Netflix’s Heartstopper is Warming People’s Hearts

Abby Thomas '23, Sports Editor

The graphic novel Heartstopper by Alice Oseman was just turned into a live-action series on Netflix. Released on April 22, 2022, Hearstopper tells the uplifting story of two boys at an all-boys school in England. When their paths collide, their lives change dramatically. 

Charlie Spring is 15 years old and is the only student who has come out as gay at their school, Truham Grammer School. Although he had been severely bullied throughout the first year that he came out, Charlie never questioned himself. Throughout the show, Charlie remains proud of who he is. Nick Nelson is the star rugby player.  He is a year older than Charlie, and he is friends with the boys who bullied Charlie.

At the start of the new school year, Charlie and Nick find themselves sitting next to each other in their new class. The two become good friends quickly, and Nick even gets Charlie to join the rugby team. Nick is different from his friends – he cares about Charlie and defends him consistently against any bullying. Charlie develops a crush fast, even though his friends tell him to get over it, because Nick is “the straightest person [they’ve] ever seen.” What the friends don’t know is that the friendship between Charlie and Nick has caused Nick to question his feelings and who he is.

Heartstopper acts as a celebration of LGBTQ+ youth, positively impacting teens across the world. Co-lead actor Joe Locke, who plays Charlie, said in an interview with the Independent that the show is “a beautiful story of acceptance and love and friendship and happiness.” In this day and age, there is limited LGBTQ+ representation in teen-level TV shows across platforms. 

Ali DeFilippo ‘25 said, “Heartstopper is such an important show because so many kids can see themselves in its characters! It is a show with positive LGBTQ+ representation, which we need more of!”

Although HBO’s hit show Euphoria, which also surrounds queer high school students, has strong queer representation, it deals with extremely heavy topics and is not a show people look too for a good laugh. Conversely, Heartstopper brings a radiant and positive outlook on the lives of queer high schoolers and is more kid-freindly, so it has a wider age range in its audience. As the Independent said, Heartstopper has swapped “drugs and sex for milkshakes and snow angels.”

MJ Owens ‘24 said, “Representation in media is so essential because it shows people that they aren’t alone. Someone might be having a hard time with something and think that they’re the only one experiencing that and there’s no one that could relate or help, but seeing experiences or problems that they themselves are going through on TV is so validating.”

In recent years, the world has been hit with headlines filled with hate, war, and constant news about the pandemic. Heartstopper offers a light that alleviates that darkness. 

Locke said that the show “shows the really nice things about being queer.” He added, “I think a lot of queer people growing up feel like they don’t deserve love, because they don’t have access to the same dating pool or support as straight people do. And so Heartstopper is so lovely in that it gives that to queer characters.”

One thing that sets Heartstopper apart from other screen adaptations is that author Alice Oseman and director Euros Lyn wanted to pay tribute to the graphic novel origins of the story. In this way, Oseman and Lyn sought to incorporate some of the minor details and doodles that Oseman had created in the novel. While generating the script for the show, Oseman added little drawings around the words on the page. When Lyn read the script with the surrounding drawings accenting the story, he knew he wanted to integrate them into the actual show. Hence the cartoon leaves that swirl around the characters from time to time.

Though the show focuses on the relationship between Charlie and Nick, there are also storylines following their friends. Charlie’s friend Elle (played by Yasmin Finney) is transgender and left Truham, moving to the all-girls partner school, Higgs. There, Elle meets Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Egell) who are both lesbian, though not vocal about it. The show puts some focus on their relationship, specifically with Tara coming out at her school. Tara endures some mocking, but she refuses to be brought down and never quits being herself.

Heartstopper excels in its authentic representation, mostly with its strong LGBTQ+ relationships as well as racially diverse characters. 

Owens ‘24 said, “Throughout middle school and even some of high school, I struggled to accept my own sexuality, and I just wish I had this kind of media where I can relate to and see myself in these characters and their conflicts and realize that there is a whole community of people with similar experiences that would be willing to help and share their own understanding.”

Occasionally, however, TV shows and movies portraying LGBTQ+ relationships or characters either don’t put a large emphasis on them, or do so in a way that is not genuine or does not reflect them authentically.

Heartstopper is an exception in an industry filled with “queer-baiting,” which is when a show alludes to LGBTQ+ representation to draw the LGBTQ+ community to it, but has no actual rendering of those characters or relationships. These creators essentially use LGBTQ+ to increase viewership.

The beauty of Heartstopper is how genuine the writing is. The experiences that the characters go through are not unlike those that teenagers across the globe – and at St. Luke’s – go through. From conflicts between friends and athletic tournaments at school, to going on a date at the beach and even something as powerful as questioning your sexuality, anyone who is watching the show can find something or someone they relate to.

This show teaches its viewers, specifically the targeted audience of teenagers, that if you fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, you are just as valued as someone who doesn’t. Especially since so many teenagers nowadays struggle with their identity, Heartstopper demonstrates that it’s okay to not know where you fall on the rainbow spectrum.

Owens leaves us with this: “[Heartstopper] is one of many new pieces of media that are all steps in the right direction. While I wish I had this more growing up, I’m so happy that kids today have such diverse shows and books and they can watch and learn that they are not alone.”