We spoke to Lily Richards, creator of hit web-series, Twenty. Based around Maya
and her close group of friends, Twnenty has over 62,000 subscribers on YouTube
and over 10 million views. It has just been confirmed for a 3rd and long awaited
This interview took place as part of panel discussion with other queer web series
creators. You can watch an episode of each before the discussion panel which can
be found here.
How did the idea for Twenty come about?
Twenty came about because I was frustrated with the lack of representation that
queer women were getting in media and the representation I was seeing I wasn’t
satisfied with. I graduated from college in 2016 and I’d just moved back home to LA. Me and a lot of my friends from college were out here auditioning, doing the grind and I was like if we want to work we need to make work for ourselves. I thought if I want the opportunity to play authentic queer roles, and if I want that for my friends, then I’m going to make it happen. It was very much a collaborative process. Let’s make something that we feel proud of and that represents us.
YouTube is of course a fantastic platform for many reasons, but what can it do to protect the LGBTQ+ community further?
Obviously the plus side of putting any sort of content on YouTube is that you have an international audience and for us that’s been really key. With Twenty some of our largest audiences are based in India, Brazil, Pakistan and France. For us to reach those audiences, YouTube was the only way possible. Having said that, in Season 1, Ep 5 - it’s the first sexual encounter between Maya and Catalina. Right when we were about to hit a million views on that episode, it was flagged as 18 and over. There’s nothing in that episode that should make it that. We reached out to YouTube and we fought it. Their response was ‘although we don’t think inappropriate certain people in some places may find this content upsetting’ They are willing to cater towards bigotry rather than inclusivity. Having said that I think what's great about Youtube, albeit a small amount, it does allow you to receive monetisation which has been helpful in trying to recoup some of the costs that come with independent filmmaking. Our whole fanbase is on Youtube.
Maya and Catalina in Twenty
Is there a financial future for queer content creators?
There’s lots of awesome queer VOD platforms starting up, but the problem is in order to create content and to have content on your site, the filmmakers need to be making money and the people who are creating the subscription servies need to be making money. So it’s finding a way we can band together in such a way that we can all receive the financial support that we need to have these platforms up and going, and for these platforms to have the access that Youtube has.
If larger companies aren’t going to put their money behind your story, you just have to make it and prove them wrong. Prove to them that this something that is worth being seen and this is worth being funded. I have other stories and scripts and films and we’re trying to figure out where to put those. We were put in touch with some awesome women that had started a production company in Spain. We got along really well with them, they are wonderful people and they’ve agreed to fund season 3 of Twenty, which is awesome. It’s also sparked a lot of discussion as to whether or not we’re going to keep it on YouTube or put it somewhere bigger so that we can have some return on that investment. It will hopefully show to people who aren’t just within the queer community. Seeing our stories for a wider audience and having people look at it and say clearly there is a huge underserved market here, so hopefully more and more companies will see that and want to turn the content into something bigger.
Maya, Hazel Liz and Tina in Twenty.
Why did you choose for Twenty to not focus on the character’s sexualities?
I came out pretty early. I knew that I wasn’t straight and that I was queer in some capacity by the time I was like 12. I was pretty early on the coming out train. My first girlfriend was when I was 14. For me I just didn’t. Starting Maya off when she was in her twenties was very much where I was as well. Coming out and knowing my sexuality wasn’t really part of the story, it was just seeing queer women going about their day to day life authentically was more my concern.
Is there a queer character or storyline that particularly influenced you?
Growing up I did not see a lot of mainstream queer representation, so for me Santana on Glee was the ultimate, and just everything about her. I just loved that she was sassy and she didn’t take anything from anybody. She was just a badass so that character really inspired me, I really related. I think Naya Rivera's portrayal was immaculate - she just made so much out of that character. I didn’t realise how much of an impact that character had on me until this year with her passing. It all kind of came flooding back to me.
Want to watch Twenty? Season 1 & 2 are available on YouTube.