For the past two years, the web series Carmilla, which airs on YouTube under KindaTV, has been an oasis of hope and progressive queer representation. A modern reimagining of the Sheridan Le Fanu's novella, Carmilla tells the story of Laura Hollis, a journalist student at Silas University, who begins investigating the disappearance of her roommate and slowly becomes entangled in the supernatural underbelly of the school. Including an evil Dean, gods, portals to hell, and a certain lesbian vampire named Carmilla who emotionally complicates everything, it’s a murder mystery and supernatural drama all delivered in three-to-seven minute video segments.
The series is penned by Canadian playwright Jordan Hall and co-produced by Stephanie Ouaknine, both of whom spoke to BUST at New York Comic Con about their show.
From the previous seasons to now, the show has grown past the novella into a new world that includes not just vampires, but Sumerian gods. “If I was gonna get 100 episodes out of this we couldn’t milk that vampire thing with Carmilla,” explains Hall. “People knew she was a vampire in episode three…I needed something that would stretch for a lot longer.” He found inspiration that pulled from not just Le Fanu, but his contemporaries like Lovecraft, as well as modern supernatural stories like Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
For Hall, the source material was interesting enough to create a basis for the show, but what she really wanted was to upgrade the queer narrative within. “There are some really lovely prose […] but it’s the 1870s and it’s got a retrograde view on lesbians and what lesbian desires look like.”
These changes were not just limited to sexuality, but also race.
In season two, a new character named Matska “Mattie” Belmonde appeared as an antagonist foil and big sister to Carmilla. Mattie was inspired to a quick reference to a black character in the novella and the description was racist, with her being referred to as hideous. “So we cast the most gorgeous person ever with Sophia Walker,” Ouaknine said.
When asked on the diversity issue both in the show and the writer’s room, Ouaknine was candid: “We don’t have enough diversity in the writer’s room, we could have done better. But we are also constrained by time, budget, etc.”
They had to push for the diversity that they were able to get with the characters of Theo, Mattie and Mel. Despite putting out a call for only actors of color, black specifically for Mattie, agents would still try to get their white clients in the door, saying they were “kinda black.”
“There’s no kind-of-black,” Ouaknine said. “Your white roster doesn’t need more opportunity.”
Now, with this series about to air its final act on October 13th, fans are saying a bittersweet goodbye. The show was not just fun and well-written, it also showcased the nonbinary character of LaFontaine, who is played by a performer who identifies as the same and took the time to explain pronouns in a respectful and non-hamfisted way. Where cliche was easy, Carmilla always took another path and knew how to be both an LGBTQ show and a great show.
Both Hall and Ouaknine, along with actresses Elise Bauman (Laura) and Natasha Negovanlis (Carmilla) spoke on their awareness of the #BuryYourGays issue and said that they take that discussion as a challenge to do better, not a deterrent, and it pushes them to do great work.
Negovanlis also pointed out that on their show, “anyone who dies comes back,” and she’s proud to work on a show that means so the community which she and many of those working on the show are part of.
Carmilla is an excellent example of how getting LGBTQ diversity in the writing room is deeply important to creating well-rounded gay characters and not just one, but a majority, without the main focus of the series being their sexuality. That is special and it will be sad to see that magic go away at least in this format.
There is happy news, thankfully. At New York Comic-Con, it was announced that there would be a Carmilla movie that would be available October 30th, but can be pre-ordered now.
Act III of Carmilla airs October 13th at 7:30 EST.
Carmilla: The Movie will be released October 30th.
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Princess Weekes is a part-time bookseller and a full-time writer with a Master’s in English from Brooklyn College. A former intern at BUST magazine, she has since written articles for The Mary Sue, BUST and maintains her own video channel under the name Melina Pendulum, discussing the intersection of pop culture, feminism and race. She is currently working on a fantasy novel about black witches during the Jim Crow era, while attempting to purchase every liquid lipstick the world has to offer.