Jay Lin, the founder of Taipei-based Portico Media, the force behind LGBTQ-focused online streaming service GagaOOlala and the power behind LGBTQ+ film studio GOL Studio, talks about the changing profile and footprint of LGBTQ+ content across Asia.
Jay Lin – founder of Asia’s first (and now largest) LGBTQ+ streaming platform GagaOOLala, the force behind LGBTQ+ film studio GOL Studios, one of the founders of Taiwan’s Marriage Equality Coalition and the founder/CEO of Taipei-based Portico Media – is the poster person for LGBTQ+ content in Asia. And he’s nowhere near finished, continuing to drive change, keeping equality and inclusion at the top of industry agendas, and infusing everything he does with advocacy for equal rights.
“What was once niche content, let’s say as early as 15 years ago, is now – at least in Hollywood – definitely in the mainstream and there to stay. And Asian directors and producers and production companies and broadcasters and streaming services are following suit to varying degrees,” Lin says.
To him, the reason is obvious.
“Audiences across the world are looking for creative alternatives, authentic stories and characters that are more reflective and representative of the real world. And the real world is that gays are everywhere, whether it’s in the East or West or everywhere in between. And also, audiences regardless of gender or race or sexual orientation, are looking for stories that can lead them into a fantasy or allow themselves to see themselves in the screens that they’re looking at for once, or it’s just simply entertaining and emotionally connecting and fulfilling," he says.
All this is happening against what Lin describes as an important year for the LGBTQ+ community worldwide. F
or one, 2019 was the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York; the protests sparked off the global gay rights movement and the anniversary was celebrated in Pride festivals all over the world – including Taiwan.
Closer to home, Lin says a significant milestone was the passage in Taiwan of Asia’s first marriage equality law. Lin was one of five founders of the Marriage Equality Coalition, which campaigned hard for three years to push marriage equality over the line.
Lin says the increase in LGBTQ characters on TV screens in the West has been massive since 2015, particularly in the streaming space, but also on prime-time scripted broadcast TV. In 2018, 8.8% of the characters were on the LGBTQIA spectrum across all genres, from drama and comedy to horror and stand-up, animation, variety, reality and kids across film and TV.
“The increase is just as dramatic if we’re looking at the 110 studio films released in 2018. 20 of them featured LGBT characters – 26 men and 19 women,” he says, citing GLAAD data.
Representation in indie moviemaking is even more dramatic. “But it’s not just about quantity. It’s also about quality,” Lin says, pointing to the nominations and winners list for this year’s Academy Awards, including Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book and Can You Ever Forgive Me. Over 50% of the nominations included LGBT characters, some in central roles.
U.S. trends, including more diverse and equal representation behind the camera, is “trickling over” to Asia, Lin says, highlighting the success of BL (boys’ love) titles in Japan. With gay-themed soapy story lines, the BL sub-genre has for years been a ‘thing’ in Japan, especially among “office ladies”. This is no longer the case, Lin says, tracking TV’s expansion to broad LGBTQ themes targetting mainstream audiences.
All of Japan’s major broadcasters are now including LGBTQ characters in prime time shows such as Life as a Girl (NHK), Residential Complex (Fuji TV), Meet Me After School (TBS), Half Blue (NHK) and What Did You Eat Yesterday? (TV Asahi). Titles such as Ossans Love (2018) on TV Asahi rated highest among women 35 to 49 years old. The second highest audience was mixed male-female 13 to 19 years old. And the third category was male 50+.
Thailand has also been a strong market for the BL wave, and this continues with broadcasters and producers such as GMM, Mello and Mono. Lin also points to the success of Thai movies, Malila: The Farewell Flower and How to Win at Checkers. The Philippines, a frontrunner in putting gay themes on prime-time TV, continues the tradition.
India is starting to see a dramatic increase of LGBTQ-related content in both TV and film, underscored by the striking down of the country’s anti-homosexuality act in 2018, the fast-growing penetration of 4G phones and broadband, and the rise of foreign and local streaming services. Titles such as Evening Shadows, Made in Heaven, Four More Shots Please, Romil and Jugal and Untag stream on Netflix, Hotstar, Prime Video, Voot and Jio.
In Taiwan, the national conversation around what it means to be a minority and inclusion in mainstream society is impacting mainstream media, Lin says. For the first time, gay TV dramas are premiering on broadcast terrestrial primetime channels.
Plus, “we have streaming platforms that are investing heavily in BL and LGBT content and we have gay movies or movies with gay characters that do very well in the box office,” he says. These include Dear Ex, which was picked up by Netflix.
“The mainstream status and mainstream participation for LGBT storylines and characters are definitely here to stay,” Lin says. And the more support they can get, the better, which is why he set up GOL Studios, “an LGBTQ+ film studio for the mainstream community”.
The studio, launched this year to provide production, funding and marketing support, runs alongside streaming platform GagaOOlala. For 2019 and 2020, about nine LGBTQ+ films will be released in Taiwan; GagaOOlala and GOL Studios are involved in four of them.
Global projects include Boy Meets Boy in Germany and Spain; Made in Boise, a collaboration with PBS in the U.S.; Present Still Perfect in Thailand; Gentlemen Spa, Killing Love Chronicles and The Teacher in Taiwan; and a third season of Queer Asia across multiple countries.
The titles cover everything from crime thrillers to factual. “We’re doing a lot of different things related to the LGBT space,” Lin says, listing features, web series, shorts, festival films... Eventually, the titles land on GagaOOlala, which now has 270,000 members in 21 countries, 179,000+ unique website users, and 32,000 uniques a month (Oct 2019) on its app.
“We needed a way to keep our costs down and find authentic and creative stories from around the world that are more reflective of the culture and of the audiences of those territories,” Lin says, talking about the crowd-source model behind GOL Studios. “So we created this crowdsourcing platform where we openly solicit and we find LGBT projects from around the world that could benefit from our financing, our co-production and from our marketing machine,” he says.
2020 is very likely to see GagaOOlala go global. The service is currently in 21 countries, with about 50% of users in Taiwan, 16.6% in Thailand and 12.9% in the Philippines, plus growing audiences in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Singapore.
Advocacy will continue to be a core value. “We embed everything we do with an advocacy component,” Lin says. For instance, “we feature a lot of films in the free section of GagaOOLala, and use that to encourage people to share with their neighbours or family members, their classmates, as a way to encourage them to sympathise and empathise more with LGBT people”.
Published in ContentAsia's Issue Seven 2019, 29 November 2019