Russell T Davies flipped the script around the portrayal of LGBTQ people when he created ‘90s classic Queer as Folk – that rimming scene really did set tongues wagging – and he hasn’t stopped changing the TV game since.
Recognised for his conversation-sparking, pioneering work, from Cucumber and Years & Years to C4’s forthcoming Aids crisis drama It’s a Sin, starring Olly Alexander, Russell enjoys pole position in Attitude 101's Media & Broadcast list.
Reflecting on his career thus far in the Attitude 101 February issue, out now to download and to order globally, the godfather of gay television opens up to former mentee – and, indeed, fellow listee – Amrou Al-Kadhi about the importance of authentic representation on screen.
Russell T Davies leads the Media and Broadcast category in the Attitude 101 February issue (Photography: Markus Bidaux)
“The soaps were ahead of the game, the gay characters in the ‘90s started to appear, like Tony and Simon in EastEnders,” Davies begins. “But I didn’t like those characters – I’m very glad they existed, but it was genuinely part of the reason why I wrote Queer as Folk.”
“I do very often sift through my own head, trying to right wrongs, even if I’m the only person who can see the wrongs. It’s a big part of writing, I think, righting wrongs – I love that.”
Non-binary writer and drag performer Amrou adds that they started putting pen to paper themselves after “only being given 9/11 re-enactment roles” to audition for.
“There was one audition where it said on the brief, ‘An Arab man in a dress.’ So, I came in full drag and then the casting director, who couldn’t stop laughing, was, like, ‘No, it’s a cold-blooded terrorist who puts on a burka to disguise the bombs,’” they recall.
However, Russell, 57, warns that he once lost a friend after writing about an incident that was too close to home for 2015's polarising LGBTQ drama Cucumber– not that he regrets it.
Photography: Markus Bidaux
“The opening episode of Cucumber, where they have this huge row over their sex life, and they get someone in for a threesome, and the man ends up walking barefoot to go and get a policeman? That literally happened to a friend of mine,” he explains.
“He did turn up at my house the day after [Cucumber aired], and our friendship was then wrecked, because I think I’d used everything. I thought, tough shit, good story.”
Amrou, 30 – whose acclaimed memoir Life as a Unicorn: A Journey from Shame to Pride and Everything in Between is currently being adapted – weighs in that pleasing, or representing, everybody is an impossibility.
“I had a gay Muslim guy say to me after a show, ‘I don’t feel like that represented the panoply of queer Muslim experience.” And he was quite mad about it actually, and I was like, oh, God, I felt really bad,’” they admit.
Writer and drag performer Amrou Al-Kadhi features on Attitude 101's Arts & Entertainment list
“I was really angry at myself for a while, and then I did think, well, I was just as specific as possible to my experience here, and that’s all I can do, and the fact that you didn’t feel represented is because there needs to be more.”
They continue: “Whenever a queer show comes out, I do always feel quite sorry for the writer, because you see all of queer Twitter going, ‘No, no, what about this, what about this?’ And, ‘There’s not this person in there.’”
Moving on to the need for more diversity, fresh perspectives and lived experiences within the media, Russell and Amrou discuss the responsibility of the storyteller to decide which stories are theirs to tell.
“I turned down two big jobs this year,” Russell reveals. “One was a very good trans story, and I said, ‘I’m not a trans person, a trans person’s got to write that.’ And one was an adaptation of a great novel, it was a Black novel, and I said, ‘No, right now, I’d be torn to pieces if I wrote a Black story.’ I said the entire debate about the show would be about how I’m a white man writing a Black story.”
Russell T Davies discusses queer representation on TV with former mentee Amrou Al-Kadhi in the Attitude 101 February issue, out now (Photography: Markus Bidaux)
Amrou notes: “I do think that if there is a trans screenwriter out there, and they have had so few opportunities as it is, they probably would be able to add a level of real authenticity to this story.”
As for the advice he would give an aspiring writer looking to change the televisual landscape, Russell keeps it simple: “Start your script, and then finish your script.”
“Most people don’t start the script, even more people don’t finish the script. You can complain about the state of television all you like, nothing’s going to happen until you’ve got a script that shows a different world, so get on with it,” he urges.
Well, you heard the man...
Read the full interview in the Attitude 101 February issue featuring 101 LGBTQ trailblazers, out now.