Scream Queens is Ryan Murphy‘s new campy horror show on Fox. The ensemble show boasts several big names (Jamie Lee Curtis, Emma Roberts, Ariana Grande, Abigail Breslin, Nick Jonas), but it also has a handful of lesser-known actors in sizable roles. It’s unfortunate, then, that they relegate their only queer female character to the background.
Spot the lesbian!
Sam (played by out actress Jeanna Han) is an Asian butch lesbian, a character we rarely (if ever) see on television. In the two-hour premiere (airing September 21 on Fox), Sam shows up as a pledge to the sorority at the center of the action, led by Emma Roberts’ snarky HBIC, Chanel. Here’s how Chanel speaks to her Dean (Jamie Lee Curtis):
Chanel: Do you think you like to munch box because your last name is Munsch, or is that just a coincidence?
Dean Munsch: First of all, I’m not a lesbian. Second, this is exactly what I’m talking about. People just don’t talk that way to other people. It’s not normal.
For Glee fans, Chanel is like Santana and Quinn had an evil daughter. She has no qualms about saying racist, homophobic or overall hurtful things to anyone. It’s how she stays on top. So Dean Munsch decides to punish Chanel by allowing anyone who wants to rush her sorority, Kappa House, automatic pledges. Chanel takes a look at the group which includes Sam, a deaf girl who is obsessed with Taylor Swift and Lea Michele in a neck brace and says, “This is a total nightmare. If this is our pledge class, I’m killing myself, and then Munsch. Look at them–they’re the dregs of society.” She introduces them all, including Sam who she calls “Predatory Lez. Real name Butch or Mac or something. Two days ago, I caught her staring at my ass. All that girl is after is a whole lot of bikini burger.”
Scream Queens is campy, funny and very Ryan Murphy, which means that queerness is embedded within. (A male story is more overt in the second half of the two-hour premiere.) But, sadly, Sam is not a huge part of the show, and it’s a missed opportunity. She’s underutilized and, sadly, in a show where people are murdered (there’s a serial killer loose on campus), it does not appear that she will last long. When I asked Ryan Murphy and his co-creators Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan about the character at TCA, it took them all (individually) a moment to recall her character. It didn’t bode well for a show still in production, and IMDB only has Sam appearing in two episodes.
Asian women and androgynous women are rarely a part of television, and when they are, they are still relegated to the background; diversity for diversity’s sake or a punch line (or both). There are more jokes about lesbianism in the premiere than Sam has actual lines. It’s frustrating they continue to be treated like an afterthought to the leading white, straight women who star in show. Sam is a part of a group seen as undesirables, which seems to reflect the opinion of the showrunners. Yet another reason why getting women (especially queer women and women of color) in writers’ rooms is imperative to positive visibility.
Is Scream Queens worth watching? Yes, but if you are looking for the lesbian character to get any respect, you’ll likely end up disappointed. In the meantime, follow Jeanna Han on Twitter and Instagram.
Scream Queens premieres Tuesday, Sept. 22 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.