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Heartstopper: The LGBTQ+ Drama We So Desperately Needed

Netflix’s latest teen drama has arrived, and its response has been beautiful. Fans are already begging for a season 2!

CW: This article discusses topics of homophobia, hate speech, and suicide, which could be distressing to some readers

Warning: Spoilers ahead

Image Credit: Netflix

Navigating your teen years is difficult enough without the added pressure from peers, fear of academic failure, and the overwhelming aspects of puberty. Euros Lyn’s brilliant adaptation of Alice Oseman’s writing takes into account the troubling elements of adolescence whilst looking at the still prevalent homophobia of today. Lyn’s notable works include Sherlock, Black Mirror and Daredevil, so it’s refreshing to see the director delve into the world of teen romance. Heartstopper was Oseman’s first adaptation, thus granting the award-winning author the fame she deserves.

The series follows the budding romance between out and proud Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) and soft-hearted rugby boy Nick Nelson (Kit Connor). Following a painful past of homophobic treatment and persistent discrimination, Charlie has come to terms with his sexuality and openly discusses the ebbs and flows of life as a gay teenager. On the other hand, Nick was yet to discover how he fit into the world of teen romances. Preoccupied with the pressure of year 11 and consumed by his male-oriented rugby team, Nick had been relatively sheltered in the realms of sexuality.

The show targets a new niche in that the focus is shifted away from fulfilling the sexual desires of hormonal teens. It concentrates on the accurate emotional side of youthful relationships instead of the more over-sexualised notions we're exposed to in series like Sex Education and Euphoria. Exploring your sexuality doesn't just have to focus on the 'sex' aspect - the emotional side is vital too.

The brilliance of the young actors is recurrent throughout. The couple - Charlie and Nick - manage to maintain a believable plot alongside perpetuating the queer characteristics of their characters. Whilst his sexuality has been kept a secret to the press, Connor managed to connect with his character by retaining the “inner conflict… present in everyone’s life at some point”, he told Attitude. On the other hand, Locke felt he could set the tone based on his familiarity with his character. Conversing with Attitude, Locke referenced the “universal experience of school” that queer people are conscious of. Arguably, the boys’ connection with their characters and the success of their relationship is the strongest part of the storyline.

Image Credit: Netflix

Transgender Acting in the 21st Century

Its uplifting narrative guides the viewer through a refreshing coming-of-age diegesis relevant to society - where we have previously seen an absence of passion and fondness; Heartstopper calls attention to this. Alongside its exploration of queer friendships and finding comfort in those around you, Heartstopper briefly explores anti-trans behaviours and the troubles that trans teens face regarding the strict gendering still evident in British schools. Yasmin Finney, who plays Elle, is a transwoman like her character on the show. Following suit with the show's warm-hearted nature, she told Popbuzz that the show highlights “everything that is natural about being trans”, wherein we witness the necessary “positive representation” that has been missing from our screens.

Despite its compassionate nature, the series also takes an authentic stance on the homophobic behaviours still pervasive at present. Whilst not fully explored, viewers are fleetingly exposed to the discrimination that Charlie faced. The discussions of relentless abuse, cyber-bullying, and having to hide from peers is something that too many people are close to - series like Heartstopper will help to elucidate this matter.

It wouldn’t be sincere for the author and director to skim over the negative aspects of sexuality. Still, they do a brilliant job in situating it amongst the truly positive aspects of coming out and the LGBTQ+ community. Previously, mainstream cinema has relied heavily on the overused tropes of the LGBT drama genre (see Boy Erased, 2018 and Brokeback Mountain, 2005). With self-loathing characters, homophobic taunting, and unspeakable acts of violence scattered throughout what could otherwise be a romantic love story, it's no surprise that 21st-century viewers, LGBTQ+ or not, find this form of representation refreshing. This new illumination and glorified portrayal are essential to introducing a greater, much-needed acceptance of equality within global communities!

Image Credit: Netflix

Coming Out: A Beautiful Moment

The audience's reception has been increasingly heartfelt, with fans feeling comfortable enough to share their own Heartstopper moments. Whilst many viewers have gone on to say that they wish their younger selves would have been exposed to this narrative, an overwhelming majority have agreed this is the type of supportive illustration that current and future generations need.

Similarly, the focus on Nick’s journey of discovering his sexuality has really resonated with viewers. The notion of secretive relationships and the fear of being 'outed' is still stereotyped. The internal questioning and uneducated figuring out of your sexuality by searching the internet is not something wildly unconventional to most people. It accurately portrays the ill-informed teaching of today and denotes just how, unfortunately, people have to resort to unreliable resources.

It also shows the lovely acceptance Nick’s mum (Olivia Colman) has for when he comes out. Viewers found this comforting but bittersweet in knowing that not everyone receives the same response - but this is the exact exposure we need. Whilst sexual orientation and gender identity are present within the curriculum; there is a habitual lack of acknowledging significant moments like this. Likewise, older generations who have lacked this inclusive sex education are not always familiar with how to respond, so having representation like this is vital to those who may fear coming out to their parents; it is also vastly important for parents to see this for themselves.

To our pleasure, the series has a gorgeous ending leaving viewers wanting more. The wholehearted nature of the series is just what we needed in the run-up to Pride Month!

Heartstopper is available on Netflix now. The novel is available at most retailers and in the form of eBooks.

Katie Mortimer 03/05/2022


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