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‘Looking’ for diversity? HBO show reveals its true colors

Much can be said about the underrepresentation of queer people and people of color on television. When a 15-second trailer of HBO’s new show, “Looking,” surfaced online, some assumed the show would fail to represent race-specific experiences, especially among the diverse LGBT community.

“I understand where that comes from, that desire to see ourselves being authentically represented,” said “Looking” staff writer Tanya Saracho, who has written a play about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a 17th-century Mexican nun-scholar and pioneer in writing love poems to women.

The cast of “Looking” has more shades of skin pigmentation than the cast of “Friends” or the cast of HBO’s “Girls.” It has to, right? It’s set in San Francisco. But “Looking” fulfills more than a quota. It devotes a primary relationship to exploring the cultural misinterpretation that happens when one starts to date someone of a different race.

“There’s a social awkwardness around race,” “Looking” writer JC Lee said. “Being gay today is compounded by race and compounded by class.”

In fact, the predecessor of “Looking,” “Lorimer,” is very much about race. Creator Michael Lannan’s short film set in Brooklyn is a tale of what happens when races collide in the gay world, or at least this very specific gay world. The new show is similar in bringing the concept of color to life, so much so that original “Lorimer” actor Raul Castillo has reprised his role as one of actor Jonathan Groff’s love interests on “Looking.”

“I would have been really bummed if I hadn’t gotten the part again, but it happens a lot with these things,” Castillo said of having to re-audition for the show. “I’m just glad I’m not playing another court defendant in a cop show.”

Castillo is playing a bouncer at Esta Noche who has some impressive bass-playing skills.

“Their differences are obvious,” Castillo said of the show’s interracial hookup. “What’s interesting to see are their similarities. People are going to be pleasantly surprised when they watch.”

Even though it’s rare to see someone of color playing a love interest in a romantic comedy, Castillo’s character is not the only token Latino in “Looking.” Frankie J. Alvarez plays one of the three leads, a life-loving artist with a fiery passion for art and experiments.

“They originally had the character speaking with an accent,” Alvarez said. “But I thought, what if we had a Cuban character who didn’t have an accent?”

Alvarez took offense when the show received a brief backlash for its seemingly all-white cast. “Sometimes I’m too brown, and other times I’m not brown enough,” he said.

Everyone The San Francisco Examiner talked to, including actors and writers of color, except for O.T. Fagbenle, mentioned “authentic storytelling” as essentially what the show “Looking” was hoping to achieve.

“Does it tell the story of every queer person out there? The point is that we are so diverse that it’s impossible,” Lee said. “But if enough people watch our show, maybe we can have more of our gay stories being told.”

Oscar Raymundo is the author of “Confessions of a Boy Toy.” Email him at oraymundo@sfexaminer.com.

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