Chloé Robichaud wants to see more LGBTQ+ films and series

Quebec television networks all agreed on one thing in 2014. They had no place on their airwaves for writer and director Chloé Robichaud’s Féminin/Féminin series about the trials and tribulations of six lesbians living in Montreal. Seven years later, she’s hoping viewers are readier than ever to explore the rich and varied facets of LGBTQ+ life today. 

What are the odds of networks broadcasting a series like Féminin/Féminin in 2021?

I think the odds are good but I still have my doubts. I humbly submit that even though the series was ground-breaking, it’s wrong to think that it occupies a niche too narrow for reaching a wider audience. Remember that Féminin/Féminin quickly racked up more than one million views. Artv signed on for Season 1. The series is available on Amazon and Hulu and it was broadcast on the France 4 network. Every episode in the series has been viewed at least one million times. These are serious numbers by any count. So, it’s obvious that its reach extends well beyond the LGBTQ+ world.

So, you think that straight and cisgender viewers can relate to LGBTQ+ content?

If I can relate to straight characters in a story, I don’t see why they can’t relate to LGBTQ+ characters in one. Of course, you can’t put all the blame on the viewers. What the creators, producers, and broadcasters do makes a difference, too. If the audience never sees anything but white straight folks in prime time, it’s not surprising that they might have some difficulty relating to others who don’t fit that mould. But if they see a bit of diversity every time they turn on the TV, they’re going to be more and more interested in how other people live. There’s some conditioning work that has to be done so viewers can take it all in.

Photo credit: Sandra Larochelle

Those in the LGBTQ+ community consume movies, TV series, books, and plays that feature an overwhelming cast of straight characters. I would think that just growing up in such an environment would make anyone feel like they don’t fit in?

I’m pretty laid-back and I do a lot of work on myself in relation to my experience of growing up, but yes, sometimes I can’t relate with what I see around me and in my profession. I don’t feel that I'm being offered a full range of characters that hold my interest or represent life as I experience it. But I’m still an optimist. I’m always evolving. Kids today have a wider choice of role models than ever before. But I don’t dwell on that. The world is pretty good at reminding me that I’m still different in certain ways.

How does it feel when you never see anyone like yourself on screen?

I’ve watched straight movies based on straight stories all my life. I have no problem identifying with the characters or their emotions. But of course, at the end of the day I do feel marginalized just like all the others who don’t feel represented on screen. Not ever seeing myself in the story reinforces my feeling of not fitting in. It’s a constant reminder.

To what extent are you trying to rebalance the current film offering with LGBTQ+ content?

When I wrote my first film, Sarah Prefers to Run, it was a sort of subconscious effort. I had a burning desire to create a female character almost totally unlike the image I was given when I was young. When I was a teenager, being feminine was often associated with the things you wore, like dresses and high heels once in a while. In my mind I was wondering, “I don’t like dresses so... I’m not feminine? I’m not a woman?” Looking back, I can see why Sarah was my first film.

Photo credit: Sandra Larochelle

Did your choices become more conscious over time?

Today, I can say I have a real desire to present another perspective on sexuality and femininity. Ideally, there should be no definition of what being a woman is. To each their own. There’s no one film with the answer to that question. When my time is up, I hope I will have created a range of works that show what a woman can be, in a global, complex, and nuanced way.

You just turned 33. Was there an LGBTQ+ film that really got to you as a teen?

Jean-Marc Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y. I could really relate to Zac. The fact that he’s male didn’t change anything. I saw myself in the way he came to accept his sexuality and his fear of coming out and how his family might react. I identified big time with his journey. There was no other film back then where I could see my own situation so clearly. It had a lot to do with why I ended up writing and directing films. It was my response to not seeing characters I could identify with on screen.

Were there any celebrities you could identify with?

Sad to say but there really weren’t any to speak of. If you ask someone else this same question ten years from now, I’m hoping they’ll say yes, there were many. I do know now that there were public figures that had come out and were working in the background, but they weren’t on my radar. When I was a kid or teen, the only openly gays on television were mostly men. Some time later Ariane Moffatt did come out publicly, but by then my coming out was a fait accompli. Nonetheless, she’s still someone who’s had a big influence on me. When I was young, role models were definitely in short supply. That’s why even though I’m pretty shy I never say no to an interview. I feel that I owe it to my 15-year-old self. 

Photo credit: Sandra Larochelle

Is there an early film where one or more LGBTQ+ characters made a lasting impression on you?

The Hours really got to me. First off, it’s a cinematic masterpiece. Lesbianism is not tackled head-on but it’s always there, underneath. The Virginia Woolf character is struggling with something that’s eating away at her while Julianne Moore’s character is being stifled by her own inner life. A lot of what happens stays unspoken. As a teen, I could relate to the silent pain the film brought to light so amazingly well. Meryl Streep played a contemporary woman in a relationship with another woman, and they had a daughter. They were like beacons of hope, as if someone was telling me that they knew I was suffering in silence, but it wouldn’t last forever.

Could one say that this way of making films is not unlike yours?

One certainly could. The art of the subtle, the nuance, the silence, what is left unsaid are in all my films. In a sense it’s my trademark because of what I myself had to hold back. I believe that those who speak little feel a lot and you can see that in my films. Not to say that Féminin/Féminin isn’t quite upfront as well. It just felt good to release some tension, like the pendulum in Sarah Prefers to Run. On the other hand, the idea of looking where you hadn’t thought to look before and listening for something you hadn’t heard before will always be a part of what I do.

You recently raved about Portrait of a Lady on Fire. What gives?

I’ve been waiting forever for that film! Many of the gay films I saw when I was young were hard to take. Lost and Delirious, for example, was a great movie but like many others it ended in a suicide. And, as was so often the case, the LGBTQ+ characters never did finally get together. In Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the situation may seem impossible but there’s still hope. Something has happened and something has been understood. It was really good to see that. I remember crying and that doesn’t happen very often when I watch films because I pick up quickly on the illusions. This time, I let all that go. When I saw the women kissing, it reminded me of my first tingling of love. While I can identify with straight characters, the feeling just isn’t the same.

Photo credit: Sandra Larochelle

Has any TV series ever made you feel that way?

The classic L World did. Not from an artistic point of view, but because it helped me come to grips with my situation and to do something about it. I used to watch it in secret on Artv in the basement at my parents’ home. Finally, I got to see women kissing! It was the only place on TV where I could see anything like that and at least the series made it seem like it was within the realm of possibility. It coincided with the time I started talking about my sexual orientation to those closest to me and opening up my circle of friends to include those going through what I was going through.

Do LGBTQ+ characters or themes figure in your upcoming projects?

I’ve just finished writing my next feature film. The leading character is a gay woman. She’s in a relationship with another woman but it’s never treated as an issue. It’s not even the subject of the film. The story is about an orchestra conductor trying to get out of a toxic relationship with her father, who’s also her agent. It’s about how she struggles to gain her personal freedom.

Samuel Larochelle
Originally from Abitibi-Témiscamingue and now based in Montreal, Samuel Larochelle has been a freelance journalist since 2012 for some 20 media outlets, including La Presse, HuffPost Quebec, Les Débrouillards, Fugues, L'actualité, Nightlife, Échos Montréal and many others. Also a writer, he has published two novels (À cause des garçons, Parce que tout me ramène à toi), the first two volumes of a series for teenagers and young adults (Lilie l'apprentie parfaite, Lilie l'apprentie amoureuse), as well as literary news in three collectives (Treize à table, Comme chiens et chats, Sous la ceinture - Unis pour vaincre la culture du viol).
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