Q-Force: Representation or Pandering?

Q-Force: Representation or Pandering?

- By JJ

This September, Netflix dropped its first queer adult action comedy series called Q-Force. The Q, of course, stands for queer. Created by LGBTQ+ writers and actors, it follows LGBTQ+ agents. This show sounds like a dream come true in terms of representation. Watching it, however, is a completely different story. 

The Pilot

In the pilot episode, we meet Steve Maryweather, who is valedictorian of his spy class. That is, until he comes out as gay, of course. Then, suddenly someone else was actually supposed to be valedictorian and Steve is pushed aside, with his own boss calling him Mary (because he’s gay, his last name is shortened to sound feminine. Typical cis man behavior.). Our protagonist is then sent to West Hollywood to assemble a team of other queers and wait for a mission. After ten years with no assignment, they go rogue and end up stopping a black market deal. The pilot ends on a hopeful note, as Q-Force is promised more missions, as long as it’s supervised by the resident cis man who replaced the protagonist as valedictorian years ago The protagonist even seems to go by Mary and the team is fine with being called Q-Force. It’s a reclamation of names, and seemingly a common trope in this episode. 

Now to meet the team. Deb is an implied lesbian (she mentions her wife several times and her being attracted to other genders). She’s the team’s mechanic and is sassy, butch and voiced by Wanda Sykes. While I love this, she seems to spout a lot of stereotypes about lesbians and black women in general. I can’t comment on either as I’m not in either community, but if her character had appeared in a show without a POC or LGBTQ+ writer, red flags would be flying. The same goes for the Master of Disguise of the team: a drag queen named Twink. Pronouns aren’t really mentioned, but this character is a caricature of a gay man who does drag. There are many “bitch” and “queen”s dabbled in the dialogue. Later, the team is told their status has been revoked and their clearance taken away. In other words, the director tells them to “sashay away”. At this point, Twink, notes “Oh, got it. That’s bad.” Never mind, the character already spotted a terrorist and could read Kazakh, being told the team has been fired only makes sense when a Drag Race reference is used. The third member of the team was broken out of prison and works in tech. Stat’s pronouns are never really mentioned or discussed, but it seems like they are the nonbinary member. It’s hard to say as their character, like the others, isn’t really developed. 

The Problems

This show had a diverse cast and group of writers creating the show, so really this could be more of inside jokes than making fun of the community. However, most of the characters are caricatures of common stereotypes. The show has gay men speaking in what could be called Valley Girl styles, lesbian women as butch and obsessed with traditional masculine pastimes, and a drag queen who is spacey and seemingly superficial. These all seem to be stereotypes that we’ve been trying to work past for the last several years. Sure, by filling the show with stereotyped characters and then showing the audience that they’re still valid and great is nice, but will this message really translate when the straight/cis non-ally community see it? Or will this work towards their confirmation bias, and they’ll think that the stereotypes are accurate since even the LGBTQ writers use them?

The show divided a lot of critics when it first came out. Some loved the representation and diverse cast and called the show hilarious. After all, it’s similar to Archer, except with more representation. It adds in the homophobic bosses who are also sexist, and it shows some scenarios we’re all used to seeing: women and LGBTQ people having to work twice as hard and still be overlooked or mocked. Other critics pointed out how much this show seems to rely on throwaway one-liners and a focus on stereotypes. While it’s created by some members of the LGBTQ community, it doesn’t give them the right to harass other members of the community with problematic stereotypes. 

I’m somewhere on the fence. Since this is only the pilot episode, I’m hopeful that the characters will go beyond their initial stereotypes, and that we’ll get well-rounded, three-dimensional characters. However, it doesn’t seem the show is going in this direction. And while it’s pretty funny watching some moments of the show, others make me very uncomfortable. 

Part of my desire to have representation in shows is to have conversations about them, and to  have those conversations lead to dialogue about LGBTQ+ issues with those who aren’t in the community. But I’m honestly apprehensive about the straight/cis population watching this show. I come from a conservative background. If my uncles watched this show, they’d feel like this confirmed everything they knew about the LGBTQ+ community. They’d see the jokes and think it was okay for them to make the same jokes (spoiler alert: it isn’t). Instead of creating a conversation, I’d have to be crafting a defense. 

I also live in a country where LGBTQ+ rights are practically nonexistent. Thanks to Netflix, everyone here can watch this show. I have Korean friends having their first experience to the LGBTQ+ community being this show. Is this the first impression I wanted them to have? Not really. 

The Outlook

While this show is amazing in the terms of having a team of writers, actors, animators, etc. being from the LGBTQ+ community, creating a show filled with queer characters, it also created a lot of problems. Their lack of addressing pronouns also has me wondering if they have members from all parts of the community. We are all part of the same community, but our experiences and sexual identities are unique. Continuing to spout the same harmful stereotypes about certain sexualities and orientations, especially if we aren’t a part of it, harms the community as a whole more than it ‘represents’ it. So far, this show has helped in showing the struggle the LGBTQ+ community faces: we can be the best at the job and still be overlooked because of our sexuality. However, this show perpetuates the stereotypes we’ve been fighting for just as long as we’ve been fighting for recognition. As the show continues, I can’t help but wonder its future impact. Is it a show that will be seen as a golden example of representation both on and off camera? Or will it be called several steps back in terms of representation in media? It’s hard to say if the show will make a drastic turn from its less-than-impressive pilot, or even if it wants to.

While it’s true that this show does show some change (a queer show picked up and produced by one of the biggest streaming services today), it’s hard to say if the content of the show itself is actually groundbreaking. Or even acceptable. Is it really a great example of representation for those of us in the LGBTQ+ community to watch, laugh at and create conversations? Or is it just pandering to the crowd, tossing some representation our way while appealing to the straight/cis crowd with one-dimensional stereotypes and offensive caricatures?

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