From episode 7 in Heartstopper:
Charlie: "You didn't have to do that. I'm used to people saying stuff about me."
Nick: "No. But you shouldn't have to be. People shouldn't be saying stuff about you in the first place. You shouldn't have to put up with anything like that."
But too many of us have put up with it. And many of us have also seen, read and heard the endless messaging surrounding equity, diversion and inclusion, but that doesn’t mean all of us have wrapped our heads around these concepts. Far too many people still feel as if they aren’t been seen and heard, nor respected and valued, whether at school, the workplace or in society. On that very point of being heard and feeling included, the British series Heartstopper has understandably become a sensation across the LGBTQ community since it first launched on Netflix in late April. The eight-episode series has become a thing on social media, especially on Gay Twitter. But the series should resonate with anyone, including those who hold a leadership position. Heartstopper is a must-watch, as it’s about as close as anyone can get to actually being able to step into many of their LGBTQ peers' shoes.
There are countless reasons why it’s easy to get hooked on this Netflix series, which is based on the graphic novels and webcomics written by Alice Oseman. Let’s start with the cast, which shines starting with the chemistry between the two leads, Charlie and Nick, played by Joe Locke and Kit Connor; the stellar supporting actors and actresses, including William Gao’s portrayal of brooding classmate Tao; breakout star Yasmin Finney, who plays a transgender classmate coping with her own challenges; Jenny Walser, hilarious as the spooky yet supportive older sister to Locke's Charlie; and yes, the queen herself, Olivia Coleman, who has a small role in the series but is brilliant as Nick’s at times aloof, often perceptive and, in the end, a tearfully compassionate mum.
Anyone who’s remembered their years of teen angst and yearning to belong can relate to this series, emotions amplified by a stellar soundtrack that includes the likes of Greta Kline, Smoothboi Ezra, Baby Queen and chloe moriondo. Filmed throughout the U.K., ending with stellar scenes in the final episode at the hamlet of Herne Bay in southeastern England’s coastal Kent, the cinematography and visual effects help yank hard at one’s current or long-faded teenaged heartstrings. And, on the lighter side, Heartstopper lends itself to drinking games, as in taking a shot every time Charlie and Nick say “hi” to each other, or better yet, when Nick says, “yeah:”
Clearly, you don’t have to identify as LGBTQ to identify with several of the series' plot lines. Plenty of people of all backgrounds can relate to the constant micro-aggressions and tones of condescension, as when flirty year-11 Imogen snarks at a lesbian couple, “I’m not, like, homophobic. I’m an ally,” or when the sneering wealthy and entitled bully, Harry, tells Nick, “Maybe listen to your boyfriend; at least he knows his place.”
But the overriding reason why anyone in a position of leadership needs to watch Heartstopper is so they can finally grasp what some of their peers, direct reports and members of the community experience day after day. Many of us within the LGBTQ community are still made to feel invisible, or that our hopes, fears and wishes are less important and noteworthy than those of our straight and cis peers. And years of constant belittling and vile comments can still have their effects long after.
As in the case of Charlie, who for the first seven and a half episodes often feels as if he has to say “sorry” just because he exists, few adults in his life make an effort to make him feel valued, save his parents. One exception is the art teacher, Mr. Ajayi, who finally tells him:
“Don’t let anyone make you disappear, Charlie.”
That message alone could do a lot to so that those in a position of leadership not only stand up for a select few, but for all.
And, they'll be more, as Netflix has confirmed a second and third seasons are on the drawing board for Heartstopper.
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.