Much can be said about the underrepresentation of queer people and people of color on television. When a 15-second trailer of HBO’s new show, Looking, surfaced online, some assumed the show would fail to represent race-specific experiences, especially among the diverse LGBT community.
“I understand where that comes from, that desire to see ourselves being authentically represented,” said Looking staff writer Tanya Saracho, who has written a play about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a 17th-century Mexican nun-scholar and pioneer in writing love poems to women.
[pullquote align=”right”]It’s what happens when races collide in the gay world, or at least this very specific gay world.[/pullquote]
The cast of Looking has more shades of skin pigmentation than the cast of Friends or the cast of Girls. It has to, right? It’s set in San Francisco. But Looking fulfills more than a quota. It devotes a primary relationship to exploring the cultural misinterpretation that happens when one starts to date someone of a different race.
“There’s a social awkwardness around race,” Looking writer JC Lee said. “Being gay today is compounded by race and compounded by class.”
In fact, the predecessor of Looking, Lorimer, is very much about race. Creator Michael Lannan’s short film set in Brooklyn is a tale of what happens when races collide in the gay world, or at least this very specific gay world. The new show is similar in bringing the concept of color to life, so much so that original Lorimer actor Raul Castillo has reprised his role as one of actor Jonathan Groff’s love interests on Looking.
“I would have been really bummed if I hadn’t gotten the part again, but it happens a lot with these things,” Castillo said of having to re-audition for the show. “I’m just glad I’m not playing another court defendant in a cop show.”
Whom Castillo does play is a bouncer at Esta Noche with impressive bass-playing skills.
“Their differences are obvious,” Castillo said of the show’s interracial hookup. “What’s interesting to see are their similarities. People are going to be pleasantly surprised when they watch.”
[pullquote align=”left”]“I’m just glad I’m not playing another court defendant in a cop show.”[/pullquote]
Even though it’s rare to see someone of color playing a love interest in a romantic comedy, Castillo’s character is not the only token Latino in Looking. Frankie J. Alvarez plays one of the three leads, a life-loving artist with a fiery passion for art and experiments.
“They originally had the character speaking with an accent,” Alvarez said. “But I thought, what if we had a Cuban character who didn’t have an accent?”
Alvarez took offense when the show received a brief backlash for its seemingly all-white cast. “Sometimes I’m too brown, and other times I’m not brown enough,” he said.
Everyone I talked to, practically every actors and writer of color, except for O.T. Fagbenle, mentioned “authentic storytelling” as essentially what the show Looking was hoping to achieve.
“Does it tell the story of every queer person out there? The point is that we are so diverse that it’s impossible,” Lee said. “But if enough people watch our show, maybe we can have more of our gay stories being told.”