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‘Heartstopper:’ Queer Representation in Media

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Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for the Netflix series, “Heartstopper.”

Based on the popular graphic novel of the same name by Alice Oseman, Netflix’s newest series “Heartstopper” made its official debut on April 22. The series follows the high school romance of main characters Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) and Nick Nelson (Kit Connor), two British teens who attend Truham Grammar School for Boys. The focal point of the show remains on their relationship. 

Episode one, “Meet,” introduces Charlie and Nick as two classmates who encounter one another for the first time in their new mixed grade level form groups. The two are seated next to each other and exchange hellos. Charlie is noticeably smiley; presumably because he thinks Nick is attractive. This first exchange leads to a series of saying “Hi” and having other small conversations throughout the week whenever the two happen to pass by each other in the hall or when they sit down for class. Though Charlie’s friend Tao (William Gao) thinks that Nick is like every other member of the rugby team, Charlie insists that Nick is different.

The two become very good friends shortly after Charlie joins the rugby team, per Nick’s insistence. More specifically, their friendship grows after an incident with Charlie’s ex who tried to assault him after rugby practice. Nick was luckily there to stop him, and they later have a conversation about the situation and everything that led up to it. 

Photo provided by Heartstopper @heartstoppertv/Instagram

In the weeks that follow, the two text constantly and begin to hang out at each other’s houses. When Nick goes over to Charlie’s one day, he gets the urge to hold his hand, but is too afraid to do it, so Nick hugs him instead. He begins to question his sexual identity and goes to the internet for answers. Nick cries over his revelation and “gay quiz” score, not knowing how to process the fact that he likes his friend, who also happens to be a boy. Some of the audience expressed on Twitter how relatable and heart-breaking this scene was for them, and praised Kit Connor’s portrayal of his characters emotions, such as the fear Nick felt when looking up topics such as hate crimes and conversion therapy.

Nick is still a bit unsure about his sexuality the following week, but gets some confirmation after he and Charlie kiss at a party. He panics when his friends go looking for him and Charlie is heartbroken, thinking that he ruined their friendship. Nick reassures him the following day when he arrives at his house, soaking wet from the rain, and kisses him again. He apologizes for leaving and explains that he’s “having a full on gay crisis” and doesn’t know what to do. Charlie is understanding, and agrees to keep their relationship a secret until Nick is ready to come out. 

The rest of the series is very cute and warm. Though the characters deal with some bullying and self-esteem issues, nothing particularly bad happens to any of them. Characters Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell) experience homophobia at their all-girls school after posting about their relationship on Instagram, but find that they’d rather deal with it together than pretend to be just friends. Charlie’s friend Elle (Yasmin Finney), who is openly transgender, struggles with making friends at her new all-girls school after dealing with transphobia at Truham. Tao deals with attachment issues, Charlie with homophobia and Nick with figuring out his identity. As a mostly queer friend group, many of their situations overlap and their shared experiences help in their understanding of each other’s feelings. This is evident in how Tara and Darcy’s experience with coming out helps Nick in his process of doing the same as he becomes more comfortable with his sexuality after being able to talk about it with them.

Photo provided by Heartstopper @heartstoppertv/Instagram

Neither of their journeys are easy, which makes “Heartstopper” so raw and relatable. Charlie’s low self-esteem causes him to believe that his existence ruins other’s lives and Nick is almost completely alone in his process of figuring out his sexuality. However, things work out for the most part, as Charlie becomes more sure of the sincerity of their relationship and Nick decides he is bisexual. In the last episode, titled “Boyfriend,” Nick tells Charlie he wants to come out to the people who matter as an iconic beach scene from the graphic novel is presented where Nick declares, “I like Charlie Spring in a romantic way, not just a friend way.” Later, while coming out to his mom, Sarah (Olivia Colman), Nick sheds a few tears of relief when his mother is supportive. This was such an important moment, not only for Nick but for fans who never received this type of support or were afraid to come out for fear of being disowned.

“Heartstopper” was admittedly one of the best shows to fully transgress queer representation on a streaming platform. Though some of the LGBTQ+ community think it’s a bit unrealistic, the fact that most of the main cast are actually teenagers and queer enhances the authenticity of the show. This may not seem important to some viewers, but this is actually a major detail due to many shows revolving around teens or queer romance casting non-teen and/or non-queer actors, such as Riverdale and Euphoria. Additionally, the series navigates same-sex crushes, being transgender and figuring out one’s sexuality. Many queer folk found it extremely relatable. From questioning one’s sexuality to taking “Am I Gay?” quizzes, the queer community can feel loved and understood throughout the entire portrayal of the show, fully emphasizing how scary it can be to come out to your family and friends. Every actor completely embodied their character, and many fans found themselves crying over scenes such as the rugby match scene in episode 8.

“Heartstopper” captures the essence of a happy romance and reminds it’s queer audience that this is not some unreachable goal. Countless fans are in awe after watching “Heartstopper” and several have expressed the hope for a season two via Twitter and Tiktok. The show does an amazing job at portraying queer romance as magical and attainable rather than traumatic or shameful, and serves as an extremely meaningful way for members of the queer community to feel seen and represented in media. 

Brisa Ramirez is an Entertainment Intern for the spring 2022 quarter. They can be reached at bbramire@uci.edu