Malay representation, international audiences, and family: coming up in Getaway S2

  • BL web-series Getaway has wrapped up its first season and is gearing up for a sequel.
  • This time the spotlight is on Hirzi Zulkilfie’s character, Hlimi, making him the first Malay lead of a gay BL web drama series.
  • TheHomeGround Asia speaks to Mr Sean Foo, lead actor and founder of LGBTQ+ publication Dear Straight People, on his reflections on season one and pushing for Malay representation in the next one.
After the success of season one, Getaway gets ready for its second instalment. (Photo source: Dear Straight People)
After the success of season one, Getaway gets ready for its second instalment. (Photo source: Dear Straight People)

Getaway is back for season two.

Just days after airing the season finale, founder of LGBTQ+ publication Dear Straight People Sean Foo and his team are back at the drawing board and working on the script for the second instalment of the web series.

Across the five episodes of season one, Getaway managed to rake in over 770 thousand views with its pilot episode boasting 295 thousand at the time of writing. 

While Mr Foo, who was also the lead actor for the series, is proud of the reception, he feels that there is still more work to be done. 

“Likes and shares are just likes and shares, it doesn’t reflect reality. At the end of the day, it’s just numbers on the screen. We feel that more can be done to give higher insight to the gay experience in Southeast Asia,” he says.

Part of this push includes Mr Foo’s plan to bump actor Hirzi Zulkiflie’s character Hilmi as one of the leads of the second season, making  Mr Hirzi the first Malay lead of a gay BL web drama series.

“There is currently a lack of positive gay Malay media representation. A second season of Getaway would provide a rare opportunity to tell the story of a gay Malay Singaporean,” says Mr Foo.

Mr Hirzi, who was the first ever Muslim ambassador for Pink Dot, has also tentatively agreed to co-write the script for the upcoming season.

We are family

When Getaway first debuted online, Mr Foo shared in previous interview with TheHomeGround Asia that BL dramas are typically geared towards a heterosexual female audience and as such, they generally miss out on the nuances of what it really means to be gay in Asia. 

“What Getaway highlights is family. Family plays a huge role in Southeast Asia. The first and last scenes begin and end with family. In Southeast Asian culture, when you are coming out and dealing with your sexuality, the first thing you think about is your family. How they react, whether they’re going to accept you or not. So Sam’s coming-out experience and being rejected by his dad,  were drawn from some of my personal experience with my parents. I wanted the scene to be authentic. Despite its light-hearted exterior, we’re dealing with heavy topics,” Mr Foo, who plays Sam, says.

Getaway seeks to go beyond the tropes in BL dramas and highlight the importance of family in the gay community. (Photo source: Dear Straight People)

“Uncle, the character played by Otto Fong, got disowned from his family and for a lot of us, that’s the worst case scenario. When I came out to my parents, I had everything packed and was ready to leave. But thankfully that didn’t happen. That is the reality of coming out in a Southeast Asian context. Taking a light touch on these heavy topics helps to humanise the issues the community faces, which helps to foster better and more empathetic understanding for the community. In Singapore, there’s a lot of heavy-handed messaging. There are many ways to get a message across and I feel like our approach makes it more digestible for everyone,” adds Mr Foo.

Mr Foo’s family-centred approach to help raise awareness on the gay experience in Southeast Asia led the actor to ensure that Uncle ended the first season on a happy note.

A bigger splash

The positive reception and views the web-series garnered was a surprise as well a relief to Mr Foo as he was anxious over his channel’s inactivity and the small crew he had.

“I’m just happy that people watched it. This is our first scripted production, we don’t know if anyone’s going to watch it . We were a very inactive YouTube channel, I think, having not published any content for six months. In terms of views, it is as good as we could possibly hope for that people are watching. The amount of media coverage that we have received was also quite unprecedented for a Singaporean YouTube production. At the end of the day, we are a very small indie production without a wide network and resources. To get the number of views we did was a success to me,” says Mr Foo.

Equally surprising were the nationalities of the audience. 

“A lot of positive reception has been coming from them. It’s quite heartening. The reception from the Latin American community in particular has been astounding. If you go on Instagram, the fans are all Spanish. It could be because they consume a lot of BL content, or the show just happened to strike a chord with them. It’s my first time acting, scripting and producing, so to have created that fan base that resonated with the story and got emotionally invested in the characters, especially with the relationship between Top and Sam, has been wonderful and fulfilling. It’s not easy to do as well because our episodes are quite short,” Mr Foo says.

“I was expecting a Singaporean and maybe a Thai audience, because we do have a few Thai actors. Interestingly, the largest demographic (in this region) is from Indonesia. It’s interesting because there aren’t a lot of Indonesian comments,” Mr Foo adds.

The fanfare to Getaway debut season drew in viewers worldwide. (Photo source: Dear Straight People)

As for the negative reactions that Getaway has received, it’s something he’s grown accustomed to and learnt to view them constructively.

“Honestly, I just kind of shrugged them off. I’ve been creating content for about six years. When you put your content out there, there will always be all kinds of reactions and you need to be able to deal with them. If you can’t deal with negative reactions then content creation is not for you. I am well aware of the limitations that Getaway has. I’m not oblivious and I don’t think it’s a perfect production. I wouldn’t say I’m completely immune to it. When you put a lot of your time and soul into something, it’s normal to be emotionally invested, but at the same time, for every negative reaction we have, there are reactions that are positive. We try to focus on them instead,” says Mr Foo.

Malay gay representation

For the second season of Getaway, part of Mr Foo’s goal to increase the awareness of gay experience in Southeast Asia and that includes bumping up the character Hilmi, played by Mr Hirzi  and he said the actor has also tentatively agreed to co-write the script.

This decision comes during a wave LGBTQ+ censorship controversies in free-to-air media and film. 

In February, an online advertisement by Samsung Singapore was removed from air as it featured a cross-dressing Muslim man. The strong criticisms from the Muslim community proved powerful enough for the advertisment to be taken down.

“It’s something I do need to sit down with Hirzi and talk to him about in detail. It is something he is aware and fully prepared for any repercussions that will come,” says Mr Foo.

Mr Hirzi would be the first Malay lead of a gay BL web drama series when the series airs.

Mr Hirzi is a strong advocate for the LGBTQ+ community in Singapore and was appointed the first Muslim ambassadors for Pink Dot in 2015, alongside his then co-star Munah Bagharib. The comedic pair, whose YouTube channel @MunahHirziOfficial, had more than 145,000 subscribers.

But that same year, Munah suddenly announced on her Instagram that she would not be attending Pink Dot. No reasons were given for her no-show. In 2018, the duo officially split.

Getaway season two will feature a gay Malay lead actor, the first of its genre. (Photo source: Dear Straight People)

“There is definitely a potential for backlash from the Muslim community if Hirzi takes on a lead role in season two of Getaway. It’s something that we’ve both discussed and we are both ready to face the backlash. Despite that, we both strongly believe in media representation and so the positive impact of having a gay Malay protagonist in a BL drama far outweighs any potential consequences. I think Hirzi is well-suited to be the face of this representation,” Mr Foo says.

While Mr Foo and his team are eager to get down to work, shooting for season two, he is realistic about the realisation of the whole project. The series will only come to fruition when various factors, including the results of their crowdfunding campaign, are perfectly aligned, he says.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

“Without People Like Us, Getaway would not have been possible,” Mr Foo adds.

Released in 2017, People Like Us is a four part web-series that follows the lives of four gay Singaporean men. During the fundraising process, the positive reception to People Like Us was used as a case study to help persuade sponsors to come on board to fund Getaway. who produced People Like Us is one of the supporting partners of Getaway.

Mr Foo says: “Having their support meant a great deal to me personally as it was an endorsement of what Dear Straight People was trying to achieve with Getaway. I believe that the best way to normalise something is to expose people to it. Shows like People Like Us and Getaway promote visibility and understanding of the LGBT+ community.”

“I hope that their success will pave the way for other LGBT+ productions in Singapore,” he adds.

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