'QAF' Showrunner Stephen Dunn: It's a Show That 'Cannot Be Silenced'

by Steve Duffy

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday July 1, 2022

Stephen Dunn
Stephen Dunn  

In 1999, the original British series "Queer as Folk" pushed the window of LGBTQ+ content on television. Russell T Davies' breakout mini-series — eight episodes and a two-part follow-up — was instrumental in bringing queer representation to mainstream television, but it was also a product of its time, centered on the stories of three cis white gay men in Manchester, England.

The American version, which came the following year, ran on Showtime for five seasons, and made Brian Kinney, Justin Taylor, Michael Novotny, and his mom Debbie Novotny (played by Sharon Gless) household names in the LGBTQ+ world. It also addressed such issues as homophobia, drug use, relationships and sex, and gay parenting. Missing, though, were concerns about the trans community, bisexuals, and lesbians — it was pretty much "Gay White Men as Folk."

But the updated version, which is currently streaming on Peacock, is very conscious of inclusion, which was an imperative of the new version's showrunner Stephen Dunn, who spoke to EDGE about the reboot. The Canadian filmmaker is best-known for directing the 2015 film "Closet Monster," which won the award for Best Canadian Feature Film at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.

Transcript edited for clarity

EDGE: So why choose "Queer as Folk" for a reboot?

Stephen Dunn: Well, this show meant so much to me growing up, I mean it changed my life. It was my first exposure to queer culture, my sexual awakening. But so much has changed in the last 20 years, and I think I feel like the definition of the word "queer" itself has changed so much. Specifically, and unfortunately, with the realities of what it is to be queer right now in America, it feels like these kinds of stories are now more important than ever to make sure we are uplifting and increasing the visibility and volume of queer voices.

So I wanted to reimagine the show for a modern audience. To give an opportunity for more people to be seen who maybe don't normally get the time of day on any other TV show. And I feel like that is the legacy of what "Queer as Folk" stands for and what it continues to do to this day.

EDGE: The original series was the first of its kind — a real reflection of gay life and even gay sex. Groundbreaking at the time, right? How does this version continue to push the pendulum of change?

Stephen Dunn: It's sad to say this, but some of the characters that we have in our show are seen in ways that are authentically messy...I guess is how I would say it. Unapologetically flawed, but still lovable. It is something we've afforded to a lot of cis straight white men over the years. We have had our influx of Tony Sopranos and Don Drapers. But... because Hollywood has tried to right the wrongs that they've done for decades with queer representation, I think we've had an influx of very saintly or best-friend type characters that need to exist as role models; as opposed to authentic and messy [characters]. The luxury of having a show like "Queer as Folk" that centers on not just one character, but an entire ensemble, is that it allows freedom for these characters to make mistakes. That isn't always something that they're allowed to do. And that, unfortunately, is radical.

EDGE: The premise of the reboot is inspired by the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, given all the recent violence in the US. What is it about Pulse nightclub that made you want this to be part of the premise of your story?

Stephen Dunn: I think it's impossible right now to write a show like "Queer as Folk" that centers so much queer joy and defiant energy without acknowledging the realities of what it is like to exist as a queer person in 2022. We don't ever show the shooting. We never see the shooter. That's not the story that we're telling. The reason I wanted to center the show around the rebuilding of the community is that after I went to Orlando and met some of the Pulse survivors, it became so evident that this moment was so traumatic for those who were there. It had a resounding ripple-like effect around the world. And for some time this community came together and was supported, which allowed it to rebuild in a way that was maybe more inclusive and accepting than the one that was before it.

And it was that sort of defiance that I saw that was the motivator to create this new iteration of the show. It's not about the trauma. This is not a show that's trauma-based for me. It's a defiant show. It's a show that cannot be silenced. And these characters cannot be suppressed, no matter what. And I think that is the story I needed to tell, as I was developing the season early on.

"Queer as Folk" streams on Peacock.