PIONEER OF LGBTQ+ VISIBILITY
Kathy Wolfe, Founder and CEO of Wolfe Video, remembers a time when movies about our LGBTQ lives were not readily available through multiple media outlets.
Today’s LGBTQ+ younger community may not know that Kathy played a vital role in kickstarting the visibility of our community in media today.
But before the World Wide Web, Netflix, smart phones, Ellen DeGeneres, The L Word, and all the programming we take for granted today, Kathy Wolfe had a vision and took action.
In 1979, Kathy Wolfe saw the powerful documentary Word is Out at the Frameline Film Festival. “I was completely inspired by seeing that film,” remembers Kathy. “I immediately grasped the importance of bringing our stories to the public.”
For the next several years, Kathy honed her skills in producing, directing and editing lesbian documentaries, including The Changer and the Changed, an early history of Olivia Records. But she soon realized the need for distribution channels so that these movies could be seen outside of film festivals.
The technology of the day was VHS, so in 1985 Kathy formed a new company, Wolfe Video. Initially, Wolfe sold tapes directly to lesbians, many of whom were closeted and had no other way to see these movies.
From the outset, however, Kathy’s ultimate goal was wider than mail order. She wanted to spur acceptance of our community by getting these titles seen by both gay and straight audiences.
She worked tirelessly to overcome the almost automatic perception by homophobic wholesalers that lesbian and gay movies equal pornography. She made bold moves, such as cold-calling Lily Tomlin and asking to produce and distribute a VHS of The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. This created a breakthrough into the giant mainstream video rental market.
Another bold move was acquiring the hit movie Big Eden, getting it rated PG (a first), and producing it as a double DVD (another first).
A continuing challenge has been keeping up with the very rapidly changing technology, but Kathy has adapted. Besides adding Blu-ray as a format for physical sales, in 2012 she launched WolfeOnDemand.com, the first digital LGBTQ platform. She also licenses Wolfe films to streaming outlets all over the world.
Ironically, large companies such as Netflix are now both customers and competitors of Wolfe’s for quality LGBTQ films. Kathy is philosophical about this. “These days our films can be streamed all over the world or purchased on DVD for guaranteed rewatching. I take pride in knowing we helped make a difference for our community. We now see ourselves – and are seen – in a much truer light.”
Both the LGBTQ and mainstream community recognize her impact and Kathy has received multiple awards over the years including: Cinequest’s “Maverick Spirit Award;” NCLR’s “Community Partner Award;” the San Francisco Board of Supervisors “Certificate of Honor,” and the National Organization of Women’s “Excellence in Media Award.”
Read more about Kathy’s story here.