OPINION: Ackley Bridge and why "box-ticking" isn't always bad
Josie Le Vay is glued to Channel 4's diverse drama.
I was talking to my friend the other day, who told me she wouldn't watch Ackley Bridge, the new Channel 4 school drama, because it's "trying to tick too many boxes".
In a way, I get where she's coming from. It can be frustrating to see every ounce of diversity shoved into one single character. Programmes should just be diverse all round, they shouldn't feel the need to compress all minorities into one role so they can label themselves as inclusive. (Of course, what's so annoying is that it works, we cling to the limited representation available to us.)
But Ackley Bridge doesn't do this.
The basis of the show is a merger between a majority white school and a majority Asian one, in a North Yorkshire mill town. The very nature of the show is diverse and inclusive. And the most box ticking character of them all isn't pushed to the sidelines, she's one of the leads.
16 year old Nas Paracha (Amy-Leigh Hickman) struggles to find her place at the new integrated academy. She finds herself divided between her Muslim friends and her best friend Missy. She briefly decides to wear a hijab, an arranged marriage is on the cards, and to top it all off, she's gay, and has feelings for her teacher, who's also South Asian. Boxes well and truly ticked. And so they should be.
It's simply no good sectioning out pieces of representation to individual characters with no overlap. The gay guy, the disabled woman, the adopted child, the Muslim teenager. There are overlaps, there are people who fit within more than one minority, and they need to be represented. The evident diversity in Ackley Bridge allows for characters like Nas to be created without facing the criticism of having a character single-handedly embody an entire diversity quota.
I spend far too much of my time searching the depths of the internet to find new films, TV shows or web series with queer female characters in. Never have I ever come across a gay female British Pakistani Muslim. But they do exist, and they need to be represented.
The very existence of Nas allows Ackley Bridge to explore the intersectionality between sexuality, faith and race, and from a female perspective - something which seems to be largely ignored. It's a difficult task, but they seem to have it spot on, dealing with issues sensitively and with space to breathe, all be it with a touch of humour: "If you’re gonna let down the whole of Pakistan being a lezzer you may as well go the whole way and sleep with a teacher too", Missy tells Nas.
If the demographic of the audience in any way reflects that of the show, Nas' storyline will certainly turn some heads within British Muslim and Asian communities, giving the show a great level responsibility. Fingers crossed they can pull it off.
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