film, tv, and music, LGBT, literature, politics

Nas Paracha and sexuality; LGBT representation in popular television

As the last episode of Series One of Channel 4’s ‘Ackley Bridge’ airs tonight, I feel this is a key post to be sharing.

Ackley Bridge has been wonderful for representation; BAME characters, LGBT issues, different cultures, and combining all, showing cultural and religious attitudes towards different issues. Nasreen’s character has been vital in portraying this.

I have to say, hearing about the show I was skeptical; I followed the ‘it’ll just be another Waterloo Road’ with a clear view it ‘wouldn’t be as good’ right up until it aired and then I realised. Yes, it was similar, but it was it’s own show, tackling new issues. I initially only tuned in for Sunetra Sarker (Kaneez Paracha- Nas’ mum and school dinner lady) and Jo Joyner (Mandy Carter- headteacher of the school), and was happy to find out that Amy–Leigh Hickman was in it… I used to be a huge Tracy Beaker Returns fan. Little did I know how important her character would be.

It’s in the second episode that Nas comes out to her best friend, Missy Booth (Poppy Friar) and Missy’s reaction: “What, are you some big hairy les?”

Missy’s attitude towards the idea of her best friend being gay quickly changes when she realises that it is a reality. This is likely caused by her upbringing in a hetero-normative society, meaning she has barely been exposed to the idea of being LGBT and the potential for a girl to like someone of the same sex. She soon realises that no-one ‘looks’ like a lesbian and the demonisation of homosexuality is not rational, as well as soon (after questioning her best friend) realising that just because you’re gay, it doesn’t mean that you automatically have a crush on every person of the same sex you come into contact with; homosexual love is no different to heterosexual love. Missy’s character also sheds a sense of lightheartedness on the situation by asking Nas ‘Why?’ she doesn’t have a crush on her. You can see a clear change in Missy’s attitude here.

Missy and Nas’ friendship is beautiful and shares a clear message of tolerance; Missy realises that Nasreen is the same Nasreen that she’s been best friends with her whole life, and that how she feels is love, not hate. Missy helps her embrace how to be herself by taking her to a gay nightclub in the centre of Leeds- though it was less Nas’ scene that Missy’s, things did work out for her and Missy still tried to help Nas feel accepting about her sexuality.

In contrast to this quick change, her mother’s reaction to Nas coming out in episode 5 is totally different. A few episodes prior, Kaneez comments on her not having an issue with Lilla being gay, however her attitude changes when it is her own daughter. This raises issues of being simultaneously gay and Muslim; the sexuality and faith clash (which not only occurs in Islam but many religions and cultures). Understandably, for someone of faith it may not be easy to accept, but Kaneez’ secondary reaction is what is truly important. Nas’ mum takes a step to educate herself about homosexuality and meet with some adult religious gays, as well as think of prospects for her daughter. The idea of being able to still embrace family life (eg, having two couples whom are both gay join to raise children who are biologically theirs) and keep up with Muslim values is seen in a character with a partner and a husband (whom also has a partner). Although this generally seems as if it could be non-accepting and essentially homophobic, Kaneez suggests this as it will allow Nas to stay in the community she has grown up in without being subject to hatred , which is what her mum wanted. Kaneez telling Nas she will always be her daughter no matter what is extremely significant.

I feel like Nasreen may help many young girls and boys come out to their parents or friends. Seeing the reactions of friends and family initially, but also seeing the latter outcomes, where the barrier falls and Nas suddenly becomes free to be who she is more openly and not have to lie about who she loves. I feel like this will be particularly helpful for people of faith and allow them to take the leap, and also having the programme as something they can show to their parents to help understand and be accepting is so important in a society where LGBT people are still so marginalised.

Of course, there are holes to pick, still: Why is every TV lesbian relationship student/teacher?, but that’s for another time. Of course, this upsets me, however, it doesn’t stop it the good representation and LGBT representation on television. With that and Bill and Heather’s Doctor Who kiss, popular television is finally portraying LGBT relationships in a positive light and well (and yes, that is a hint at my favourite show, Holby City, for making every one of Dom Copeland’s relationships abusive or problematic in some way).

I hope this positive representation will continue to rise: Be it a story of coming out or allowing a character to date someone of the same sex without making it an issue (oh, you’re gay? Why don’t people say oh, you’re straight?), we deserve this. LGBT people deserve this. Allies deserve this. Society deserves this.

Love always, Lauren xxx

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