Why ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ is groundbreaking for LGBTQ+ representation
7 November 2018, 11:22 | Updated: 19 November 2018, 14:51
From Ambrose to Susie, the new Netflix teen drama gets queer representation right...
Ever since Chilling Adventures of Sabrina debuted on Netflix at the end of last month, the hit show has received widespread critical acclaim from fans and critics alike. The new series is inspired by the comic books of the same name and it sees half witch, half human Sabrina Spellman struggle to balance her mortal teenage life with her supernatural obligations. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer for a 2018 audience.
So far CAOS has been praised for everything from its talented cast (Kiernan Shipka, Gavin Leatherwood, Tati Gabrielle etc. are stars) and characters (Hilda and Zelda are legends) to its script (yes all of Madam Satan's lines are iconic) and plot (that ending!). That's not all though, as well as delving into important themes like feminism, CAOS is also major in terms of its LGBTQ+ representation.
While most teen dramas focus on coming out stories and use queer narratives as plot devices, CAOS goes beyond that. It features multiple characters who are queer but tackles their stories in refreshing ways. Take Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) for example. Ambrose is Sabrina's cousin who lives with Sabrina and her aunts on witch house arrest (he tried to blow up the Vatican lol) and he's pansexual.
As opposed to centring Ambrose's storyline around the fact that he is pansexual, Sabrina develops his character fully. He is a vital confidant to Sabrina and his personal arc sees him attempt to undo his sentence which traps him in Sabrina's house. While stories about sexuality are necessary, it's great to see a queer character in a teen drama whose narrative isn't limited to their sexuality.
The show doesn't shy away from the fact that he's pansexual either. One scene shows Ambrose looking at erotic pictures of men and then he later goes on to fall in love with a male witch (Luke). However, as opposed to there being any controversy surrounding their relationship, it's completely normalised. They are both adorable and no one bats an eyelid at them.
Of course, it's important that teen dramas show the realities of homophobia and LGBTQ+ phobia at large but, considering that Ambrose is a fantasy character, it's great to see a culture shown on TV in which that kind of prejudice doesn't exist. It acts as an example of what our society should and could be like.
By contrast, Susie (Lachlan Watson) does experience prejudice in CAOS. Susie is one of Sabrina's best friends at her mortal school, Baxter High, and they get bullied because of their androgynous appearance. Susie's season 1 storyline focuses on their journey with their gender identity and it's groundbreaking because it's not a traditional coming out story. Speaking to Bustle, Lachlan revealed that they actually changed Susie's character arc.
Originally the writers wanted Susie to come out as a trans man in Season 1 but Lachlan changed that. "I may have influenced the writers to hold off. I talk so much about myself and my identity as a non-binary person and I think they listened, and if anything it helped them understand that labels aren’t everything. Susie is on an ongoing queer journey, just like myself".
At the end of season 1 of CAOS, Susie hasn't established any official language they identify with. The TV show is remarkable because it gives Susie the chance to discover themselves at their own pace. Instead of producing a neat plot device, Netflix have created something a little more real and honest.
In a separate profile with Teen Vogue, Lachlan stated: “Honestly, it was a little refreshing to be a queer character [and] not be confined to a linear path where ‘oh, the character gets bullied and does research and oh, now they came out. It was nice to live in that ambiguous world where Susie can really just be Susie and figure out what they meant without really being pressured to come out and label themselves just yet."
CAOS is so huge for the LGBTQ+ community because not only does it feature prominent queer characters (Prudence, Nick, Agatha and Dorcas all exist on the LGBTQ+ spectrum as well as Ambrose, Susie and Luke) but its creators actually listen to its queer cast members. The show isn't perfect (justice for Prudence) but it is a breath of fresh air when it comes to queer representation.
Fingers crossed that other teen dramas learn a thing or two from it.