Queer Representation on TV: UnReal’s Breeda Wool

Deidhra Fahey Photography
Deidhra Fahey Photography

Lifetime’s UnREAL follows the behind the scenes making of a fictional dating show, Everlasting. The producers of the show encourage contestants to go in directions that will cause the most drama for viewers watching at home. Of course that would never happen in our reality (wink! wink!). One of the contestants from UnREAL’s first season was Faith (Breeda Wool) who hoped of winning the show and marrying that season’s bachelor. However, in the middle of filming, Faith realized that she didn’t exactly love that man–or any man for that matter. In fact, she loved her best friend from back home, Amy (Malea Mitchell). However, Faith is a deeply religious woman, as is Amy. Finding love in another woman doesn’t come easy to Faith, or anyone in her family. However, the topic was discussed and Faith’s feelings were not tucked away.

When UnREAL’s first season came to a close, Faith and Amy’s story did not end. In The Faith Diaries, Faith documents her life as she and Amy leave for L.A.–a city where Faith now has a new job, but is also coincidentally more accepting of the life they wish to live. It doesn’t come without its hardships, but the series shows these two women as they learn to navigate their new life.

The TV Junkies recently spoke with Breeda Wool as part of our our Queer Representation on TV series. She discussed what it means to be playing this character and where can we move forward with LGBTQ representation on TV.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The TV Junkies: Faith is a very religious woman woman coming to terms with her identity. Why is this so important to show on television?

Breeda Wool: With The Faith Diaries, and starting with UnREAL, I think Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, through this story of Faith, is presenting a tale about love and religion in this country, particularly love between two women, which right now in the United States is posing as two adversarial entities. Not everywhere in the United States, but certainly parts where religious freedom and freedom of love are in concourse. I feel like The Faith Diaries is a wonderful story about the unity between religion and LGBT love–or love that isn’t so selective in the Bible.

TTVJ: Faith is struggling with being herself and listening to what she’s been told her entire life. How does it feel to bring such an important discussion to television?

BW: It feels good. It feels really rewarding to get that kind of feedback. I had a lot of people who have grown up in religious communities reach out to me and say thanks for making this story. I think it is a topic that seems like it’s at odds. This one guy spoke out against the gay community and then turned out to like men and that was a real guy. He went on many talk shows with his wife saying this is an affliction and it’s God’s test to overcome it, which must have been quite horrible for him. I think my whole story with Faith is that this is the wrong message. There is no pray away the gay. It’s not the message that God wants for Faith in that story. It’s to be honest and love the people you love.

Lifetime
Lifetime

TTVJ: Faith is a very religious character. Was there any conversation about bring up topics such as “pray the gay away” or the need to want freedom once you’re out?

BW: Yeah! Definitely! Sarah Shapiro sent me The L Word Mississippi. I did a lot of my own research too. I spent most of my time in New York City and Los Angeles and the climate for gay communities in these cities has come a long way in the last 50 years. There’s still more to go, but it’s leagues ahead. There’s still a lot of places in the United States that haven’t moved at all. I had to sort of uncover and discover for myself what it’s like to be gay in communities where that is looked at as being an outcast. Also when I was preparing for The Faith Diaries and UnREAL, I was thinking of what is the best possible outcome [for Faith]. I had this image of Amy and Faith getting married and inviting the whole church. How awesome this would have been if their love wasn’t against the law of God for the people that she knows. I let myself have this fantasy about what a fantastic wedding that would be. What a joyous day. Then to know that that day can’t come. That day is impossible. That silly toast at the reception and people laughing and kids doing dances on the dance floor, it’s something that she’s being deprived of because of people’s interpretation of a text. That’s weird and doesn’t really apply to things like true love.

TTVJ: What have you learned from playing Faith?

BW: A lot. I learned how to believe in God. I don’t think I really knew that people actually believed in God. So I had to  learn that during that time in your eternal soul, that’s where God lives. It was quite a lesson. I didn’t grow up with a religious practice. So, I kind of always thought that people were always doing it for the tradition of it. I talked to a lot of people about it and all of the sudden the world of Christianity burst open for me. There were people on the set of UnREAL who talked to me a lot about God. I was suddenly very open to hearing people’s experiences with prayer and dialogue and this understanding that people are auditioning for the afterlife. I had no idea. It actually really scared me [laughs].

My personal belief system is secondary to what Sarah Shapiro, Marti Noxon, Malea, Dot Marie Jones and I made–our mission wasn’t to convert anybody, but to maybe make somebody who is unsure about these topics have empathy for people in love . Maybe somebody out there will watch The Faith Diaries who has a us/them mentality about who God loves and maybe they will fall in love with Faith.

There’s nothing more satisfying to me as a human being than reflecting the mirror of our culture back in a way that is inclusionary. Having a mission is really an important part of my art, but sometimes when I’m actually making it, I don’t think of things in terms of mission at all. The mission is very much a third party point of view. The Faith Diaries came out and I got all these texts from people who were very close to me and their response was discussing the idea of religion and the gay community in this country. They didn’t even talk about what they thought of the series. They immediately started a conversation where their response to seeing it was let’s talk about this topic. The thesis statement of The Faith Diaries is “don’t pray away the gay”–that’s a good final statement. I love seeing that people’s reactions are a desire to talk about these topics. There’s always a question about what can you do to give back? Who are you as a person and can you change or add something to the dialogue? My point of view has always been that the arts is the fastest bridge between two opposing points of view. All you have to do is see something and empathize with it in order to identify with it. It’s very satisfying to have made this piece with Sarah Shapiro because it feels like we’re adding something to the dialogue.

Lifetime
Lifetime

TTVJ: Why do you think it’s important to show this kind of coming out story on a series like UnREAL that airs to a Lifetime audience and is a show centered on finding true love on a dating show?

BW: Americans watch a lot of television. There are already people controlling what the norms are. The content of our television sets is a huge part of our life. It’s a huge part of how we understand the world and it’s a very big part of how we relate to each other. If you’re spending 5 hours a day checking in with what is being deemed as reality, that is the dialogue that is being permeated. To make a television show that instigates a question about that reality–it’s very important. A television show that questions imagery on television and the manipulation behind that is imperative. That’s why I think people like it. It’s a very clever thing to be seeing things of reality on TV in terms of the set up of drama, but it’s also shifting the dialogue saying what does it mean to be a woman on TV? Season 2 is what does it mean to be a black woman on TV? What does it mean to be a closeted woman in a paradigm of romance? These are things that have been dictated to people every day when they watch TV, so we might as well say well who’s dictating it and why. It’s fundamentally pretty radical.

TTVJ: LGBTQ representation is a very hot topic at the moment, what do you think we can do better in terms of presenting LGBTQ characters on screen?

BW: I think there will always be somebody selling trite things to mass amounts of people. And people will continually make things that have already been successful and then add on more controversy and more titillation–more things that will cause the media to be upset. Yet, there’s television out there that is speaking against the grain and that is making some of the best art that we have ever seen. We have access to those shows like Transparent, Orange is the New Black, UnREAL, The Faith Diaries. We have access to a whole plethora of indie films created by women and gay women. There’s more access now than there ever has been to find cool stories and brilliant, creative television.

The more new and awesome points of view that arise, the more that this is a backlash of the status quo and is pushing the envelope. So, what do you do? You find and seek out better TV. The better TV is teaching the populist TV that indie TV makers and indie film makers are coming up and they are getting exposure. It’s changing the dialogue and it’s all happening right now. In one generation we went from never seeing a gay person on television to having gay directors, women directors, and gay people doing anything on TV. It’s all happening right now. Just seek out the good stuff. Everyone is always going to want to watch their popcorn TV. What you get is with popcorn TV is sharks jumping out windows. The American viewer is smarter now. They can see when shows jump the shark.

 

Thoughts or comments? Share them below! Read more from our Queer Representation on TV series here.

UnREAL Season 2 will premiere Monday, June 6 at 10 p.m.ET on Lifetime.