Greg Berlanti – Making the Write for Inclusion
“When I was in college, I was a theater major, and I wasn’t out” recalls Greg Berlanti about his own passage to self-acceptance. “I was surrounded by kids who were out and brave and courageous and I remember thinking, I wish I had their courage. But I was on my journey with it and I think that everyone has to come out about their sexual identity on their own path.”
As we celebrate Pride month this June, it is important to take a closer look at those prominent people in the entertainment industry who took creative risks to champion the more often than not misrepresented LGBTQ+ community. For the past 25 years, Berlanti has been at the forefront of ensuring inclusivity in the movies and television shows he creates; from that infamous Dawson’s Creek same-sex kiss to the heartbreak of friendship in The Broken Hearts Club, to a teenage gay romantic comedy in Love, Simon to gay superheroes in Doom Patrol and Batwoman.
“What I am the proudest of,” he told the HFPA back in 2018, “is telling stories of the human condition. It tends to be optimistic and warm, whether the person is in tights or a cape or a teenager in high school.” Recalling his own impressionable childhood watching those seminal 1980’s high school flicks that felt so iconic and impressionable to youthful eyes, he notes how he studied the camera lenses and music those filmmakers used to try and capture that feeling. “Those films just seemed larger than life.”
His ‘larger-than-life’ moment came when Love Simon was released back in 2018; is well noted for its cultural significance; the first major Hollywood studio to showcase a same-sex romantic love story.
For Berlanti, who acknowledged that he wished there had been a film like that for himself during his adolescence, the movie is an invitation for people, regardless of their sexual difference, to connect with it on a human level. “I really do believe that we have much more in common than we do differently. And I think that applies to our sexuality, but I also think it applies to just being a person.”
In this case, a very busy person as Berlanti currently holds the television record for most shows under his creative watchful eye at any one point, 20. Married to former soccer star Robbie Rogers and the father of two, the New York native and Northwestern alumni has structured his life to balance between the personal and the professional. Waking up early, he dives into his creative projects first, writing and giving notes, then heads to the office to oversee his producer’s responsibilities.
“I think people in my job, especially in TV, get a lot of credit for stuff that they don’t do. We segue all day between people who are there all day solving those problems,” he explains. “They present me with things to fix and choose. Then by night time, I will usually be editing or in Post.”
Since taking that first writing job at Dawson’s Creek when he was 26, one of his biggest pursuits has been telling stories that he would like to see, that reflective element of himself. Noting that when he was growing up, the only portrayals of gay people he observed on TV were those getting wiped out due to disease, treated as a joke or a mere afterthought. And for sure, those playing gay certainly couldn’t identify as such in real life.
One of the principal evolutions he has witnessed over these intervening decades working in the business has been the emergence of out gay actors. With a healthy discussion being had about whether only gay actors should play gay parts, Berlanti is well in tune with the topic.
“I am old enough to remember when it was like really hard to cast openly gay actors in straight roles,” he adds. “That was like the first challenge, 15, 20 years ago. I would get executives that would kick things back to me and say, well, doesn’t that person seem a little soft? Or for the woman, they would say, well doesn’t she seem a little tough or hard? I knew what they meant, and we would push back against that. I was really cognizant, throughout my career, or casting openly gay in straight parts.”
In his pursuit of representation on screen, he also knew he couldn’t ask any actor who came to audition what their sexual identity was. So, with The Broken Hearts Club, Berlanti’s relatively novice cast was populated with subsequently acknowledged straight actors Zach Braff, Timothy Olyphant, Dean Cain and Justin Theroux but when it came time for Love, Simon, he made a concerted effort to diversify.
“What I am proud about with this movie is that we have straight actors, we have gay actors, bi actors, all in this movie, all playing different parts,” he continues. “I think that for me is what I stay focused on, and then just casting the best person I can find within the body of that. So, I didn’t know how the representation would kind of all fall out, but we have each in the movie, and I am happy for that.
In a May 202 interview with EW, Berlanti summed up his achievements and his place in life.
“I’ve always seen myself as a storyteller, and however big or small the landscape of those stories gets, I’m just grateful that I’m still here and excited by whatever progress is coming for all of us. And now, getting to experience it as a full person. The biggest difference between my life [at the start of my career] and now was I was still living with this belief that even though I was out, I probably didn’t deserve a full life, and didn’t deserve to share that life with a family. That’s been the greatest change in my life and the one that I’m the most grateful for. A lot of it came because of the work of our sisters and brothers in the movement who were storytellers themselves, who helped change people’s hearts. So, I’ve actually gotten to reap the rewards of other people’s creativity