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CuriosityStream says its shows ‘cover every topic’—so why are there zero LGBT docs?

I’m not sure this is in your wheelhouse or not but I recently subscribed to Curiosity Stream and I can’t find one single LGBT documentary. Searched and searched and found absolutely nothing. Just seems weird is all. I would have thought there would have been dozens—or least an AIDS doc or something. —Christopher

This is a great question, and yesterday, I got an answer from CurosityStream’s executives.

First, I really appreciate what CuriosityStream is doing: building a library of old and original factual content—the types of documentary, information-focused shows cable networks such as Discovery and History used to air before they became about reality TV (nothing wrong with that!) and ghost-hunting or mystery-solving bullshit (ugh).

CuriosityStream says it has more than 13 million subscribers and calls itself “a leading global factual streaming service” and says its “documentary series and features cover every topic from space exploration to adventure to the secret life of pets, empowering viewers of all ages to fuel their passions and explore new ones.”

It’s just $3 a month or $20 a year for what a press release calls “an extensive and unrivaled library of films and series that dives deep into nature, history, science, travel and every category of the factual genre.”

Well, not every category: There are literally zero documentaries or series that are focused on LGBTQIA+ people or issues.

CuriosityStream announced 12 new original documentary series on Tuesday, and many of them seem interesting, from Rescued Chimpanzees of the Congo with Jane Goodall to the third season of the high school football show 4th and Forever. There’s a show about the “royalties’ survival strategies” and another about an actor who “gave it all up to join the fight against the Islamic State in Syria.” Guess how many about anything gay-related? None!

Christopher asked this question back in August, and I checked then, and couldn’t find anything, either. Back then, I asked a publicist for the service and never received a reply. Yesterday, about six months later, I checked again, and got these search results:

  • We are sorry. No results were found for LGBT.
  • We are sorry. No results were found for LGBTQ.
  • We are sorry. No results were found for lesbian.

A search for “trans” brings up shows with episode titles such as “Digital Transcedence” and “Transformation of a Continent,” but nothing about trans people.

Likewise, searching for “gay” brings up nine shows, none of which are about anything to do with LGBTQIA issues: What’s My Car Worth, Triumph of the Nerds, and Apocalypse: World War II.

On CuriosityStream, are a few documentaries that address race and gender, some of which can be found in its curated collections “Black Voices” and “Women Rule!”, and “Women and Girls in Science.” Those aren’t exactly robust lists, but there is something.

But like you, Christopher, I could find nothing about anything gay. Perhaps a gay person is mentioned or featured somewhere! But not a single episode or feature doc?

That seems strange, but it is true: an executive confirmed to me that “we don’t really have documentary content about LGBT issues.” But he also described their plans to change that.

CuriosityStream executive: ‘we are actively working on’ LGBT content

CuriosityStream's tagline calls it "Your World of Factual Entertainment"
CuriosityStream’s tagline calls it “Your World of Factual Entertainment”

CuriosityStream was founded in 2015 by John Hendricks, who founded Discovery Channel in 1985, and this was also an issue with Discovery Channel. In 2009, Michael Jensen reported that “in its almost twenty-five years of broadcasting, The Discovery Channel has never featured an out gay man on one of its programs”—until the premiere of Jake Nodar’s Out of the Wild, that is.

And now CuriosityStream has thousands of documentaries, new and old, and not even one focused on anything related to people who identify as gay or lesbian, marriage equality, trans people, civil rights. From Stonewall to Sally Ride, nothing.

But it’s not like there’s a dearth of LGBTQIA+ docs or shows. PBS, which is freely available to all Americans, has documentaries and series ranging from Ken Burns’ epics to the indie docs of Independent Lens. Most are not about LGBT issues, but it also doesn’t ignore that category. PBS’s curated list of LGBT-themed content includes a scripted drama, feature documentaries, and queer-themed episodes of shows. Some are focused on LGBT issues, and others just have gay people.

I asked CuriosityStream executives Clint Stinchcomb (who is president and CEO) and Devin Emery (whose title is chief product officer and EVP of content strategy) during a virtual press conference as part of the Television Critics Association winter press tour.

I mentioned your observation, Christopher, and then said, “That seems almost impossible with the quantity that you have. So I’m curious if you’re actively staying away from certain types of documentaries or content, or if that’s just a random coincidence.”

Here are their answers:

Clint Stinchcomb: I’ll take it first and then I’ll hand it to Devin.  I think that’s an excellent question.  I don’t think it’s accurate, the assessment.  What I would say, though, is we know we can do more in that space and we will do a lot more. But I don’t think the assessment overall is accurate. Devin, do you want to provide any additional color there?

Devin Emery: We definitely have people in the LGBT community that are in our content and producing our content. We do understand that there are a lot of areas that we want to increase the depth and breadth in. So that is absolutely one that we’re excited about the new resources that we have as a company. 

We’re excited about the progress that we’ve made in terms of our overall content strategy and acquisition to be able to fill in a lot of those categories, and that is one of them.

So you’re right, we don’t really have documentary content about LGBT issues. That is something that we are actively working on right now to be able to build out that category because we know that we want to amplify important topics, but also that people are very interested in that.

As I was talking about earlier, we strike a universal chord. So there’s a lot of things that people are looking for that we want to be the resource to be able to find that. So that’s absolutely something that we are actively working on. 

Part of our library has been built, as we’ve talked about before, very opportunistically. We’ve had great deals. We’ve been able to build an amazing library and now we’re able to be more, I guess, intentional about certain things that we want to build out. 

So I think it’s a good point to bring up. It’s definitely something that we’re thinking about. And then categorically, no, that’s not an area we’re staying away from at all.

Have a question about reality TV? Send it to me, and I’ll do my best to answer!

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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