With Aaron and David getting engaged, Neighbours is set to feature its first ever gay wedding.
Up until fairly recently, Ramsay Street was seriously lacking in diversity, but the writers seem to be making a conscious effort to be more representative. TV in general tends to feature predominantly white, straight characters, and soap has possibly lagged even further behind in this respect than other genres.
Believe it or not, Neighbours has always been slightly ahead of the game when it comes to diversity, especially when you compare it to the other big Aussie soap, Home and Away. In the past, Neighbours has dabbled with story lines featuring gay characters and showed its first ever lesbian kiss, between Sky and Lana, over ten years ago. Regular character Steph revealed that she was bisexual when she returned to the show in 2015, and Callum’s girlfriend Josie had two mums, but it wasn’t until Chris and Nate that we got to see a gay couple on our screens as part of the regular cast.
After Chris left, Aaron arrived, and soon embarked on a relationship with Nate. Vaya Pashos on Neighbours podcast Neighbuzz has frequently joked that Neighbours has a ‘one in, one out’ policy when it comes to gay characters, and this does seem to ring true, as Ramsay Street didn’t add another gay character to the regular cast until after Nate had left.
David wasn’t openly gay when he joined Neighbours, but he came to terms with his own sexuality with the help of Aaron, and now they are pretty much the cutest couple on the show, and the wedding is sure to be one of the tentpole events for Neighbours this year. A wedding on Neighbours is usually a big deal, so I hope as much fuss is made about this one.
While Home and Away has featured a couple of storylines featuring gay characters, there was much fanfare recently about the soap being about to introduce a new gay character, their first for over nine years. You get the feeling that they’re trying to catch up with what’s been happening over on Ramsay Street, as they seem to have been rather left behind.
There are other areas where Neighbours is attempting to be a bit more inclusive. Previously there was Asian Australian family, the Kapoors, who were done a bit of a disservice by the writers and written out of the show fairly speedily. Things are going better with the Sharma-Rebecchis, who were introduced last year. Thanks to them, there has been mention of Hinduism and Diwali without resorting to lazy stereotypes, which is refreshing on a street that’s been mostly white since the soap started back in the late 1980s. It can’t be said that the writers didn’t resort to a few lazy Japanese stereotypes when Leo and David Tanaka joined the cast, but the characters have been handled pretty well since then. These are baby steps – there is still a long way to go before Ramsay Street comes anywhere close to reflecting the real racial diversity of Australian society.
Neighbours has done better with their female characters in recent years too, with a lot of them not conforming to traditional female stereotypes. Currently, Yashvi is making waves in a female Aussie rules football team, the school principal is a woman, Mishti is a police officer, Steph is a successful business owner, Terese is a respected hotel executive, Dipi runs her own cafe, and Amy has a handy woman business, and has recently been overseeing a big construction project. Even Xanthe, who could so easily have been written as the blonde bimbo character, has recently started considering a career in medicine. Obviously it isn’t groundbreaking for women to be doing any of these things – they do them on a regular basis in real life every day – but it’s nice to see strong women on a soap, where they are so often limited to more stereotypical roles. I also enjoy the fact that Neighbours doesn’t seem to put pressure on their actors to lose weight, it’s nice to see a few curvy women who are portrayed in a positive light on my TV for a change.
This inclusivity can only be a good thing, and while the writers don’t always get it right, they are trying to make Ramsay Street a bit more representative of the real world, and they do seem to take criticism on board when they occasionally miss the mark. Soaps might be far-fetched, but they are supposed to be about real life after all…