LOS ANGELES — Even in his wildest dreams, Kit Williamson couldn’t have imagined this moment.
It’s two hours before the big premiere of his show EastSiders, and Williamson and his friends have gathered for a moment of celebration. Right before heading out to the big event, Williamson applies one last layer of powder to his face.
“I don’t want to get too shiny on the red carpet tonight,” he said.
When he came up with an idea for a web series seven years ago, along with his husband John Halbach, he thought it would be a great way to update their acting reels. Little did he know, it would be their ticket to Hollywood.
EastSiders is a dark comedy that follows the complicated lives of a gay couple living and working in East Los Angeles. The series has been hailed as groundbreaking for its unapologetic portrayal of gay sex, substance abuse, and HIV.
“When we started the show, there was almost no LGBTQ representation out there,” Williamson said. “You’d get one show every five years, Queer as Folk, and then Looking, and then nothing. And we wanted to do something to kind of fill in the blank.”
After a stint on YouTube and other platforms, the show eventually caught the eye of Netflix executives. Now its fourth and final season has scored a lucrative spot on the streaming platform’s main page and has been translated into 30 languages.
“We’re getting messages in the last 24 hours from literally every country, including in some countries where it’s not even legal to be gay,” Williamson said.
One of the show’s top priorities was casting LGBTQ actors for both gay and straight roles.
“I actually play a straight character on the show which is something that did make me a little nervous as a gay man in the beginning,” Halbach said. “But, by most reports, for the most part, I pull it off.”
According to a recent report by GLAAD, the nation’s largest LGBTQ media watchdog, 10.2 percent of regular network characters this season are LGBTG, up from from 8.8 percent last year, making the 2019-2020 season a record-breaking year for LGBTQ characters on broadcast TV. Cable and steaming services also saw an uptick in gay representation, with shows like FX’s Pose, Showtime’s The L Word: Generation Q and Netflix’s The Politician.
“Eastsiders takes it to a whole new level,” Greg Hernandez, an entertainment blogger, told Spectrum News 1. “It’s not just a gay sidekick or a gay judge or a doctor who happens to be gay. These are really the inner-lives of queer characters.”
For Williamson, it was a chance to showcase his talents while, at the same time, normalizing gay relationships to a broader audience.
“We need all kinds of different stories going at once,” he said. “Not just stories about perfect husbands next door with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence, but also stories about flawed messy complicated people who are allowed to completely screw up their lives and relationships just like straight characters are.”