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The man behind Singapore’s steamy gay drama

The man behind Singapore’s steamy gay drama

Leon Cheo on the set of Singapore's People Like Us (Photo: Provided)

Singapore’s first online gay drama returned for a second season this week. People Like Us follows the lives of four gay men—Joel, Ridzwan, Rai, and Isaac—living in Singapore.

Gay Star News spoke to writer and director, Leon Cheo, about the series. He explained how it depicts some of the most crucial issues facing the gay community in city-state, where gay sex is illegal.

Gay Health presents the series. The organization offers advice and support on coming out, HIV and STIs, and drug use.

Each episode is followed by a brief conversation on an issue affecting the gay community in Singapore.

What can we expect from the second season?

Building from the drama we set up in the first season, Season 2 expands the scope by exploring family life, so, viewers get to meet the mothers of Rai, Ridzwan and Joel. Also, we have a new character and his name is Haniff. He’s an army mate of Rai and romance is in the air! Another thing that’s different is we are featuring more songs. A total of six, in fact, by Singaporean singers and musicians. Viewers and fans of the series can expect more heartache but also more love and romance for sure.

Behind the scenes of People Like Us in Singapore (Photo: Provided)
Behind the scenes of People Like Us in Singapore (Photo: Provided)

There has been a lot of debate recently about Singapore’s anti-gay law, Section 377A. How does the series reflect that?

While the series doesn’t directly comment on 377A, I believe the show helps shed a light on the gay community in Singapore and how it is like to be gay here. It may not always be rainbows and butterflies with 377A but life goes on for gay and bi men in Singapore as we fight for equality.

How do you make the series as real as possible?

Research! If I’m not sure about something I’m writing about, I research about it. This includes facts and statistics which Action for AIDS/ provided, and also my talking to people who are into chemsex or people living with HIV to understand them better. Additionally, we try to film in real spaces and places the gay community uses like Taboo, probably the longest-surviving gay club in Singapore. Yes, some aspects of Season 2 are based on my own experiences but my cache is running out! If we do a third season, I may want to get another writer on board.

Leon Cheo on the set of Singapore's People Like Us (Photo: Provided)
Leon Cheo on the set of Singapore’s People Like Us (Photo: Provided)

How does the series speak to everyday Singaporeans?

Frankly, we did not expect the success, positive comments and rave reviews Season 1 has received. It has been very heartening to know that our viewers connect with the characters. My storytelling philosophy is to be as truthful and authentic as possible. So I try my best to stick to that and hopefully audiences will respond to that. Even though Singapore is small, there are many people beyond our gay audience who still haven’t heard about the show, but with the awards and accolades, it’ll help with word of mouth. To add on, we also have many fans from neighboring countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Behind the scenes of People Like Us in Singapore (Photo: Provided)
Behind the scenes of People Like Us in Singapore (Photo: Provided)

How did you effectively balance the serious messages of mental and physical health while keeping the series entertaining?

This balancing act isn’t easy! I spend a lot of time thinking about how to create entertaining storylines while weaving in the risky situations, behaviors and choices that would like to highlight and discuss, and they give me a lot of creative freedom. And I really appreciate that, because, ultimately, we want our viewers to be entertained as well as educated.

What are the most important messages and are viewers listening to them?

I would say the two most important messages are ‘Always protect yourself’ and ‘Get tested regularly if you are sexually active’. While it is easy to say, convincing someone to put it into practice is more challenging. That’s why with the show, we have characters who make mistakes, and hopefully, viewers will learn from them.

Leon Cheo on the set of People Like Us in Singapore (Photo: Provided)
Leon Cheo on the set of People Like Us in Singapore (Photo: Provided)

Which is your favorite character and why?

Currently, my favourite character is Rai. He is the hopeless romantic who refuses to be cynical about finding love in a community that’s often fixated with sex, looks and superficial qualities. He tries and often fails, but we so dearly want him to succeed.

See Also:

Amid data breach, Singapore politician speaks out for people living with HIV

Lawsuit filed against Singapore Attorney-General over anti-gay laws

Steamy online gay drama returns for second season in Singapore