Is Hollywood culling its LGBTQI top executives?

OPINION PIECE – BY DIVA PUBLISHER LINDA RILEY

After 18 years with entertainment giant Netflix, the company’s VP of Original Content has left the company in a dramatic shake up which has left Hollywood reeling. In a famously conservative industry, Cindy Holland was far and away the most prominent lesbian board level executive the business and possibly the most prominent lesbian the corporate world has ever known.

Holland’s exit follows hot on the heels of WarnerMedia chairman Bob Greenblatt, one of the few out gay men at the top of the Hollywood tree, whose services were dispensed with last month.

Both departures have deprived Hollywood and, by implication, global entertainment as a whole, of two of the most powerful and respected LGBTQ+ voices in the industry.

As the publisher of DIVA and the founder of Lesbian Visibility Week, I am particularly concerned about the decision to dispense with the services of Cindy Holland. Not only has she done a great job – under her stewardship the company has produced global hits such as House of Cards, Stranger Things and The Crown – she has also been responsible for ensuring that LGBTQ+ stories and storylines have become more mainstream.

Most notably, she oversaw the “normalisation” of same-sex relationships in Orange is the New Black, introducing Ruby Rose to a global audience, as well as greenlighting non-binary stand-up Mae Martin’s sitcom Feel Good and launching the psychological thriller Gypsy, starring Naomi Watts as the bisexual protagonist.

The departure of Ms Holland is more than just a matter of one highly paid executive being swapped for another. While film and TV executives in Los Angeles may seem a long way from what we choose to watch in our living rooms, it is important to note that a company’s philosophy comes from the top. A strong, uncompromising lesbian voice in a leading role in the entertainment industry not only ensures more LGBTQ+ representation in programming, it also sends a message well beyond the confines of the LA bubble that the days of a white, straight, male-dominated industry are numbered.

Put “LGBT”, “lesbian”, “gay” or any other variants into your Netflix search bar and you’ll be presented with screen loads of options which would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. While I am not saying that we should give her ALL the credit, it is Cindy Holland who has been chiefly responsible for dragging LGBTQ+ content out of the shadows and into the mainstream, and her loss is quite clearly a retrograde step.

There is also the issue of being a role model. In every business dominated by straight, white men, somebody has to be the first to burst through the various glass ceilings which stand in the way of the career progression of minorities. Ms Holland’s prominent position within the Hollywood ecosystem has meant that young lesbians and bisexual women have, after a hundred years of marginalisation, finally had someone to look up to and to take inspiration from: “if she can do it, so can I”. And her work with charities such as GLAAD and the Los Angeles LGBT Center gave voice to important issues facing our communities at the very top level.

I am not attributing bad faith or homophobia to Netflix, but I believe it is fair to accuse them of shortsightedness and failing to consider the wider implications of their decision. Ms Holland is more than a television executive: she is – or was – a symbol of an industry which, in the face of accusations of racism (Oscars So White) and sexism (#MeToo) had finally seen the light and was becoming more progressive. 

Unfortunately, Netflix have not only lost an excellent senior executive with a fine track record, they have also heaped incalculable disappointment on the LGBTQI community. I am hugely dismayed that, yet again, a cabal of heterosexual white men have, at the stroke of a pen, delivered such a devastating blow to lesbian progress. Their regressive step is a slap in the face of the entire LGBTQI community and I, for one, will be closely monitoring the company’s programming to ensure that Ms Holland’s departure does not lead to a diminution of LGBTQI and non-binary content.

I urge you to do the same.

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