Bojack Horseman is a show that will not appeal to everyone’s tastes. It’s a show about horrible people in depressing situations. The humour tends towards crass, and is often downright offensive. It’s also getting a lot of great press at the moment for its positive portrayal of an asexual character.
Todd Chavez is the whacky side character who is usually relegated to the B plot of episodes. Throughout season three we are shown a number of moments of him not quite fitting into standard relationship models, culminating in the finale with him saying. “I’m not gay…. but I don’t think I’m straight either. I don’t know what I am. I think I might be nothing”.
This statement resonated with the experiences of many asexual people, and the show has progressed from there to have some other unexpectedly meaningful moments, such as Todd attending an asexual meetup, the inclusion of the asexual pride flag, and characters discussing the idea of a romantic orientation separate from a sexual one.
The show deals with issues such as asexuality with a surprising sensitivity and grace. Part of the way that it achieves this is by taking the time to adequately research the issues it is engaging with. In this case, their research included a meeting with Ace LA co-executive director Shari.
‘It speaks to the depth and quality of the writing of the show. I was brought in very early. They were still story-boarding and writing scripts so there was still a chance to have some influence. It was great that they had that foresight’
Ace LA started as a meetup group for asexual people in the Los Angeles area, and while it still serves this function, inspired by connections the members made at the Asexuality unconference, they have been putting more efforts into community outreach including developing presentations for health professionals, and running panels at other conferences.
When the Bojack Horseman team wanted to find someone to discuss asexuality with they reached out to media monitoring organization GLADD, who put them in touch with AVEN who linked them to Ace LA. After a conference call with one of the producers, Shari had a face to face meeting with the writers and producers of the show.
‘It was just me going in for an hour and a half talking to the writers and producers of the show. They asked very personal questions, but they were always very respectful of my boundaries. Having watched the show and having been a fan of the show I was deliberately open about talking about my life and my experiences and so I never felt uncomfortable.”
‘I was aware they weren’t going to tell me about storylines or anything like that. I didn’t have a presentation or anything mapped out but I had spoken about asexuality in a public forum before. I just started out by talking about my own experiences, because I figured that would just get the conversation going. So I talked about my coming out, I talked about friends and family reaction to it. And then the conversation shifted towards what would you like to see in the way aces are represented? What would you not like to see? It went from very personal to a general macro kind of discussion.’
“I made it very clear that I’m not speaking for the entire ace community, that it’s a spectrum. This is my personal experience of asexuality that won’t necessarily match other people’s’
‘They had clearly done some research. They referenced podcasts and internet research they had done, so it wasn’t a complete Ace 101 kind of experience. One of them mentioned that even before Todd came out, they saw on Tumblr that people were starting to read Todd as ace. I don’t know if they had made the decision that early on, but they were definitely aware of how Todd was coming across’
After the conversation, Raphael Bob-Waksberg (the creator of Bojack Horseman) even sent Shari a personal note thanking her for coming in. He said: “We really want to do the right thing by the ace community.”
Shari is happy with the way the episodes played out. Some of her favourite moments are that there was a married couple at the ace meetup, and that there was an asexual ant eater – which she suspects may be the writers misremembering her telling them about the Ace LA mascot – an armadillo named Ace Spectrum.
Shari enjoyed that Todd’s entire personality wasn’t about his asexuality, and looks forward to seeing more fully fleshed out asexual characters in the media. She is a cartoon creator in her own right, and is currently working on her cartoon series featuring an asexual character.
Her advice to other people doing outreach is to condense your message to three ideas you want people to take home with them. “Anything you can do to focus your message before you go in to have a discussion with any kind of media will really help”