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When showrunner Lauren Morelli put out a call to agencies for queer writers for Tales of the City, she was surprised by the response. Morelli was looking to make the writers room for the Netflix limited series — which is adapted from Armistead Maupin’s books about a community of LGBTQ+ people living in San Francisco — as diverse as the cast, but it was harder than she thought it would be.
“Even when you ask agencies for queer writers, I was really amazed that the majority of what I received was all male and white and cis,” Morelli tells The Hollywood Reporter, speaking at the revival’s recent New York premiere. “So I asked everybody I knew. I asked everybody who they loved, who they were excited by. As a result, 50 percent of the room had actually never been in a writers room before. They were very accomplished brilliant writers, they had just never written for TV. So that was really exciting and I think they brought a lot of beginner’s mind to it and made it exciting.”
The result was an all-queer writers room for the revival and Morelli, who identifies as a lesbian and is married to Samira Wiley, knew that she needed to find diversity within the community by hiring LGBTQ+ writers from all gender identities and racial backgrounds.
“I felt like I understand my own identity but that looks and feels very different from someone who might have a different race than me or a different gender identity or class background,” Morelli says. “So representing as many of those experiences in the room felt like it would make the stories more authentic and personal on screen.”
Garcia, who identifies as nonbinary and plays trans character Jake Rodriguez, felt very seen the first time they read the script. Garcia said they formed a friendship with trans writer Thomas Page McBee, who introduced them to a wider Hollywood queer community.
“It was a wonderful surprise to read this and be like, this is authentic, this is fine. Yes, I’ve felt this. I have experienced this. I have said these words,” Garcia says. “Being on the show has also given me a sense of reassurance and given me a lot of confidence in being myself. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to stand back because I am myself and also inspired by Jake on paper.”
Director Alan Poul echoes how the authenticity onscreen stems from the experience in the writers room. Maupin also spent time with the writers, and the discussions and debates started from a place of understanding.
“There were a lot of different voices with a lot of different opinions. So it was a very vigorous room but at the same time, nobody had to explain things that were queer 101 to other people in the room,” Poul says. “Everyone came from a shared experience. So that explaining never had to happen and that meant we could jump right in and look at the deeper nature of the story.”
Morelli also used her experience from the Orange Is the New Black writers room, and she tried to model her team after the one molded by Orange creator Jenji Kohan.
“Jenji runs a really democratic room and everybody’s voice matters. I remember feeling even as a staff writer that my voice mattered the same as people who had more experience than I did,” Morelli says. “I think that creates a really exciting, safe environment. I really wanted to replicate that.”
Most of all, Morelli wanted to make sure what the writers created for the show embodied a world in which identity, gender and sexuality are changing.
“It felt really important to have the show represent the world as we see it,” Morelli says. “It has to be diverse but also specific to the queer community. Our identities are shifting. We’re understanding gender in a way that we haven’t before, so it felt really important to diversify the queer experience.”
Tales of the City is now streaming on Netflix.
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