisexual characters never say the word “bisexual,” so we have to do a lot of guess work based on their patterns of dating. Is Willow bisexual even though she never dated another man after she fell in love with Tara? Is there a chance she would have dated a man after Kennedy? Or did falling in love with Tara make her realize that she was a lesbian? Her relationship with Oz was a very real, very important part of her life. So is Willow a bisexual character with a happy ending or a lesbian character with a happy ending? Same with Alana from Hannibal, same with Korra and Asami, and with Jessie from Once and Again. I don’t feel comfortable inferring their sexual orientation since it’s unclear from the way their stories ended and they never declared one thing or another. The happy endings characters also include self-professed bisexual women like Brittany Pierce, Bo Dennis, Ashley Davies, Tina Kennard, and Alice Pieszecki.
And, of course, there are 72 characters on this list who are alive and on active TV shows. Some of them we can say for sure are bisexual because they have indicated that they are and actively have relationships with both men and women: Sara Lance from Legends of Tomorrow. Max, Eleanor, and Anne from Black Sails. Clarke Griffin from The 100. Callie Torres from Grey’s Anatomy. It also includes women who have had very short, three-episode arcs with other women but have spent the rest of their time in relationships with men. Like Joss Carver from Mistresses and Angela Montenegro from Bones (who has been married to man for like six seasons, and will obviously end up with him in the end). And it includes women who have had sex with other women but whose love for a man is one of the most important parts of their characterization, and being with those men would be the happy ending of their choice. Lorna Morello from OITNB and Barbara Kean from Gotham, for example.
The presentation of this research in no way erases bisexual characters. Literally every single bisexual women from American TV who has appeared in more than one episode is included here. I don’t understand this impulse to assume bad faith or to try to make this a simple conversation when it’s actually really, really complicated, and the whole point of it is to move representation for lesbian AND bisexual characters out of the dark ages and to make the world happier and brighter for all of us.
You can see the comments here:
“That’s negating the fact that bi characters are, you know, BI.”
“My problem with this chart is that it ONLY counts bi characters in wlw relationships in the happy ending category.”
I don’t know where this person got her information from but I assume, you know, she assumed without knowing the facts. When I asked her about it, she didn’t respond.
I agree with everything you wrote and I also want to thank you for putting the time and effort into this research.
In the article on here that lists happy endings, there are about 30 characters and none of them are with men. And this infographic counts 30 happy endings.
I know y’all well enough to never assume that bisexual women with men were excluded and I don’t watch enough TV to know of bi characters who got a happy ending (as defined in the article) with a man. Just suggesting that this could have been where the folks on Twitter got that impression.
That’s why I was asking if there even were happy endings were a female ended up with a male. And if that is not the case, it points to another very disturbing issue.
But, AS can only work with what it’s there, so those complaints have no foundation really.
If your first thought when you read this post is “This is bullshit because it doesn’t say how many queer women end up with men” you’ve missed the point so thoroughly I don’t even know even know what to say to you. Maybe just that you might want to find ways to validate your identity that don’t deliberately misunderstand and malign the important work of the queer community’s best and most compassionate writers.
Jeaa, exactly my thoughts. I was so happy when I read this post because I really think that the queervolution – as they call it – might have the power to change things in the long term. And for that to happen we need statistics like this.
And then this person comes along and I just thought: How dare you?
I didn’t want to drag her, but apparently she is one of those who don’t like the “we deserve better” movement because she feels that it is only about Clexa and doesn’t include her as she is a Bellarke shipper.
Many thanks to Heather and Karly for putting this together.
Our stories are tremendously important but, as I was reminded recently, it’s data that often drives conversations, strategy and decision making. It’s not an understatement to say that this work is vital.
Enjoy your vacation, Heather…it is, clearly, well-deserved.
That story though! I have so many feelings about analytics and sports and gender equality and sports and that story describes perfectly why data matters for telling sports stories and why women are being let down. UGH
Great work, but it’s so hard to read. The gray text and pale graphics are hard on old eyes. Could you post a link to it as a pdf? Please.
The “did a man of equal narrative importance die” statistic was a good idea – it would be pretty hard to figure out what percentage of characters die in general, as much as that’s something I wanted to know.
It might be subjective, but some sort of analysis of the quality of the deaths of wlw versus the deaths of straight men (probably restricted to shows with wlw characters, since tallying up ALL THE DEATHS isn’t practical) could be interesting. It’s different for a character to die as the culmination of a heroic arc or a tragic arc than it is for a character to die to thin the herd or make people sad or clean up plot points the show doesn’t intend to keep.
Yeah I think it’s way too subjective to do that. As one persons view will differ from another.
For example, Tara’s death on Buffy, although it sadden me greatly, I totally understood the reasoning and appreciated the story that followed. Nothing else would’ve made Willow drop off the deep end and be the best big bad ever. It was a testament to the importance of her love for Tara. I see it that way and think it was a good death, others hate it and think it’s awful and shouldn’t have happened.
It’s subjective whether Tara’s death was good, but I think it’s not particularly subjective that Tara died to further someone else’s character arc, rather than as a culmination of her own. And it isn’t always wrong to kill off a character to further another one’s arc! Even in a perfect world, some characters will still die to motivate others, and some of those characters will still be wlw. But personally, I have some suspicions about the way this trope ties into the disposability of wlw characters.
Important men nearly always die in ways that wrap up their own stories – usually as a consequence for their actions or while accomplishing or trying to accomplish something heroic. After Lexa died on The 100, a lot of the fans said they understood that the character had to die, but they felt it wasn’t fair for her to die in that way. The pointlessness of the death, rather than the death itself, was the sticking point for a lot of people. And again, that’s the sort of thing that’s just going to happen in fiction sometimes, but I’d be interested in seeing numbers on it for how wlw are affected (and possibly women in general as opposed to men? I know fridging is an issue even when the women aren’t queer.)
Very good point about fridging, and whose narrative a particular death serves. Is it better to fridge a queer woman for its effect on another queer woman? I think there could be times it would work, but there’s also a lot of potential to get it wrong.
I also think whether a character is a core cast member, or recurring, or just a guest matters; I suspect that Tara’s death looks different whether you think of her as a core cast character or as Willow’s love interest (though I think the show clearly put her in the 2nd category).
That’s part of what I love about the conversation this website has engendered–all the immense work the writers have done serves to kick off really interesting dialogue among the rest of us.
Just thirding this comment–counting whether a man of equal narrative died is genius and does so much to contextualize the results, and is one of many, many brilliant things about this piece.
And you’re absolutely right that it’s worth analyzing the quality of deaths as well as the quantity, though there’s NO way we could ever come to consensus. I don’t hold the death of Delphine on Orphan Black against the show, because Delphine’s death was the culmination of a redemptive arc for her own character and the show killed off male character D had been paralleled with for 3 seasons a few episodes before.
Likewise, although Rose on Jane the Virgin was a more minor character, her death made sense in context. And both shows took the time to introduce another lesbian or bi woman to serve as a love interest for the dead woman’s female love interest and give us time to get to know her before killing anyone off. I feel like that means someone behind the scenes cared about not erasing the representation.
But they do absolutely count as deaths for numbers, and a lot of people are very upset (especially about Delphine).
This excellent conversation is a good example of why I do prefer to evaluate popular culture on a case-by-case basis of stories in the particular rather than the aggregate, though I do recognize the usefulness of the later. Heck this whole dialogue wouldn’t is coming around (as you say Zahra) because of the hard work in putting this aggregated study together.
And yes even if measuring quality is always subjective, it’s worth considering as a general rule the question of how characters (even minor ones) will die. Good writing makes us angry about the malice of the villains. Bad writing makes us angry about the carelessness of the authors. It not always going to be absolutely clear which is which, but so is the way with writing guidelines.
In Cry for Justice you had a child character killed off with no build-up or foreshadowing in a multipart storyline were she hadn’t even made a prior appearance just to provide a shock moment. It didn’t add to the storyline, it only took away a superheroes unique status as a single-father and a whole lot of potential stories that could’ve come from it. In both The Hunger Games and HG Mockingjay the death of a child character not only came with foreshadowing and build-up, but both characters were active players in the lead characters story arc. There deaths play a major factor in important choices she makes at the end of both entries that completely change their world. In both cases the scenes and aftermath are painful to follow, but the context makes a big difference in consider how we should judge them.
Quick corrections: “…dialouge wouldn’t be coming around…” and “..such is the way with writing guidelines.”
Also I think what Zahra said about Tera being in the second character to those working the show is probably true. As I recall, there were a few episodes before where she came close to dying and I read somewhere there were plans for her to die at the end of Season Five. I also seem to recall her only getting a screen credit in one episode. It likely no one could have guessed how popular she would become with so many viewers, since she introduced as a little more “ordinary” compared to most of the regulars.
The only time Tara appeared in the opening credits was the episode she does. Joss has said in interviews this is something he always wanted to do, and I think would have done it in the very first episode but wasn’t allowed. For some reason the fact she wasn’t in the opening credits earlier has always really annoyed me!
Phoebe, I will happily concede that there are people who know Whedon pronouncements much better than me, but I thought he said that he always wanted to kill a character the first time they appeared in the opening credits, and that Tara was his opportunity. I recall a lot of people being very angry about that, because the credits specifically encouraged the viewers to think she would stick around just before she died.
I’ve actually been thinking recently that that descriptions of the 100’s queerbaiting I’ve read sound like a more developed version of the same thing in the social media era; the show runner was invested in screwing with the viewer’s minds in a shock value, psych-you-out-so-you-don’t-guess-what’s-coming way, and did not see or care about the implications in the context of Bury Your Gays.
Thank you for all the work that went into this infographic! Really interesting to see how everything breaks down and hopefully this will bring even more attention to just how bad the trope is.
Thank you Heather and Karly for the time and effort you put into researching and creating this.
This is important work and It makes me proud to be an A+ member.
Thank you, Heather & co. For the data, for the infographic, but also for the extremely thoughtful introduction about why we need stories. And why it hurts so much when we don’t see ourselves in them.
This is why I’m an A+ Gold member! You guys are so fabulous and do such important work!
This is a little hard to follow without some perspective. A pie chart showing the fate of straight characters would be helpful for comparison.
I think gathering that kind of information in relation to straight characters would probably be extremely time consuming
I don’t think a pie chart detailing the fate of straight characters would add anything to this discussion because the issue isn’t whether or not an equal percentage of straight characters die/get happing endings. It’s: 1) So few lesbian/bi characters exist throughout history that the impact of each of those stories is much greater than those of straight characters. And 2) TV depictions of minorities inform society’s views about those minorities, and if if lesbian/bi characters aren’t present (or are disposable), it makes it easier to oppress and persecute lesbian/bi women and makes it harder for lesbian/bi women to come out and live safe, authentic lives.
If 50 straight white men died on TV on this very day, there would still be hundreds of straight white men on TV. Even if no one ever made another TV show about straight white men, there’d still be enough collective TV and movies about white men that you could watch them nonstop, 24 hours a day, every day for the rest of your life, and still not make your way through all of them before you die. If 50 lesbians died on TV on this very day, there would be no more lesbians on TV. And the lack of lesbians on TV hurts lesbians in real life, in a big way.
Last year, New York Magazine published a brilliant article called “Why Do We Humanize White Guys Who Kill People?” and it really drives home this idea:
Sadly, I hear the argument that straight characters are killed off as well all around. Mostly pointing to shows like GoT or TWD. This is a very narrow-minded view of equality, but maybe their straight white male privilege prevents them from correctly interpreting the context.
The upside is, from now on, whenever I come across someone like that, I will throw this graphic in their faces. I mean, when you consider that for 18,000+ straight characters, there are only 383 lesbian/bi characters you do not even need to argue about lesbian/bis death’ to understand that there is something very wrong with this picture.
As the chart says, 68 shows had wlw characters who died. 35 of those shows were shows where anyone could die. Only 12 of those 35 shows had any male character of equal narrative importance die.
Most shows that are not specifically geared toward wlw have many more important men around than important wlw. If characters are being selected to die with no bias either in favor of killing wlw or against killing wlw, then it’s likely that most shows that kill a wlw character will also have killed an equally important man. Instead, only about a third ever did.
How many bisexual characters ended up with a woman vs a man in your “happy endings”? And how many lesbians had happy endings?
It’s not always clear which characters are lesbian and which are bi. Not every character discusses their orientation onscreen, after all, and lesbians who’ve dated men and bi women who mostly focus on women exist, in real life and in fiction.
It’s definitely useful and important to discuss how media values man/woman relationships versus how it values woman/woman relationships, and endgame romance for bi characters does play into that. But dichotomies like that have been used to devalue bi women so many times – “of course they’re going to end up with men, so they barely even count”, that sort of thing. Looking at lesbian rep and bi woman rep separately in some occasions makes sense, since lesbians and bi women can sometimes have different concerns about how they’re represented, and it’s important to make sure the representation of either group is good enough. But let’s not make it lesbians vs bi women, when it’s sexism and homophobia vs all of us.
Alice, your comment makes me want to stand up and cheer! Thank you.
It’s not one against the other. I just wanted to know the breakdown of lesbians because it is important. As you mentioned, on many TV shows the bisexual ends up happy with a man. Does the above lesbian / bisexual that have happy endings mean f/f ending?
I would wager that at this point in time there is a strong pressure on showrunners to have their bi female characters to end up with women to compensate for the lack of f/f couples on TV. What if we looked at the quality of bisexual characterization instead of who a bi character ends up with? Is a bi character’s identity respected over the course of a show, or are they treated as if they are defined by a partner? I am always leery of the character who is only bi for sweeps week, but Alice’s transformation from bisexual to lesbian (complete with her explicit condemnation of bisexuality/desire for men) on the L Word is every bit as insulting.
I think it’s interesting that over half the shows with dead lesbians were shows where anyone can die. I’d be curious on the genre breakdown of shows that have lesbian characters, dead or alive. It feels like a lot of queer representation on TV is on shows set outside of the “normal” world – science fiction, fantasy, zombie, pirate, post-apocalypse etc.
yeah we seem to show up a lot more in shows that aren’t centered around families or marriages — big ensemble shows with lots of vampires and or warriors
Also that some of these characters already died in the original source materials and they weren’t lesbian/bi in those. They were subsequently written as lesbian/bi in the tv shows. Then they died and everyone gets in an uproar.
But does it not seem a bit off or odd the characters destined to be killed off are the ones they chose to make not straight?
It’s like “hey we need diversity but not too much for too long, just enough to make a list of LGBTQI for some GLAAD recognition, so let’s make the cannon fodder fill that quota.”
Historical precedent in fiction dating back to like forever.
Abnormal situations and settings are for “abnormal” people and examining “abnormal” desires.
But in modern media it is like so: Queerness is still not considered 100% normal or family friendly so why not just put us in place that are already family unfriendly with civilian-led gory-ish violence and monster-monsters. No advertisers suddenly pulling their money because “family values” that way.
I say civilian led because police, federal or military led violence is kinda sorta family friendly prime-time fare here in this US, but that is a whole nother topic.
For some reason listing ‘pirate’ as a genre here made me really happy.
As a lifelong SF/Fantasy fan, it seems to me that sci-fi/fantasy as a genre is more accepting of LGBTQ characters than other genres are. I could list at least a dozen bi/gay/trans/genderqueer characters off the top of my head in SF and fantasy novels that weren’t specifically written for/by LGBTQ audiences, such as Vanyel from Mercedes Lackey’s Last Herald-Mage trilogy, Rubiy/Quicksilver from Joan Vinge’s Psion, Trouble from Melissa Scott’s Trouble and Her Friends, gender-changing human offshoots from Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, etc.
Of course, a lot of this comes from the fact that SF is often about how humans accept “the other”, whether that “other” be non-human races, sentient computers or robots, and so forth, so someone outside the “normal” gender binary or not “vanilla straight*” is hardly a stretch of the imagination. (*”vanilla straight” = “heterosexual, not into BDSM, etc.”)
Of course, a genre breakdown of whether or not SF/fantasy, alternate history, and horror genres in general have more LGBTQ characters than drama, comedy, etc. would make an interesting infographic IMHO, now that it’s been mentioned…
This is such impressive work. Thank you.
Bravo! AS is leading the way, and brilliantly. Please ignore the haters, the complainers, the people who will always ask for something you could not have realistically included. This is work that matters, and just one of the many reasons I’m proud to be a member.
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The Catch just had a bi lady’s bf kill her right after he finds out she’s sleeping with his sister. Gross.
I was thinking about watching that show. Glad I didn’t!
I would love to see your full data set, but I guess because “just stored in my brain” with no copy of your data series is not relay a scientific way to run a statically analysis, then maybe we could follow up with an info-graphic on the number of male characters who died in all those same shows?
I’m not sure about the “relevant for more than five episodes” thing. What is the meaning here? I would’ve thought it a good thing for queer characters to be represented and their orientation not necessarily impacting the trajectory of their arc?
Very interesting stats though. Good read.
I’m not trying to stir the pot here or insinuate that this isn’t important, but I don’t think the amount of gay/lesbian people on tv is that appalling. If you do the math, 2.1% of the people on television according to this study are represented as not gay/lesbian. And the national average (according to a study done by the national center of health statistics) has the percentage of gay/lesbian people in America at 3.4%. So a 1.3% gap isn’t that much of a difference so I think the portrayal of the amount of that group of people is decently accurate all things considered. Just my thought! Once again not trying to belittle or offend!
Heather , not to be that guy , but studies and statistics do not work like that. You don’t just show me a graph and expect me to believe it instantly.
Where did you get that information? Who is involved in getting the information? What is their speciality? And what is the used method? And is the study peer reviewed?
All those is required to confirm the credibility.
Heather , I’m expecting and hoping for an answer soon.
Cruella is Disney’s upcoming film. So Cruella is a cruel lady in The Hundred and one Dalmatians movie who is fond of the fur of dalmatians puppies. The director is of this upcoming film is Craig Gillespie and the screenplay is written by Aline Brosh McKenna, Jez Butterworth, Dana Fox, Kelly Marcel, Tony McNamara, and Steve Zissishttps://imyblogi.com/cruella-2021-movie/
Cruella is Disney’s upcoming film. So Cruella is a cruel lady in The Hundred and one Dalmatians movie who is fond of the fur of dalmatians puppies. The director is of this upcoming film is Craig Gillespie and the screenplay is written by Aline Brosh McKenna, Jez Butterworth, Dana Fox, Kelly
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This is such impressive work. Very interesting stats though. Good read. Thank you