“The category is: Live, Work, Pose!” – Pose, a Netflix original series
“And the Emmy for “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series” goes to… Billy Porter!”
And just like that, 2019 marked the first year where an openly gay black man won an Emmy. Porter dedicated his award, received for his performance as one of the leading characters in the Netflix original series Pose, to the LGBTQIA+ community. The series, shining a spotlight on ball culture, the AIDS pandemic, gender struggles, and so much more, is a social, political and cultural eye-opener. Since the series’ first episode came out, Netflix has grown in popularity and has been producing more and more of their own original content, many of which are focused on the LGBTQIA+ community.
The fact that the platform went against mainstream currents to provide a space where LGBTQIA+ content is shown, shared and respected (although unfortunately not always realistically nor informatively), makes them, to a certain extent, autonomous from the field of audiovisual art, meaning that Netflix does not follow the established conventions that the field is pushing to the forefront, nor does it share the same core values.
Netflix stands out and differentiates itself from the art field as its original releases have their own artistic and cultural visions. Indeed, the company’s productions are based on experimentation. Pose is one out of the many works that embody this research for a fresh societal representation through art. And in fact, according to J. Portwood, the show has the largest LGBTQIA+ recurring cast in TV history and is part of the dense variety of LGBTQIA+-themed movies and series produced by Netflix. Pose introduces themes that are still taboo for some traditional mainstream channels. More often than not, channels even restrict or deny the distribution of culturally controversial works that discuss themes such as transsexuality and homosexuality, or any other theme centered around minorities. By trespassing this content blockade, the streaming platform provides an opportunity for individuals such as Ryan Murphy, producer, director and screenwriter of Pose, to tell their stories, and to slowly change and influence the distributed content within the art field:
“We are the people. We as artists are the people that get to change the molecular structure of the hearts and minds of the people who live on this planet. Please don’t ever stop doing that. Please don’t ever stop telling the truth.”
By commercializing LGBTQIA+ movies and series, Netflix produced a new genre within the art field or at least contributed grandly to the mainstream representation of the LGBTQIA+ community. The company hereby established functional autonomy in the art field. It transgressed the predominant rules and values of the industry and operated on their own terms which created a dialogue that engendered a change in the art field.
While Netflix’s autonomous actions in supporting the LGBTQIA+ community had a considerable impact, it is important to emphasize that it would not be able to operate the way it does and produce its range of artistic content without the established streaming culture. The company can never be completely autonomous, since, ultimately, it relies on the approval and the recognition of other agents within the art field (the Academy, the Emmy Awards, the news, media coverage and the necessary steady growth in the streaming services). It is part of the bigger picture, which is controlled and carefully constructed by the establishments and networks that make up the art field.
In the end though, through autonomous actions, and through going against the way “things are normally done” within the art field, Netflix offered the LGBTQIA+ community a platform to be more vocally and visibly represented and to raise themselves to a position where they are present and active in the mainstream sphere.