Neighbours, All Saints Elevate Lesbians on Australian TV

 
 

The
state of same-sex
female relationships on Australian
television is ambiguous. While lesbians have been visible in
numerous international television vehicles, such as The
Bill, Bad Girls, Buffy
The Vampire Slayer
and of course, The
L Word
, Australian-made television has historically
left its lesbian viewers wanting.

This
isn’t to say that lesbians haven’t appeared on Australian
television before—who could forget shows such as Prisoner
and the strictly-for-titillation soap Pacific Drive?
But lesbian themes and characters have rarely been integrated
into mainstream Australian television series.

Recently,
however, two of Australia’s highest-rated programs have
begun to semi-boldly explore where others have only dabbled
before.

The
Australian drama
All Saints follows the day-to-day
rigors of a Sydney hospital and the people that work there.
All Saints leapt onto Australian screens—and
into the hearts of middle Australia—six years ago, introducing
the character of Dr. Charlotte Beaumont (Tammy McIntosh) in
2002 as a sassy and ambitious new doctor who just happened to
be gay.


Until
recently, Charlotte’s sexuality really hasn’t figured
significantly in the core storylines of the series. There was
a drunken snog with a straight co-worker (played by Libby Tanner),
but like Dr. Kerry Weaver’s early storylines on ER
in the U.S., there has been little focus on Charlotte’s personal
life on All Saints.

This
seemed about to change when Charlotte finally secured a lover
earlier this year, but her lover had almost no time on camera,
and the relationship was over before it had even begun. But
far worse was the turn her storyline took next: after being
dumped by her girlfriend, Charlotte accepts an invitation for
a drink with another character who has also been jilted by his
lover, and after drowning their mutual sorrows, the two fall
into bed for a night of passion. This poorly contrived scenario
has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and a predictable outcome:
Charlotte’s pregnant.

How
All Saints will deal with the fallout of such a storyline
remains to be seen, and the next few weeks will be telling as
to whether the sexuality of Charlotte is merely a plot device
for other storylines within the show, or whether it will actually
be integrated into the story in a realistic manner.

Meanwhile,
Neighbours, the long-running
Australia soap that gave the world Kylie Minogue, Guy
Pearce and Natalie Imbruglia and is shown in 57 countries, has
decided to throw its metaphorical hat into the ring as well,
with a lesbian storyline that culminated in a kiss on the 22nd
of September. This is a noteworthy event in Australia considering
that Neighbours appears in a 6:30 p.m. timeslot, and
this is its first lesbian kiss in 20 seasons.


Pretty
new Canadian high school student Lana Crawford (Bridget Neval)
came to Neighbours recently with a secret: she had
feelings for other girls. She comes across at first as a touch
flighty, as if she can’t quite make up her mind as to
who she wants to be, but it soon becomes abundantly clear that
Lana’s carefully constructed façade has a purpose.
During detention at school one day, Lana gets to know Sky Mangel
(Stephanie McIntosh); as the two girls warm to each other, Lana
begins to develop feelings for Sky that are more than platonic,
which finally culminates in a kiss.

From
the amount of backlash this kiss generated in Australia, you’d
think that they’d shown a full blown love scene; newspapers
have been full of angry letters to the editor decrying the gay
storyline. The negative reaction by many in the Australia press
mirrors Lana’s current storyline on Neighbours, which
explores the backlash Lana experiences when her sexuality becomes
public knowledge at her high school. Although Sky is not currently
pursuing a romantic relationship with Lana, she has not shunned
her, either (the depth of Sky’s feelings for Lana remain unclear,
even to Sky), choosing instead to help Lana through this period
of self-discovery and acceptance.

The
lesbian characters
and storylines on All Saints
and Neighbours are problematic at times, and the public
outcry over the lesbian storyline on Neighbours indicates
we still have a long way to go before lesbian characters are
routine on Australian television. But the recent steps taken
by All Saints and Neighbours to tackle these
issues are clearly helping to make that more of a reality.

 
 

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