Heartstopper is the show that queer teenagers have wanted for years. Here’s why representation within media from the perspective of a queer teen is so important. (This article contains mild spoilers.)
I don’t remember how I came across the Heartstopper comics, but I do remember that I was hooked immediately.
Written and illustrated by Alice Oseman, the Heartstopper comics are centered around the romantic relationship between two British high-schoolers, Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) and Nick Nelson (Kit Connor). The ongoing story follows them throughout their relationship and features a strong cast of supporting characters—many of which also identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. The story also explores important themes that aren’t always successfully discussed in the media, such as struggling to accept one’s identity and eating disorders. The show adaptation of the web-comic was released on April 22nd and quickly received high audience ratings with an impressive score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, the story of Charlie and Nick is more than just a highly successful show; it’s a representation of queer teenagers and another form of acceptance.
Hardly any shows that portray queer youth are centered around a queer romance, and the storylines of those queer characters are frequently underdeveloped—think Glee or Sex Education, for example. They’re popular shows with queer characters, but the leading characters within these shows, Rachel Berry and Otis Milburn, are straight. Additionally, the characters are often played by adults rather than teens themselves. This can reduce the authenticity of both teenage representation within shows and movies, and it is incredibly important to keep in mind when casting them. “It can give you an expectation of what it is to be a teenager … it can give you slightly problematic mindsets about your own body or maturity,” explained Kit Connor in an interview with PopBuzz. Similarly, many actors in television shows don’t share the same identities as the characters they play.
Heartstopper prioritizes these two factors, casting actors who are teenagers to early-twenties, some of which actually identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. The authenticity of the show and the variety of identities recognized within its plot are part of what draws so many fans to the story. Having a diverse cast of characters with fleshed-out storylines enables queer teens to easily find a character they can connect with. For instance, I was able to immediately relate to Nick, who is Charlie’s love interest. An important part of Nick’s story is his discovery and acceptance of his bisexuality—something I went through a few years ago. It’s uncommon to see a character that shares my identity and a similar story, and this is the case for many other queer teenagers. “Nick’s coming out journey is such a big part of Heartstopper. He has to make peace with the fact that people don’t really see him for who he is,” explained Alice Oseman in an interview with Tudum. “I hope [Heartstopper] inspires, particularly young queer people, to believe that they can find happiness, romance, and friendship.” Seeing accurate representation in something as mainstream as a Netflix show is not only incredibly rare but also incredibly gratifying.
Heartstopper broke the mold that has been set by other television shows, and it received an immensely positive response in return. Within eight thirty-minute episodes, Hearstopper manages to recognize and accept a variety of identities and struggles that are often unique to teenagers. Thanks to Alice Oseman, queer teens have finally been given the characters and the story we’ve always wanted.
Photo credit: Netflix UK – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10638036/mediaviewer/rm3151960577/