One Tree Hill’s Anna Finds Courage – and Romance?

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Sprague GraydenFelix (Michael Copon)

Finally, Schwahn told Alonso the truth about her character, and “it was like flipping a switch with her,” says Schwahn. “She became so much stronger. She is so good, and so compelling to watch. It was really a lesson learned.” Alonso agrees, saying “when Mark finally told me, I was like ‘Oh, this makes sense! Now I have something to play.’ I was so happy, because not only were we adding something ethnically to the show, but now she’s bisexual.”

Alonso, who says she has gay and bisexual friends, as well as gay uncle, didn’t feel compelled to do any special research for the role. “It’s like having a crush on a boy, only it’s a girl. I know what that feels like, so I just played it like that.”

As for playing the first recurring bisexual character of color on television, Alonso just says, “It’s about time!”

When asked why he chose to make Anna bisexual, instead of a lesbian, Schwahn’s answers are both pragmatic and philosophical. On the practical side, making her bisexual let the writers keep Anna’s past a secret, while maintaining some semblance of authenticity. “In order to hide what her journey was going to be,” explains Schwahn, “she was presented as a potential romantic interest for Lucas. I thought if she was strictly a lesbian character, that would be really out of nature for her, and a little disingenuous to lesbians.”

From a philosophical standpoint, Schwahn felt there was more territory to explore with a bisexual character. “There’s still more of a bias towards [bisexual] characters,” he says. “I see support groups for people on both ends of the spectrum, but none for people in the middle. I just felt like this character, seemingly without a country, was a very compelling character. I really felt for her dilemma, and when you connect emotionally to a character, it opens up so many avenues for a writer to write. I was really rooting for Anna and I felt like that was the best way to go.”

When asked about the WB’s reaction to Anna’s storyline, Schwahn contends “They’ve been very supportive of it. It’s sort-of a catch-22, though. If it had been Lucas or Nate, they probably would have said, ‘Wait, hold everything. These are our male leads and you can’t do that to them.’ But they have really said nothing about it. I don’t ever remember it being an issue for even a moment.”

Anna’s storyline allowed One Tree Hill to put a contemporary twist on classic themes. “We’re telling some of the oldest stories in the world on the show,” says Schwahn, “stories of love, jealousy, trust, who you’re going to be when you get older.” Although on the surface it may seem different, Anna’s storyline is fundamentally about the same things.

“Anna wants to be herself, and yet she’s carrying around something she sees as a stigma, even though she knows that it shouldn’t be” Schwahn explains. “It would be the easiest thing in the world for her to stand up and say ‘this is who I am,’ and yet this is also the hardest thing in the world for her. I thought this was very compelling as a storyline, and a healthy storyline to tell in this day and age.”

There have been bisexual characters on television before, but rarely is the concept of bisexuality openly embraced and explored on network television the way it has been on One Tree Hill this season. In the episode in which she comes out to Lucas, she tells him she likes girls and boys, and in another scene, Anna is shown registering for a dating site online and choosing “both” when asked which gender she was interested in. In yet another episode, she says in a videotape for a time capsule, “I’m gay, and I’m straight,” and then rants about labels.

In contrast, when teen drama-queen Marissa (Mischa Barton) fell for another girl on the popular Fox teen drama The O.C. this season, she barely spent any time exploring what this meant about her sexuality, and the word “bisexual” was never used once.

Why did One Tree Hill decide to actually use the word “bisexual,” and embrace the concept explicitly, when few others have? “I hadn’t actually considered that,” he responds. “I just thought, if that’s who the character is, then that’s what she should be announcing.”

Schwahn and his team of writers do sometimes use the term “gay” and “bisexual” interchangeably. In her conversation with Felix in tomorrow’s episode, for example, Anna tells him “now you know, I’m gay.” Her use of the word “gay” instead of “bisexual” wasn’t meant to imply that Anna is not bisexual, Schwahn clarifies. “If I had known the word bisexual was more taboo,” reflects Schwahn, “we may have gone in that direction. For me it seemed like Felix was so homophobic, that for her to say ‘I’m gay’ to him felt even stronger for her.”

While lesbian and bisexual storylines seem to be increasingly popular on television, they are often nothing more than sweeps stunts, or are poorly executed. On ER, Dr. Weaver’s sexuality has only been referenced once this season–during Sweeps weeks–and the lesbian storyline on The O.C. started off well, but ultimately proved disappointing to lesbian and bisexual viewers. Schwahn didn’t see The O.C.’s lesbian storyline, but says “from what I heard, they were doing a boy-fantasy, sexy version, and we were doing more of a real version.”

Unlike the relationship between the bisexual teens on The O.C., One Tree Hill‘s bisexual storyline has received very little attention from the press–which is fine by Schwahn. “I’m kind of glad we’ve flown under the radar,” he says, “because I think it allows us to be true to the stories we’re telling, rather than have to pander to some bigger ratings number, or to shock and surprise people every week with some disingenuous moment.”

“I never positioned this story to be a ratings-grabber, or the sexy version of the story,” continues Schwahn. “Some people roll their eyes at that, but it’s the truth. Anna’s story was going to tell a lot of other stories, including Peyton having ‘dyke’ written on her locker, which is the hate-crime version of that. Whether or not I’m gay, if someone is painting that on anyone’s locker, who’s going to stand up for them? These were issues I felt were compelling storylines.”

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