Representation and authenticity. Just one example of an ongoing debate in the entertainment industry. How exactly do you go about it and what does it look like?
Those pondering such questions would be advised to look at Wreck, the new horror-comedy series from the mind of Ryan J. Brown, which refreshingly manages to achieve both and does so effortlessly.
The six-part series, set to debut on BBC Three and the iPlayer on 9 October, sees a diverse cast of characters set sail on board The Sacramentum cruise ship where they must work together to keep things running, but also survive as a killer duck (yes, that’s right) roams the ship’s cabins.
Jamie (Oscar Kennedy) joins The Sacratementum as he searches for his older sister, Pippa, who had previously worked on the ship before disappearing presumed dead.
Here he meets the likes of Vivian (Thaddea Graham), Olly (Anthony Rickman), Rosie (Miya Ocego), and Danny (Jack Rowan) and gets to work uncovering the mystery as crew members are picked off one by one by the mascot duck, Quacky.
The series was first teased by Ryan J. Brown as, “a tense coming-of-age story about a lost, gay kid from Sheffield propelled into uncharted waters of escalating paranoia and self-discovery.”
What’s so refreshing about Wreck and its authentic representation is that characters’ sexualities or gender identities are not fixated on. For example, in the series’ first episode, Jamie casually mentions being gay, and rather than stop for some unnecessary drama the scene carries on. As it does most of the time in real life.
Speaking exclusively to Attitude ahead of the show’s release, Ryan explains he wanted to create something that was “super gay” and therefore the slasher-horror-comedy genre seemed ideal, which he just so happens to love.
“We’ve got everyone from across the whole spectrum and that’s really nice,” says Ryan adding that it’s not a show about sexuality or gender identity at all.
Recognising that shows focusing on that are important and that we need more of them, he goes on to say that “we’ve reached a point where we can have that now. The door is slightly open, let’s smash it open with an axe like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
“But, we don’t always need to have shows that are about wading through trauma about identity. And what I love is having these characters just arrive equipped; they can sense danger, and they’re looking over their shoulder.”
Pointing to the character of Rosie, played by Miya Ocego, who is trans, Ryan adds, “She can sense danger when it enters a room because of who she is. That is so important. And that is a big part of the story. But it isn’t the story. That, I think, is very exciting.”
Confirming Rosie – who is seen fleetingly in the show’s first episode decked out in full Cher regalia is trans – Ryan opens up about conversations that were had about Miya’s character.
“I always said from day one, Rosie is trans. And what was funny was, well not funny, it was f***ing annoying, was when people early days read the scripts, they were kind of like, ‘Oh, but on the page, there’s nothing there [to indicate Rosie is trans]’ I was like, ‘Well, what are you expecting? To announce it every time she enters a room?’ I wanted her to be trans. But I also wanted it to be a conversation that we had,” he says to Miya sat next to him.
“And I was always like, it’s up to you Miya. Either way, it’s great. You either have a trans actress playing a cisgender role, which we never see and we should see more of because it’s been the other way for far too f***ing long. Or Rosie is trans played by a trans actress. And the show isn’t about that.”
Miya adds to that, “I think what’s so groundbreaking with what Ryan has done is create a world where all these queer people exist but without labels. You take the characters at face value. And I think that’s what society needs to take from the show – you get pre-judged so much with the label of being trans or being gay. And the fact is, we’re all just trying to exist like everybody else.”
Hoping for a second season Ryan says he’d want to properly acknowledge Rosie’s trans-ness then.
“I just thought if we acknowledge it in series two in some way, not necessarily a huge way, people will have watched series one, maybe not quite clocked for whatever reason, that Rosie is a trans character, which is exactly what I want. And then have a moment of ‘Oh, okay, Rosie is trans.’ Yeah, well, and? She is the same as every other character in the show. And I think that could hold some real power.”
Miya fully supports this idea. “With the trans community being so underrepresented we could really use that as a platform to talk about it. It’s what makes it even more beautiful in the first season that it’s not even acknowledged, just like it doesn’t need to be in real life.”
In a separate conversation with three of the show’s other stars – Thaddea, Anthony, and Oscar – the topic of representation comes up. The cast, like Miya, praise Ryan’s writing.
“It’s a celebration of so many different things. Obviously, the slasher genre in this very British spin on it,” says Anthony, who plays Olly. “But also celebrations of queerness, of Asian representation, there’s so much representation. I think that’s the real heart of it.”
Thaddea enthusiastically agrees. ‘What is really lovely about this is that each of these characters’ identities is so important to them, but nobody’s trying to force anyone to say more than they want to. It’s like, if it’s important to you, then it’s important to me. And I think that’s a really beautiful thing to see.”
The representation is more nuanced than we see in a lot of queer characters and stories depicted on screen.
This, Anthony goes on to say, comes as a result of a writer “that understands the landscape and understands how people want to be represented.”
Thaddea hopes this is a point we can reach in real life too. She also points out that the show’s setting presents other, more life-threatening challenges for the characters.
“You’re in the middle of the sea. It doesn’t matter what’s happened before or where you come from. It’s about who you are right now in this moment. Are you going to kill me with a knife in a duck costume? Or are you going to help me run away from the duck? That’s what’s important.”
It’s very clear that the cast understands how important such representation can be to an audience.
Thaddea continues, “It is a brilliant thing. It’s not at the forefront but it’s not dismissive either. And I think seeing that is so important and hopefully somebody watching will feel seen. If at least only one person feels less alone, I think that is quite an amazing thing.”
Oscar also hopes that audiences feel comforted by the show.
“I hope that queer audiences can see that they’re not alone. Hopefully, it will reach people that maybe haven’t found themselves yet or aren’t comfortable to be who they know that they are. The series shows that you can be who you are and do the things you want to do and for it not to be questioned.”
The inclusion of LGBTQ characters doesn’t feel tokenistic or as if it’s been done to check a box. Therefore it’s more rewarding to watch as an audience. It feels sincere and heartfelt.
As Anthony remarked, it’s a result of a show being written by someone who truly understands the community. Arguably, someone not a part of the community, like Ryan, could do a similar job if they wanted.
Miya is hopeful show’s like Wreck and Heartstopper indicate a turning point when it comes to mainstream representation.
“I think we’re definitely moving in the right way but there’s still so far to go. Of course, we’re gonna get judged for everything that we do, but I’ve got hope and with a show like this and more and more people like Ryan out there doing the work and creating a space for us to exist is just incredible.
“And it’s amazing to be a part of.”
Wreck will air on BBC Three and the BBC iPlayer from 9 October at 10 pm.
The Attitude September/October issue is out now.