Saturday, September 05, 2015

Racism and homophobia on The Next Step

Don't expect to hear racist or homophobic language on The Next Step - the discrimination and prejudice is more subtle than that.

CBBC Newsround recently reported on the diversity controversy surrounding Taylor Swift's Wildest Dreams video. That video is supposed to depict a story taking place in 1950; But The Next Step is set in current times, and one of the show's principal characters, West, is black.

So how is the show racist?

Well, although there are black and ethnic minorities in The Next Step, if we look at the storylines, we nevertheless perceive thinly-veiled racism. For example, the fleeting 'relationship' between Emily and West which began at the end of series 2 and finished at the start of series 3. We didn't even see anything amounting to a romantic kiss between the two of them. But they do stay friends, "and that's it" as Emily makes clear. Now contrast her sister Riley's relationship with boyfriend James.

Another example, on yesterday's 4.55pm episode, was the way Giselle laid into Shantel for not dancing in the duet -

Giselle and Shantel

Giselle: This might be how you guys do things at Elite - this is not what we do at The Next Step. We actually work as a team!

This brings us neatly to the homophobia. Because, in the preceding, episode Chloe made a similar comment about Daniel: "... he's not a team player, so I really really want Giselle to beat him."

But where is the homophobia? After all, we don't know that Daniel, or indeed anyone else on the show, is actually gay. However it is precisely because there aren't any openly gay characters that we suspect discrimination - just like the fans who've criticised Taylor Swift's video. How many dance studios only have straight dancers? Answer: none.

Daniel has already been depicted as selfish and a bit of a snake in the grass. But he's also a boy who likes ballet and who doesn't have a girlfriend. So viewers, even the younger ones, might start to think he's gay. And, to top it all, we hear he's not a team player.

The Next Step is made for the Family Channel in Canada. The channel will have much to do in terms of inclusion if it's to avoid further accusations of prejudice and bigotry. This is 2015, not 1950.

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