Will the Hallmark Channel and I get back together? There’s a reason they say you should never get back with an ex.
Before we dive into the latest news, let me give you a brief history of my love affair with the Hallmark Channel. I began watching obsessively around 2014. I don’t remember what started it or what the first movie was, but I must have been at a point in my life when I wanted cheesy, simple romance. Within a year, I was pretty much watching Hallmark exclusively. I’d seen every single made-for-TV movie on the Movies and Mysteries Channel. (Yes, including the ones with Aunt Becky.) I had favorite Vancouver actors I looked forward to seeing during Spring Fling and Fall Harvest. (These are real seasonal “events” on the main network.) I could tell you which other movies an actor had been in – and often which shows on the CW. I delighted in taking “Hallmark naps,” in which I’d fall asleep watching a movie and somehow wake up with twenty or so minutes left into it, and be able to figure out everything I’d miss. I loved the formula. I loved the repetition. I loved the familiarity.
I knew the relationship was problematic and one-sided. By 2018, I think I’d see a total of three actors of color, all of whom had maybe one line in a movie. I knew the network skirted open discussions of religion but did not welcome me and my kind. Characters became engaged without even kissing, so I’m pretty sure girl-on-girl sex was off the table, right? But it was okay. I was watching ironically, I thought. I was a researcher, learning about the craft of romance. I wasn’t the target audience.
And then came Summer of Dreams in 2016. The movie starred Debbie Gibson. *The* Debbie Gibson, the one I’d grown up listening to with a cassette tape in my pink boombox. “Electric Youth” Debbie Gibson. “Only in My Dreams” Debbie Gibson, which she sang in the movie. Suddenly I became aware that I was not ironically watching a network intended for people way older and way more conservative than me. I was exactly who Hallmark thought was watching.
When we moved and lost access to Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, and the spouse began insisting that we watch other things (literally anything, she didn’t care, anything but Hallmark), my encyclopedic knowledge of the network lessened, and my interest waned. And then came the Zola ad debacle. If you need a refresher, Zola is a wedding planning site that had a commercial featuring a whirlwind of weddings, one of which had two brides holding hands on the altar. The image lasted maybe one second and didn’t play that big a role in the commercial. Zola’s ad was supposed to air on Hallmark because of course a wedding site wants to advertise on Hallmark, but there was furor over the one second of lesbianism, which prompted Hallmark to declare it was pulling the ad. Hallmark said its goal was to be “family friendly.” Everyone and their mother recognized this as a homophobic move and called the network out. (Watching executives scramble to appear LGBTQ-friendly on social media without pissing off the corporation that pays their mortgages was kind of interesting in an awful way.) Three days later, Hallmark reversed its decision on the ad, but Zola decided it didn’t want to work with Hallmark anymore.
Now Hallmark has announced that it is in active negotiations for movies with LGBTQ characters and stories. Let’s get real: it’s probably just L and G characters. We don’t know if they will be the leads in movies or not, we don’t know what the stories will be. We don’t know if the characters will get to express healthy intimacy and sexuality, like hand-holding or kissing. All we know is that Hallmark promises it’s coming and says they have always had a focus on diversity and inclusion. In a promo for an upcoming movie with a white, straight couple, there is a one-second image of two women on the altar holding hands. It’s almost the same image and same duration as the Zola ad, as if Hallmark is quietly insisting they’ve changed.
It reminds me of the misguided time I dated a man, who never really did anything romantic or special and only ever complained about not having money. After I dumped him, he insisted on taking me to dinner and bought roses from the woman who came table to table selling individual flowers for exorbitant amounts. Now that I’d broken up with him, he was willing to spend money on roses, sure. Too little, too late.
Will it be the same with Hallmark?
The LGBTIQA community isn’t stupid. We remember when Chik-Fil-A (I never know how to spell it and don’t look it up because I don’t want it in my search history) did this. They pledged to stop giving money to anti-LGBTQ causes, and the queers celebrated while the religious right protested. A few days later, they reversed their decision. Bottom line: don’t eat the chicken.
Bottom line with Hallmark: I’m not fooled. You can’t woo me back. You may indeed have same-sex couples, but I know that at heart you’re not really interested in serving us. And even if you were, you would only be interested in the middle-class, white, cis gays anyway. I’m holding out hope for the start-up platforms promising us more diversity and more queerness. In the meantime, I’ve got romance novels.