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

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

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

He said they’re just “typical Australian teens”.
Majoos, is of South African descent and non-binary. He told SBS News: “I think what’s most interesting in terms of the representation is beyond the skin colour or beyond the sexuality, it’s getting to see these people living out regular lives rather than just dealing with racial politics or sexual politics.”

“It’s diverse but our racial backgrounds or our sexuality or our identities are the least interesting things about all of these characters and us as people.”

James Majoos plays Darren Rivers in the Netflix series Heartbreak High. Credit: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images for Netflix

Majoos said representation is particularly important, given Australia’s poor track record with on-screen diversity.

“Historically, our reflection of Australia in our media has been white, blonde, blue eyes, and it’s just not true,” he said.

The show centres around students of the fictional Hartley High as they navigate sex, drugs and relationships after an “incest map” detailing their sexual relationships with one another is found by teachers.

While heavy on humour, Heartbreak also deals with a number of social issues such as sexual consent, mental health, and police brutality against First Nations people.
It has resonated with audiences both domestically and overseas, reaching the top 10 list of TV shows in 43 countries, including Australia, where it is sitting at number two on Netflix.
Arrernte actor Sherry-Lee Watson, who is originally from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, plays Aboriginal student Missy Beckett on the show.

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

Two women standing either side of another woman who is squatting down

(left to right) Heartbreak High actors Sherry-Lee Watson, Ayesha Maddon and Gemma Chua-Tran. Credit: LISA TOMASETTI/NETFLIX

“It’s always going to be important because this is the truth. And it’s our job as actors to tell the truth at the end of the day – truth to the script and truth to the writer,” she said.

“It’s really important for the world to get an idea of how we act and what Australian culture is like and what revolves around it and why we act cheeky and the way we do. It contextualises Australians for people and contextualises all Australians for people.”

Australian slang such as “root” and “eshay”, liberal use of the C-bomb, as well as Gen-Z terminology like “pick me” are a mainstay in Heartbreak High’s dialogue.

This is because scriptwriters spent a year researching by speaking to school children in Sydney’s western suburbs, according to Watson.
“Just talking to like public school Aussie kids and getting to know the culture and what they’re about. And we also have this cool resource called TikTok, which is just a massive sign saying this is what Gen Z is,” she said.
In addition to research, Majoos said the writers were also from different backgrounds, which made the show “grounded in authenticity”.
“We’re not just puppets to a group of, you know, 50-year-old men deciding or like, putting out their flavour what they think teenagers talk like,” he said.

“Our writers are so trusting to us as actors to put on our own flavour on some of the script and actually more than flavour, we had a lot of creative say how these characters are represented in the dialogue.”

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