How ‘The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ Changed TV Representation For The Better

The cancellation of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was a blow to its fans. We all sat and wondered: how could a show like Riverdale be renewed for more chaotic seasons, and problematic film series with no substance like The Kissing Booth get multiple sequels? Unfortunately, the series had many things pitted against it right from its initial release on Netflix in 2018 – it was in competition with other accredited supernatural drama shows such as Stranger Things and the fact that it had the same creators as Riverdale put many people off from the very beginning.

Though the show could be overshadowed by whimsical magic and sometimes over-the-top drama (and the mostly irrelevant musical numbers), it has also done absolute wonders for representation in TV and film. The show debuted with a remarkably diverse cast, featuring many people of colour and members of the LGBTQ+ community. I had never seen such a diverse cast before, and it was exactly what the industry needed.

Very early in the first season, we had a sense of some of the important themes the show would address when Theo (Lachlan Watson) – then Susie – was brutally attacked for his gender and sexual identity. Throughout the series, we followed Theo through his transition, which has been praised by many fans. We see the inquisitiveness of his family and friends who are unsure of what to do at first, but then realise that nothing has changed at all. We see how Theo’s bullies slowly come to terms with how wrongful their actions were and how easy it is to support transgender people. Most importantly, transgender and non-binary watchers across the world could see a character that they can relate to.

However, one of the most important aspects of Theo’s character and development is that he is actually played by a non-binary actor, Lachlan Watson. For too long, LGBTQ+ characters have been played by actors who do not accurately represent them, and therefore the performance falls flat. Queer roles should always be played by queer people; it is the only way that the industry will successfully move forward in its representation.

“With depth and thoughtfulness, the show has explored many topics that others of its kind have not dared to, and has done so in its relatively short time on air.”

Along similar lines of sexuality and sex, the show also considers topics like safe sex and pressure to have sex. A notable episode, ‘Chapter 14: Lupercalia’, features the titular lusty festival which coincides with Valentines Day. While Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) is surrounded by pressures from her Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto) and fellow witch Prudence (Tati Gabrielle), she reminds us that the decision is solely that of the individual, an important message that echoes that of the #MeToo movement. Sabrina constantly reminds us to be strong, sure of our decisions, and not be forced into anything we do not want to do.

The explicit openness of conversations about sex in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is also something to be praised. Roz (Jaz Sinclair) openly discusses consent with Sabrina before Lupercalia, reminding her that she always has a choice, as well as discussing the lack of safe sex education at Baxter High. Through her co-founded club, WICCA, she brings light to these issues as well as encouraging female empowerment and protecting those from harassment.

Many of the show’s female characters are some of the most empowering characters I’ve seen in TV and film. Sabrina’s defiance at wrongfully normal things (such as signing her name, body, and life away to the devil, literally), Prudence standing up to her awful father, and Zelda’s strong leadership of the Order of Hecate are all things to be in awe of. They are some of the most important feminist icons on our screens. I will admit, there are some issues, one being the early depiction of Prudence and her initial role as an antagonist. This originally placed the show alongside many others that featured stereotypical female conflicts, but Prudence becomes more than this. We see a character with depth, with development; we see her become more than the stereotype she started as.

Though Sabrina does not do it complete justice, it’s definitely a start, and this unapologetic feminism is something that we need to see in television more. We also have to consider the good it has done for representation and the legacy it will leave following its unfortunate cancellation. It has included actors from a range of backgrounds, playing characters from a range of backgrounds; it has included LGBTQ+ characters without them being token characters, in a way that not many other shows have done before. With depth and thoughtfulness, the show has explored many topics that others of its kind have not dared to, and has done so in its relatively short time on air. In between battling against Eldritch Terrors and resurrections, we are reminded of everyday important issues and are reminded to be strong, powerful, and inquisitive, just like Sabrina Spellman.

Words by Lauren Taylor

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