In a world where mainstream media often tiptoe around issues considered “sensitive”, representation of diverse communities in Netflix’s popular show “Sex Education” has been the refreshing to watch. The show is known for its unique take on an array of themes like gender, sexuality, and relationships, and similar topics. It took a leap forward in its fourth and final season by diving into something it had missed out on earlier – disability representation.
In season 3, the show introduced us to Isaac, its first disabled character. As a wheelchair user, seeing Isaac’s storyline challenge stereotypes about disability and sexuality through his relationship with Maeve was heartwarming. It was like discovering a missing puzzle piece that could finally fall into place.
In its fourth and final season, the show portrayed storylines towards disability representation, exploring a broader spectrum of issues, including inaccessibility and ableism. The show’s latest addition was Aisha, a deaf character, who challenged various stereotypes and instances of ableism through thought-provoking scenes. Her presence not only added depth to the narrative but also shed light on the unique experiences of individuals with disabilities.
Authentic Portrayal of Disabilities
The show’s authenticity in portraying disabilities was striking. As a wheelchair user, I could relate my own experiences with the narrative. Let’s start with the powerful elevator scene in the first episode, where Isaac meets Aimee for the first time. As they enter the lift, it gets stuck and he shares his frustration that the school could afford to have meditation room but not a functional lift. As someone who experiences inaccessibility due to barriers created by an ableist society, I could relate with his feeling of frustration of how accessibility is still seen as a luxury and not a bare minimum necessity. Further into their conversation, Aimee as a result of her biases assumes that Isaac likes art in order to “process his trauma of being disabled”, in response to which he calls her out. Though she does put in the work to educate herself further in the series it was a stark reminder of how casual ableism and inaccessibility manifest in real life. It highlighted experiences of people with disabilities and rang true to my own experiences.
Representation is everything: Why?
Why does disability representation matter? It’s not just about visibility; it’s about authenticity. It’s about having our experiences, challenges, and joys portrayed in a way that resonates with reality; being “seen” in a way that matters. It’s about breaking free from the clichéd tropes and tired narratives of pity and inspiration that have dominated mainstream media for far too long. Representation matters, and it’s not just about entertainment but about the impact it creates. It’s an opportunity to see ourselves portrayed in a way that feels genuine, stuff that makes you question your biases and make room for change.
Work in Progress Storylines: What could have been better?
As we appreciate the strides made in season 4, it’s essential to acknowledge room for improvement. For instance, the potential of Aisha’s character remained largely untapped. The series only scratched the surface of her character’s disability and queerness, mostly being limited to a few scenes addressing her deafness and that she is “ethically non-monogamous”, leaving a potentially strong storyline underdeveloped. With so many characters in the mix, the character arcs didn’t have much room to bloom and were limited to a few powerful scenes of raising awareness.
However, the existence of these challenges does not take away from the show’s overall effort. It’s work has opened up a pathway for shows in the future to depict more meaningful and comprehensive representation in the future.
Representation Beyond the Screen: Impact
The significance of the show extends beyond the screen. It contributes to the broader conversation about disability representation in media. It adds to the ongoing discourse on the subject further creating room for change. Through efforts for authentic portrayals of disabilities, the show has demonstrated the potential for shifts in perspective by reclaiming the narrative for inclusivity.
In conclusion, “Sex Education” Season 4 was not just another series adding a disabled character to check off its diversity list. It was a pivotal moment in the journey toward more meaningful disability representation. The characters introduced were not mere tokens; they were real people with real stories.
While it is important to acknowledge the areas where improvement is possible, the overall impact of the show on disability representation is undeniable. It has contributed to a broader discussion and opened doors for conversation and change.
In the end, it’s a call-to-action for viewers to reflect on our own perceptions, challenge biases and more importantly, to work on them. Representation matters, and “Sex Education” proved that when done right, it has the power to potentially create change.