‘A League Of Their Own’ Showrunner On The Importance Of LGBTQ Stories In Hollywood After The Colorado Shooting

Exactly 30 years after the beloved movie version arrived in theaters, A League of Their Own the series premiered on Prime Video this past August. Centered and loosely based around the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which first assembled in 1943 during WWII, the narrative of this scripted series has effectively shined a spotlight on the queer female players during a time when it was rather unsafe to live out their truth in public and openly be themselves. These 79 years later, recent events have shown that the real world LGBTQ community is having to continue to face some of the most unfathomable adversity today.

I spoke this past weekend with A League of Their Own showrunner, co-creator, writer and director Will Graham, asking him if he and his creative team initially felt any pressure telling these on-screen stories with authenticity and a respect for the many generations of LGBTQ people.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say we felt the pressure as much as we saw the opportunity of it,” Graham says. “I think a really crucial moment was meeting Maybelle Blair, who was an original player in the league, has been a consultant on the show. She came out at our Tribeca premiere in June. We were like, ‘What was it like meeting all these people who were like you?’ She said, ‘Oh, it was a party!’ I just thought how amazing 25 years before Stonewall – the idea that this community came into being. I think there’s a lot of pain under that statement, but that they had that kind of joy. It really became a core part of the series to tell the story through a lens of joy, without looking away from the hard parts.”

Graham adds, “In terms of the authenticity of it, I’m queer, [series star, co-creator and fellow showrunner] Abbi [Jacobson] is queer, Desta Tedros Reff who’s our third EP (executive producer) is queer. Most of our writers’ room was queer, except maybe one or two people. I think we all just sort of put ourselves into these stories and learned as much as we could.”

Over the past three months since the series began streaming, A League of Their Own has formed a large and vocally supportive community on social media, admiring the diverse LGBTQ characters featured and championing the empowering stories told. Knowing that Graham has witnessed firsthand the impact the series has had on our society today, I wondered what has been the most pleasant surprise for Graham in seeing the overwhelming public response the series continues to receive.

“The response to the show has honestly been unlike anything that I’ve ever seen or experienced,” Graham continues. “There’s a broad audience watching the show and we’ve heard stories from people about watching it with their parents and coming out to their parents and someone’s grandmother calling them, who had never accepted them, and called them crying and said they were sorry. There’s sort of an inter-generational aspect to it, but I think the most incredible part is just the depth of the fan response. The amount of art that has been created, the amount of fiction that has been created. It really speaks to the hunger from queer audiences to see themselves on-screen, to see themselves in things that they haven’t really seen themselves in before and also to have stories that are joyful and fun and are honest about the hard things, but are also romantic and a good time.”

Being one of the leading creative figures on this series and an openly queer person himself, I asked Graham how he first reacted when he heard of the deadly shooting that took place on the evening of November 19 at the Club Q in Colorado Springs, a senseless tragedy targeting the LGBTQ community that ultimately killed five people and injured several others.

“I was devastated,” Graham reveals. “I think for so many of us, queer spaces are just an integral part of how we found ourselves and found our community and really understood who were were. We need those safe spaces and the idea that they are being targeted is heartbreaking. My heart goes out to those people who were there and the community around that space. We’re seeing very clearly that things don’t always move forward and that our lives and our stories are being politicized more than they were a few years ago and that has consequences like these.”

Despite all of the progression seen in recent years for people in the LGBTQ community, with the marriage equality U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2015 and additional efforts currently in motion in the Senate to protect same-sex and interracial marriages, these acts of hatred continue to occur across our nation today. Before the shooting at Club Q, there was the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2015, which took the lives of 49 people. I wondered if these recent tragedies happening in our world today have at all changed or altered Graham’s storytelling approach with A League of Their Own.

Graham responds with, “I don’t know. Definitely the things that are happening in our world affect the kind of things that I write and for Abbi and I, I’m sure they’ve affected League. I think we in some ways see the show as a safe and positive space for all audiences, which I think we need now. And also, because our stories are still thought of and talked as being ‘niche’ or small and this is a universal story and something that everyone should be able to relate to about finding your team and finding your dreams. I would say more that we’re trying to maybe work on the problem that’s underneath that in a different way. From the perspective of A League of Their Own, I think it’s also a really sobering reminder that things have changed in some ways, but in some ways, not so much. These spaces have always been the target of violence and that is just as tragic as it was in 1943.”

Looking beyond the A League of Their Own series, I asked Graham what he thinks Hollywood still needs to improve upon in telling more three-dimensional LGBTQ stories to truly have a lasting impact on the minds of Americans everywhere and our world at large.

Graham says, “We all, queer people and people from other historically marginalized groups, grew relating to the stories of white, straight, cis men and women to some extent because that is what there was. We have moved in a direction where our stories are being given a little more space, but they still are marginalized and aren’t broadly accepted. I think that’s something I’m going to be working on for my whole career. There are obstacles and I think the big part of it is we have to be honest about what those obstacles are and what the implications are for the content that we’re making, in order to really move forward. I think there’s never been a more important time to just be telling very human, queer stories and I do believe that what we do can help promote and create empathy and can bring people closer to experiences they never had before. It’s just one of the reasons why I think it’s so important that the platforms that are dominating now keep prioritizing those stories.”

Since the show’s August premiere, loyal A League of Their Own fans have waited for Prime Video to announce a second season, anxious to know that more of these LGBTQ stories will be coming to their screens soon enough. So, I concluded my conversation with Graham to see if he has any updates on that hopeful news.

“It has not been yet announced,” Graham continues. “We’re working on it in various different ways and we’re really hoping to have some good news soon. We very consciously knew that season one was the first chapter. The problem for us in season one wasn’t what do we do, it’s there’s so much here (laughs), so where can we start? A League of Their Own series is really about a generational change and a generational shift. It begins in 1943, just like the movie does, but the league itself actually ran until 1954. It’s about this moment in time when all of the rules changed and people started to see and imagine themselves differently. In season two, there’s going to be a lot more eyes on the league. Season one was really about the league as a start-up. Season two is no longer about ‘Do we exist anymore?’ but it’s in some ways more about the problems of success. What happens now that people are paying attention? I think people who liked season one are going to love season two.”

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