Ellen Page explores LGBTQ culture around the world on Viceland channel's 'Gaycation'
Documenting the challenges faced by LGBTQ people in other countries was an eye-opener for the actress and her co-host, Ian Daniel.
Ellen Page has launched a show on Viceland called "Gaycation." It's a sunny title, and the premise is essentially that of a travel show: Page and co-host Ian Daniel tour the world, exploring what LGBTQ culture is like from country-to-country.
But the show quickly turns serious. After the flashy nights out, the people that Page and Daniel interview have to contend with other realities — like coming out to their families, and navigating their cities under constant threat of violence. Some don't have the privilege to enjoy a night out at all, as in Jamaica, where a man can be jailed for 10 years for engaging in sex with another man.
Page is an accomplished actress who became an activist and outspoken advocate for LGBT issues when she came out publicly during a Human Rights Campaign conference in 2014. With this series, she becomes a field journalist, documenting the lives of LGBT people in countries such as Japan, Jamaica and Brazil.
When Page and Daniel spoke with The Frame's John Horn, they began by explaining the idea behind the show's title.
Ellen Page: For me, the [title] is a playful term. Of course the show will be about the joys, or the nightlife — what have you. Sadly, a part of the show is about the discrimination people face, and how oppression affects people's lives.
The very first episode starts like a typical travel show. Here's one of the hottest LGBT neighborhoods in Japan. It's a fun dive into queer culture there. But very quickly it gets very serious. Toward the end, a gay man comes out to his mom. You're with him. The episodes that follow are equally intense. Was that always the intent of the series, to get to these personal moments?
Ian Daniel: Yeah. You want to hit on as many emotions and truths as possible. So, yes, in some countries, you can go out as an LGBT person and have fun. But we also want to focus on the struggles in each country. The scene you're talking about is so powerful because you're seeing every emotion in a 15-minute span on television. It's endearing at first. It's sort of strange, that this man is hiring someone to be his gay friend. Then the mother arrives. He comes out. She at first rejects the idea, then reconciles, and comes back. She accepts it and is able to express her love.
It's a perfect scene to me because it shows all of the emotions we want the entire series to have.
At one point, the mom leaves the room because she's really uncomfortable. What was going through your heads?
Page: My response was pure emotion. Uncontrollable. I almost felt bad because this was their moment. We weren't translating while they were talking. We were giving them that space. I was watching this young man in pain, his nerves and his discomfort. Of course we felt for the mom — the fact that we were strangers sitting in her son's apartment with cameras. It was an unusual situation. I had a very intense emotional response and for the most part I was trying to hide it.
Daniel: The young man looks to Ellen for advice. Her experience about coming out clearly gave him confidence. Ellen and I and the producer were discussing the ethics of the situation. At any point, they can tell us to get out of the room, or say that they don't want this to be on TV. At the end, the mother-son relationship affected me because I was raised by a single mother. I wanted them to understand that they support one another.
Ellen, you had a similar experience coming out on camera at the 2014 Human Rights Campaign event in Las Vegas. Were you thinking about what happened to you when you watched this young man go through almost the same thing?
Page: I guess I [was]. The LGBT community has been so responsive. Some [responses] have brought Ian and me to tears. I think that is a moment a lot of people relate to in our lives. It was very — Ian said raw. Being ready to move past those fears, the shame. I think of those who are so much less fortunate than me all the time. I came out to people clapping and an outpour of support. And the reality is, for a lot of people, they get kicked out of their homes, or are faced with violence.
That's why we wanted to make the series. First, we wanted to have representation for LGBT people. And to shine a light on the struggles that people face, because a lot of the time, people just don't know. Then in terms of the political rhetoric, to really show the impact of that. It's not just a little sound byte. If you're perpetuating discrimination, let's look at how that really does affect people's lives. And how that inspires you to do more, I suppose.
In one episode, you interview Beenie Man, a Jamaican dancehall musician who has sung about his hatred for gay people. He tells you that he thinks the stories about gay people experiencing violence are lies. Did you expect to be put in situations where it would be that hard and awkward for the two of you? What was your expectation for this interview?
Page: We always knew this was going to be a part of the show, to talk to those who in varying degrees do not like the LGBTQ community. For Beenie Man's sake, I will say that a lot of the lyrics — which, yeah, are really awful — are from a while ago. He has made an apology. I just want to offer context to the situation. But yeah, he's still not very comfortable with LGBTQ people, despite saying that he respects them. But there seems to be a lot of contradiction in the interview that doesn't seem to be quite accurate.
But we wanted this to be a part of the show. We wanted the dialogue. We wanted to go in with an open heart and open mind.
Daniel: You're entering a country like Jamaica and you know that dancehall has a lot of influence. You also look at where dancehall comes from. It's a voice of a marginalized world. The lyrics will tend to be more violent and raw already. Then within those lyrics are the attitudes toward the LGBT community.
I think we understood what Beenie Man was saying: Don't come in here and judge us. Don't be these kids from America coming in with an attitude about LGBT people, and put that attitude toward our country. And we said, We do want to hear your story, but we are gay. We have some bias on some level.
At that point in the interview we'd already been talking to a lot of LGBT youth about the brutality they were facing on a daily basis — having rocks thrown at them, having buses drive them off the road. We talk to the homeless youth. They have acid burns on their face, wounds on their body. One girl had a bullet in her leg. Stab wounds. Then we talk to someone like Beenie Man. We'd make the conclusion that [the stories about violence are] not a lie.
Ellen, you had a conversation with Senator Ted Cruz. Joe Biden says you won the debate, and Ted Cruz is no slouch at debating. How do you prepare yourself — not only for this moment, but for the entire series — to interview people and ask tough questions? It requires some journalism skills, not only to attack but hold your own against someone like Ted Cruz.
Page: I don't think of walking into that situation as a debate. That's not where my head's at. My head is truly about, I'm a human being. And I'm going to go engage with a human being, and we're going to talk about this. I guess it becomes some form of a debate.
This is something I'm passionate about. With Ian, we become so much more aware of our privilege. My privilege as a human, as a gay person living in Los Angeles, the freedoms I have. And I want to educate myself. I want to offer anything that I possibly can to be a visible member of the community. So when I do get to talk to a GOP candidate for president, I guess some part of me does feel like I can have that conversation, that I'm ready. I think some part of my being disconnects from the situation a little bit. I don't think it was until I walked away that I was like, Oh, we were surrounded by cameras, and that's probably going to be on the Internet in a couple minutes.
When it's happening — I mean this from the bottom of my heart — we feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to make the show, to meet the extraordinary people around the world who are the ones that make the show. It's not us. I feel fortunate to have that opportunity to talk to Ted Cruz. And so fortunate to live in a country where something like that's possible. And I can say, Excuse me, Senator, may I ask you a question? And he proceeds to talk to me for a long time.
Do you feel optimistic for the future of gay people?
Page: It is interesting to reflect on the things I thought before this process. The reality is, we've seen people who struggle and suffer in extreme ways. We talked to a former cop who's very proud of the fact that he's murdered LGBT people. I think that shifts your perspective.
Ultimately, yes, I'm optimistic. Everywhere we've gone, so far, we've met people so inspiring, braver than I could ever possibly be. At the end of our trip in Jamaica, we filmed the first public pride celebration.
This is a flash mob that, I think under risk of grave bodily injury, does a spontaneous celebration of their lives.
Page: I don't know if I can express the gratitude I feel that they allowed us to be there and film it.
And to think of how far we've come because of all the extraordinary activists who've fought so hard to be able to give me the life that I'm able to have. That's something we've seen all around the world. I think that's where the hope and optimism is.
"Gaycation" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Viceland. The first three episodes are also available for streaming on Viceland.com.