If you follow my Instagram, you will have seen me at some point fangirling over the graphic novel series and soon-to-be TV show, Heartstopper. Heartstopper is a heart-warming LGBTQ+ romance that follows two teenage boys, Nick and Charlie, as they fall for one another, and grow as a couple. It’s so bloody cute and if you haven’t read it, you have no excuse as it’s free to read online here.
What I wanna talk about today is how the production company, See-Saw Films, went about its casting, as it’s not something I think many productions do but one I think should become more common: they did an open call where literally anyone over the age of 16 could email a brief paragraph and picture of themselves to the casting agents. Acting experience wasn’t required, and neither was an agent. In an industry which is notoriously hard to get into (just like many creative industries really, as good old nepotism is rampant) this allowed for the opportunity for hidden talent to be discovered and has led to the cast being made up primarily of newcomers, which is fantastic.
On top of this, all the actors are in the age bracket of 17 to 20-years-old and actually LOOK like teenagers. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of seeing actors aged 25+ being cast to play 14 to 18-year-olds. Not only is it inauthentic, but it has and continues to contribute to mental health issues amongst young people. I do understand why adults are cast in most teen shows as there are a LOT of graphic scenes featured within them which is rightfully not suitable for teens to act (hello Riverdale, Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, Sex Education, and practically every other teen show) but it will be nice to have a show that’s not centred on graphic scenes and so is able to have actors that are representational of the age group.
Not only this, but they cast a trans actor to play the trans character, Elle. HALLE-FUCKING-LUJAH! Someday I want to write a blog post focusing solely on the complexities of cisgender and heterosexual actors playing queer characters, but for now I just need to highlight how wonderful this is. Just like how it’s important to have actors who are representational of the age group, it is vital to have trans talent playing trans characters. Representation of queer folks should not be limited to what is on screen, it should extend into the real world. Seeing a queer character in a piece of media is great but it is one thousand times better if that actor portraying them is queer themselves. Cishet people understand this importance when its women playing women and men playing men, but as soon as it’s the portrayal of trans characters it no longer matters to have this (for lack of a better phrase) double representation. Trans characters end up being played by cisgender folks and then when there is rightful criticism, we hear the cry of “it’s just acting!!” If it’s just acting, let’s start casting cis men to play cis women, and cis women to play cis men, then we’ll see who’s complaining.
There is power in casting and I’m so glad the creators of Heartstopper utilised an open call to allow for fresh talent to come to light and made sure the trans role was properly cast. Other productions would do well to follow their example.
Please note: I use actor for everyone regardless of their gender. Actor is gender neutral.