Friday, March 6, 2009

Spare the Homophobia, Save the World (Heroes)

Heroes is one of the more popular fantasy dramas on television. Aired on the NBC network, it has been going on for three seasons now in the primetime. The show is generally progressive in its message, depicting numerous interracial relationships, challenging the Patriot Act, and retaining the X-Men themes of challenging prejudice and accepting people no matter how different they may be. It is unfortunate, then, that their history with the depiction of homosexuality has been so flaky.

The creators of Heroes originally planned to tackle the subject head on in the first season. After discovering her invincibility, cheerleader Claire depends on her old friend, unpopular kid Zach, for emotional support. Zach teaches her to accept herself and to ignore what other people may think of her, and she becomes better for it. Zach was originally supposed to be gay.

This, however, was a role that actor Thomas Dekker didn’t want to play. Apparently due to some miscommunication involving him getting an old version of the pilot’s script, he signed on to do the role of Zach without realizing the character was homosexual. As he wanted instead to play a straight guy attracted to Claire, he had the writers change him into a straight character.

What resulted was a strange, ambiguous half-gay sort of character. Although there was no explicit statement of what was his sexual orientation, there was a lot of stuff left in like a snotty popular girl asking him if it was true he got an erection in the boys’ locker room – could easily just be gay-baiting, but still – and his character’s MySpace page listing his sexual orientation as “Not Sure”. With the knowledge of what his sexual orientation was originally supposed to be, Zach’s words about accepting and liking who he is kind of take on a new meaning. It’s like he’s a gay character played as straight. As far as NBC is concerned, though, Zach is completely heterosexual.

So, in the second season they planned to have an explicitly gay character. In Claire’s new school, there would be a lesbian cheerleader named April. However, April’s actress Lyndsy Fonseca accepted a role on ABC’s Desperate Housewives and the character never appeared in more than one episode, in which her sexual orientation was never referenced. The writers abandoned the idea of a gay character at the school and this time had West, basically an all-straight Zach with Peter Pan’s flight, with whom Claire could actually have a romantic relationship.

In the third season, they finally have a gay character – a couple, in fact. Two lesbian bakers living in India, one of whom is saved by Hiro and Ando from entering into an arranged marriage against her will. However, the gay relationship is not explicit, relegated into subtext. Despite being mentioned in the casting call as part of the role, the only reference to character Annapurna’s love life is her sharing a smile with her partner while talking about how she wants to pursue her own passions – something that could easily be interpreted simply as her desire to build up her business.

Heroes has had several opportunities to illustrate its positive message about accepting minorities through a decent representation of homosexual characters. It is indeed disappointing that they have not been able to do so as of yet. With any luck, the show’s creators and the producers can get their act together and pull off a decent gay character before the show comes to a conclusion.

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