I spent many of my formative years obsessing over Degrassi and its cast. The show itself exposed me to tough subjects the adult around didn’t feel comfortable tackling themselves. It made a lasting impact. The latest season of Degrassi: Next Class was recently released on Netflix and I think that a lot of people don’t realize just how relevant and important that show still is for today’s generation of teens. Almost 10 years later, and (as it’s famous tagline boasts) it still “goes there.”
If you’ve been sleeping on Degrassi, here’s why you should definitely fire up your computer and start catching up immediately:
1. Racist and anti-black behavior gets called out
In season two, when resident rich and popular girl Frankie Hollingsworth draws a picture depicting the black girls of a rival volleyball team as gorillas, it rightfully causes a scandal.
When she gathers these girls and attempts to get off scot-free with a “sorry you were offended” non-apology, no one lets it slide. Frankie is held accountable for her ignorance and is made to deal with the backlash that comes as a direct result.
2. There’s actual bisexual representation
Okay, I’ll be honest. This one was a long time coming.
Since season one, I’ve watched Miles Hollingsworth date both girls and without the word “bisexual” ever being uttered. Many may argue that the show’s writers never had to explicitly use this label because they were showcasing his relationships on-screen.
I disagree wholeheartedly.
Using the actual word “bisexual” does so much for representation of such a marginalized group. In the latest season, when Miles finally (finally) claims that word as a part of his identity, I wanted to throw a party and jump for joy.
3. Diverse Muslim characters that aren’t some stereotypes
A huge plot line in season 3 was the introduction of characters who were also Syrian refugees. With these new characters came three incredibly diverse representations of what it meant to be a Muslim teen living in Canada.
On the show, there is Goldi, a Canadian-born hijabi, Rasha, a Syrian-born lesbian, and Saad, a quiet Syrian boy who is rarely seen without his camera.
Usually, if a show chooses to include a Muslim character at all, they become the token. Degrassi, however, follows three characters who all embark on very different journeys.
4. A nuanced discussion of Islamophobia and terrorism
Season 4 highlights two of the most timely and complex topics within our society today: Islamophobia and terrorism. Both Goldi and Saad experience these situations in heart-wrenching ways. Shortly after the Brussels train station attack, Goldi is surrounded by an angry mob in Canada and her hijab is pulled off.
After this brazen attack, she forms a Muslim Students Association, hoping to facilitate healthy dialogue between Muslim and non-Muslim students. When Saad takes the stage at an MSA event in order to explain why he believes it’s wrong for the world to acknowledge a terrorist attack in Western countries while ignoring the daily attacks in his home country, his words are twisted and he is accused of being radicalized.
Instead of presenting this situation through the binary of US/Canada= good and Syria/terrorists=bad, the viewers are forced to take a more nuanced approach.
5. A realistic abortion storyline that doesn’t shame or guilt-trip
In season 3, Lola unexpectedly gets pregnant and must decide whether or not to have an abortion. Ultimately, she goes through with it. More than the scene of her in the gynecologist’s room, what struck me was Lola’s behavior post-procedure. There weren’t any melodramatic scenes of her crying and feeling guilty or ashamed. She made the decision she felt was best and she remained happy with it.
All too often, people who choose to have abortions are expected to have a visceral and emotional response to it. When they don’t, they are viewed as cold and unfeeling.
I’m so grateful that Degrassi allowed Lola to be a 15-year girl who made a mistake and is then able to remedy this mistake and move past it.
6. The show’s first gender-fluid character is amazing
Season 4 begins with Yael experiencing total gender dysphoria. As the season progresses, viewers are able to join them on their journey through choosing a wardrobe and then pronouns that they feel represent their true self.
Over the course of Degrassi’s ten episodes, Yael’s revelation is handled in the most organic and refreshing way possible.
I never expected start watching Degrassi again. Especially not as a 20-something. But I’m so glad I did. It’s rare to find a show that does such a great job at true representation. Go have a watch! I bet you’ll love it as much as I do.