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  • Karen Frost

Be the Change You Want to See

One of the mottoes by which I live my life is "Be the change you want to see." When I was growing up, there really wasn't LGBT representation in fiction--not in books, not in movies, and not on TV. It was possible to count on one hand the number of queer female YA books in the library and on about two hands and feet the number of lesbian movies. In the last decade this trend has changed drastically, but I still believe in contributing to greater representation.

My first quartet was YA high fantasy. My fifth book is adult historical action/adventure with paranormal elements, and my sixth and current book is adult action/adventure low fantasy. Authors are told: create your brand and don't stray into other genres or you won't be able to build a consistent fan base. This is why a lot of authors will make their tagline something like, "Writer of contemporary ice queen romances." If you read a book by that author, you know what you're about to get into. From a business perspective, it makes sense.

But I've come to the realization that I can't do that for myself. I can't place myself into a very specific box and never leave it. If I want to read a book about half-demons (or are they half-angels?) fighting to stop the Apocalypse, I probably have to write it myself. And if I want the lesbian version of "The Mummy"...yep, it's going to have to be me. Sometimes being the change you want to see means recognizing that the cost is never having a fan base, BUT at least you can be proud of what you've done.

This post isn't about being an author, however. It's actually about my other passion, which is representation on screen. I've spent years watching queer female characters and storylines on TV and in movies and web series. I've written hundreds of articles about what makes representation good or bad, how Hollywood has leveraged or not leveraged queer audiences, etc. Earlier this year, I came to the conclusion that as a community, we have to change how queer content is funded. I've seen far too many content creators resorting to begging for money on Indiegogo to make their projects. This isn't sustainable. Only half or fewer projects on Indiegogo reach their funding goals, and this approach most often means that while one season of a web series might achieve its funding goal, the creator has to start begging again for the next season. Content is always at the mercy of the generosity of fans, and it can never achieve the funding to be truly high quality.

I believe that a solution to the funding dilemma is to harness direct private investment. As is true for society in general, parts of our community are poor and parts are not. Let's take the well-off members of our community, the people with significant disposable income, and see if they're willing to help pay for high-quality visual content. This isn't about using other people's money. I'm putting my own money behind my ideals as well. I'm currently invested in a Brazilian web series, an Australian web series, and an American movie. I understand that I'm likely never to get all my money back, or even a fraction of it, but I'm willing to put money into these projects because I believe in helping give to my community the things that didn't exist when I was younger. And I hope other people feel the same way.

This month, my other project to this end launched. The Sapphic Investment Film Fund (SIFF) is a project I dreamed up with Naomi Bennett of the lesbian streaming service LesFlicks. SIFF is a collective that aims to bring together investors and content creators around the world in order to foster the creation of more queer female content on both the big and small screen. SIFF also seeks to help creators better market and distribute their finished products by offering education on best practices and distribution options. SIFF was born out of our shared belief that by better harnessing the pink dollar, we can drive the funding of higher budget, higher quality projects. Specifically, we want to increase the amount of investment available for queer female stories to bring them to the $250,000-$2 million budget range for film and the $20,000-$100,000 budget range for web series.

There's so much more LGBT content now on screen than there was a decade ago. It seems like every Netflix show has a queer female primary or secondary character. We've come a long way from the days when there would only be two queer tertiary characters on American television in an entire year. Even so, I still believe in contributing to the creation of more content. If you can keep a secret, I dream of "The Lady Adventurers Club" being turned into a movie. But Hollywood isn't lining up to make a movie like that. And that's why I do what I do. Because until that change happens, I have to keep pushing. We all do.

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