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Heartbreak High: Australian drama wins hearts around the world with its authentic portrayal

It’s an Australian series that’s making its mark on streaming charts around the world.
Teen drama Heartbreak High, a reboot of the Netflix series that first aired in 1994, features a diverse cast of characters from different ethnicities, sexualities, gender identities, and neurodivergent backgrounds.

But James Majos, who plays queer and non-binary student Darren Rivers in the series, said the characters’ key differences are their least interesting elements.

He said they were just “typical Australian teenagers”.
Majoos, is of South African descent and non-binary. He told SBS News: “I think the most interesting thing in terms of representation is not just skin color and sexuality, but being able to see how these people live normal lives, rather than just dealing with racial politics or sexual politics.”

“They are diverse, but our race, our sexuality or our identity is the least of all these characters and us as people.”

James Majos stars as Darren Rivers in the Netflix series Heartbreak High. credit: Brendan Thorne/Getty Images for Netflix

Majos said representativeness was particularly important given Australia’s poor track record with diversity on screen.

“Historically, our media portrayal of Australia has been white, blonde, blue-eyed, and that’s just not true,” he said.

The plot focuses on the students of the fictional Hartley High School, who deal with sex, drugs and relationships after the teachers find an “incest card” that details their sexual relationships with each other.

Despite ​​a lot of humor, Heartbreak also touches on a number of social issues such as sexual consent, mental health and police brutality against First Nations people.
It has resonated with audiences both at home and abroad, ranking in the top 10 TV shows in 43 countries, including Australia, where it ranks second on Netflix.
Arrernte actress Sheri-Lee Watson, who hails from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, plays Aboriginal student Missy Beckett in the series.

Watson said representation in the media is important because “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”

Two women stand on either side of the second woman, who is seated

(left to right) Heartbreak High stars Sheree-Lee Watson, Ayesha Maddon and Gemma Chua-Tran. credit: LISA TOMASETTI/NETFLIX

“It will always matter because it is true. And it’s our job as actors to tell the truth at the end of the day — the truth to the script and the truth to the author,” she said.

“It’s very important for the world to get an idea of ​​how we operate, what Australian culture is and what it revolves around, why we act brazenly and the way we do. It contextualizes Australians to the people and contextualizes all Australians to the people.”

Aussie slang like “root” and “eshay,” liberal use of the C-bomb, and Gen-Z terminology like “pick me” are mainstays in Heartbreak High’s dialogue.

According to Watson, that’s because the screenwriters spent a year doing research, talking to school kids in Sydney’s western suburbs.
“Just talking to Australian kids in public schools and learning about the culture and what they do. And we also have this cool resource called TikTok, which is just a massive sign of what Gen Z is,” she said.
In addition to research, Majos said the writers also came from different walks of life, making the show “based in authenticity.”
“We’re not just puppets for a bunch of, you know, 50-year-old men who decide whether they like, put their own taste on what they think teenagers are saying,” he said.

“Our writers trust us so much as actors that we can bring our own flavor to parts of the script, and actually more than flavor, we’ve had a lot of creative say in how these characters are presented in the dialogue.”


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