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How ‘Heartstopper’ and its cast are redefining queer joy, one wholesome season at a time

Heartstopper, the Netflix series based on Alice Oseman’s cult classic webcomic of the same name, has just started filming its second season.

The first instalment, which was released on 22 April 2022, was met with immediate critical acclaim. And the show’s stars, many of whom were acting professionally for the first time, have quickly gained huge fanbases, in particular, Joe Locke as Charlie Spring—the main character, a shy year 10 student who was recently outed—and Yasmin Finney as Elle Argent—a teenage girl who transfers to the local all-girls’ school after coming out as trans.

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A post shared by Joe Locke (@joelocke03)

Oscar award-winning icon Olivia Colman also plays the mum of Nick, Charlie’s crush-turned-love-interest—a casting move that was somehow managed to be kept under wraps until the show premiered.

Neither of their stories is airbrushed or sanitised, but both provide honest, recognisable, and relatable queer representation onscreen, without resorting to traumatic or exploitative narratives. It’s rare to see a gay teen played by an openly gay teenage actor—or to have a trans teenager whose story explores the joys of her gender identity and expression. It’s not trying to be a gritting, hard-hitting drama, like Euphoria, that grapples with the most difficult parts of growing up.

The representation Heartstopper is giving to its viewers—and the fact that the comic had a loyal fanbase waiting eagerly for season one—will have huge and potentially life-changing impacts on the younger generations.

Stories have already been shared across social media platforms of teens and adults alike who are increasingly leveraging the show in order to understand themselves better, and for some, to come out to friends and family. Even a sweet rom-com has the power to be quietly revolutionary.

Luke Pollard, a Labour MP, surprisingly brought this up in a parliamentary debate by stating: “That visibility has changed lives.”

Joe Locke was chosen out of around 10,000 other potential actors who applied for the role via an open casting call, and now has over 850,000 followers on Twitter. Earlier this year, he made his West End debut at the Donmar Warehouse, playing Noah in The Trials, a piece of new writing about climate justice featuring a cast of predominantly teenage and child actors.

I managed to get myself a ticket, which wasn’t easy as the relatively-short run quickly sold out due to Locke’s casting—alongside fellow Heartstopper cast member, William Gao. Locke certainly proved his acting chops, and it’ll be exciting to see what else he branches out into, having only just finished school this summer.

He also went viral internationally for singing Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)’ and flipping the bird to anti-LGBTQ+ protestors at this year’s London Pride parade.

https://twitter.com/joelocke03/status/1543232251583938560

Meanwhile, Finney had gained prominence on TikTok before being cast in Heartstopper, where she talked about her experiences as a black British trans teenager. She now has over 1.8 million followers on the video-sharing platform and, at just 18 years old, has won a Price Icon Award from Attitude Magazine.

Finney had previously also been set to star in Billy Porter’s queer rom-com Anything’s Possible, but had to pull out due to travel restrictions and visa difficulties. In 2023, she’s set to be a series regular in Doctor Who, working with the legendary Russell T. Davies, who is returning as showrunner for the next season. Her character is called Rose, just like Billie Piper’s role who first appeared in Davies’ revival of the show. Intriguing, indeed…

The Heartstopper star has also become a minor fashion icon, appearing in the Royal Box at Wimbledon and on the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival—as well as being spotted in the front rows of several London Fashion Week shows. Surely the first of many, and I’d wager she’ll soon be strutting the catwalk herself too.

In September 2022, she appeared on an episode of Queerpiphany, an MTV online chat show hosted by queer British legends Munroe Bergdorf and Tayce. It’s honestly a wonderful watch and utterly heartwarming to see the amount of black queer/trans joy in one room, a level of celebration we don’t get to see much of in the UK at the moment.

The second season of Heartstopper introduces four new core cast members: Leila Khan as Sahar Zahid (a Higgs student), Jack Barton as David Nelson (Nick’s older brother), Bradley Riches as James McEwan (a Truham student), and Nima Taleghani as Mr. Farouk (a Truham teacher).

But as they’ve only just started filming, we could be waiting a while before we get to see Charlie, Nick, Tao, and Elle again. In the meantime, stardom awaits.

TikTok highlights the importance of representation as young fans react to ‘The Little Mermaid’ trailer

On 10 September 2022, Walt Disney Studios released the first official teaser for the new live-action movie The Little Mermaid, due to be released across theatres in May 2023. Audiences got their first look at the highly-anticipated blockbuster based on the nostalgic fairytale that encouraged many of us to stay in the bath for too long—savouring the moments where we could imagine that we too were mermaids and mermen.

The woman who landed the role of our beloved Ariel, Halle Bailey, has been highly praised by her fellow cast members and production team for her sheer talent. Bailey is most commonly known for being one half of the sister act Chloe x Halle—the Grammy nominated R&B duo championed by Beyoncé ever since they covered her track ‘Best Thing I Never Had’ on YouTube. The American singer-actress has since also starred in the TV series Grown-ish alongside her sister.

Director Rob Marshall, after having announced Bailey as their princess, stated: “After an extensive search, it was abundantly clear that Halle possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence and substance—plus a glorious singing voice—all intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role,” as reported by The DisInsider.

Melissa McCarthy, who dons the role of villain Ursula in the movie, recently recalled the moment she first heard Bailey’s rendition of the emblematic song ‘Part of Your World’. “We were on set and they started playing Halle’s version of the song. It’s so beautiful and it’s from such a place, she sings from her heart and when I heard it, there were seven of us that just burst out crying. She’s a remarkable young woman,” McCarthy told Andy Cohen on the late night talk show Watch What Happens Live.

Unfortunately, there are some netizens whose ignorance and self-importance has redirected the media attention away from this film’s important step towards diversity and inclusivity within the Disney repertoire.

After the trailer’s release, comments and videos began to appear across social media platforms criticising a number of trivial elements. Most predominantly—which can only be described as acute racism—is the critique of Bailey’s hair in the movie. The teaser, which currently sports over 1.5 million dislikes, has also been accused of falling short in creating a ‘realistic’ underwater world—presumably, users are finding any excuse to find fault with this film.

According to The Independent, trolls began trending #NotMyAriel on Twitter, accusing Disney of poor casting choices and insisting that a live-action remake should stay true to the original animation that displayed the mythical Ariel as a pale white woman with westernised straight red hair. Naturally, these trolls had zero issue with the concept of a singing crab or voice-stealing octopus?

In an interview with Variety, Bailey expressed how “barrier-breaking” this film truly is. She stated, “I want the little girl in me and the little girls just like me who are watching to know that they’re special, and that they should be a princess in every single way.”

This sentiment definitely reigns true for so many children across the world. The Little Mermaid remake—while experiencing some backlash—is sparking joy for several young children of colour who are now able to experience the wonders of Disney through a character that represents them. Many families recently took to TikTok to capture their children’s first reactions to the film’s trailer—and let’s just say that their wholesome nature is sure to put a smile on your face.

Representation matters, period.

TikTok user Shannon Lanier shared a video on 13 September of their three young children watching The Little Mermaid trailer. In the clip, the kids are heard asking: “Why can’t we see her face?” to which Lanier responds: “They’re about to show it, keep watching.” As the trailer pans to feature Bailey, all three kids exclaim: “She’s black!” “Oh my god, finally!”

@mrshannonlanier

#LittleLaniers #reaction to #thelittlemermaid #blackmermaid @hallebailey @disney THANK YOU 4 this. it means the #world to so many! #blackexcellence #fyp #fypシ #trending #viral #HalleBailey #littlemermaid #Disney

♬ original sound - MrShannonLanier

Another wholesome moment uploaded by @preciousavery onto the video-sharing platform depicts a young girl marvelling at how similar she looks to Bailey. The clip, captioned ‘When your favourite Disney princess looks like you’, first shows the young girl watching the trailer and, as soon as she realises who is playing Ariel, smiles and says: “I think she’s brown! Brown Ariel is cute!”

@preciousavery

I love this for my 3 years old 🤎 #littlemermaid #toddlersoftiktok #hallebailey #girlpower

♬ original sound - Precious & Emery

The wholesome video in question has already garnered 5.3 million views, even receiving a comment from Bailey herself. The Grown-ish star, alongside a collection of other famous TikTok influencers including Patrick Starrr and Mikayla Nogueira, shared her love by writing, “oh my goodness my heart.”

It should also be noted that the film holds an enormous amount of significance for older women of colour, who never had the opportunity to see a Disney princess who looked like them when they were children. Below is a TikTok uploaded by user Korris’ World, who filmed their mother and grandmother’s reactions to The Little Mermaid teaser:

@korrisworld

Mannnn I almost cried😭 #thelittlemermaid #halleberry #thelittlemermaidhallebailey #blackmermaid #blackprincess #fyp

♬ Love You So - The King Khan & BBQ Show

Korris’s grandmother, when realising that the new Disney princess was black, noted: “Oh my goodness, they are mad about that,” referencing the criticism the movie has faced. The pair go on to comment, “If she was white… and with red hair…”

We can all imagine the stark difference of online attention the upcoming film would have received if Ariel had been played by a white woman.

Bailey herself took to Instagram in order to share her appreciation for the public’s heartwarming response. “People have been sending these reactions to me all weekend and I’m truly in awe seeing these little babies’ reactions makes me so emotional, this means the world to me,” she wrote. “Thank you all for your unwavering support.”

 

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A post shared by Halle Bailey (@hallebailey)

It can’t be denied that The Little Mermaid’s release in 2023 will go on to face similar backlash based upon racism and ignorance. Nevertheless, this film’s significance for people of colour is insurmountable and not something to be dismissed or disregarded.