Emmerdale LGBT & Disabled Characters – Representation Matters!
Emmerdale added a host of new characters to the village in 2018 but none would have more significance than Matty Barton and Ryan Stocks. The Emmerdaily contributor @IShipVanity talks about why these two characters and representation matters…
Serial dramas often break new television ground and Emmerdale is no different, and not afraid to ruffle a few feathers in the process. In an age where audiences demand representation on prime time TV, groups who in the past have been under-represented are finding their stories finally being told.
Within a month, Emmerdale creatives took two decisive and important casting decisions in 2018 that sent a seismic shift in representation on British screens. With Matty Barton (Ash Palmisciano) making his entrance into the village and Ryan Stocks (James Moore) rocking Charity Dingle (Emma Atkins) world, re-entering her life on a park bench, this duo are representing something profound – an LGBT and disability focus on screen. Emmerdale has not honed in on the obvious storyline direction but have instead focused on creating well rounded characterisation for Matty and Ryan, which has proved vital in how the two are portrayed.
The arrival of Matty Barton
Viewers saw Moira Barton (Natalie J Robb) struggle with Matty’s transition – having previously identified as Hannah, consistently mis-gendering her son, before finding her feet and connecting with Matty, with eventual acceptance.
It may not reflect the story of many transgender people, even actor Ash Palmisciano’s own as he outlined: “My life is different, I had family around me from the start so it is definitely different. Matty’s story is different to mine but it has helped having that insight into how he might feel.”
However, seeing Matty’s struggle on screen exposes the broader audience to the problems and issues brought about by transitioning, including how society wrongly stereotypes the community.
Matty’s arrival is more immediate and important as any casting decision in recent decades. It is vital that their voices are heard, given some countries are stripping the rights of transgender people, and there is a fundamental lack of mainstream education and awareness in the UK about the Trans community. Emmerdale viewers are not solely confined to the British Isles, and to see a transgender character brilliantly played by actor Ash Palmisciano, it’s value to society and to the wider fandom is immeasurable.
Ash is using his newfound voice to not only tackle stereotypes but shatter misconceptions through Instagram and his social media accounts with Twitter followers replying he and Matty have made them feel less alone and less stigmatised.
He told Rose Hill of the Mirror: “I’ve had messages from lots of different people who’ve said what this has done is open up conversations in our house. I’ve had a lot of young trans people message me and say ‘I’ve started having conversations with my mum about being trans after seeing that scene last night’. I’ve had grandparents message me to say thanks for helping them understand.”
He even impressed people who had never engaged with the transgender community, adding: “One lady messaged me who worked in a care home with a load of lads, the type who weren’t used to seeing trans people, or understanding it, and they were really impressed by it.”
As the soaps first transgender actor, Palmisciano has given a much needed voice in an industry that has a lot of work to do to include transgender characters in the first place. Where opportunities are limited at best to showcase their talents, his casting provides more evidence of an industry finally waking up.
The arrival of Ryan Stocks
The same can also be said for James Moore’s casting as Ryan Stocks. In an industry that often fails disability representation, Emmerdale has redefined the serial drama landscape.
In a country made up of an estimated 12-13 million disabled people, this community is one of the most under represented across the main broadcasting channels. According to a 2017 report on representation, disabled actors/performers count for only 6.5% of on-screen talent across major broadcasters.
In an environment where disabled people are seen to be demonised and marginalised in society, James’s casting cannot have come at a more heightened time to try and shift the societal narrative.
The Cheltenham based actor has faced some backlash with some viewers even mocking him, stating they cannot watch him without subtitles which only further reinforces the dire need for disabled characters. Moore did respond to those unjust criticisms in spectacular style on BBC Radio Leeds breakfast show, citing a change of culture is needed.
He admitted his career would be limited to playing disabled parts, saying: “I think it does limit me to playing disabled parts, which I think is a bit of a blockage in the sense that there aren’t very many disabled parts to begin with because they haven’t ever really been created.”
He then raised the most fundamentally important point of all, adding: “Emmerdale has done a great job in creating a disabled character with such an amazing personality rather than just the character being solely based around disability.”
To build the characterisation around Ryan’s personality and his love of all things heavy mental, already shifts the audience perception to the point that his disability in effect becomes secondary. Where you see the person before the disability, that’s an incredible facet of how Emmerdale have gone about framing Ryan.
The impact of Matty and Ryan
As with Matty’s arrival in Emmerdale, Ryan’s has seen people across the audience come together and support each other, helping those who have experienced disability and transphobia in their lives. They have stated they feel, through Ryan and Matty’s inclusion, that the communities involved have been given a bigger voice and no longer feel isolated. That’s why disability and trans representation matters so people feel included and less alone, it’s not an Emmerdale vanity (no, not that one) project.
This is the unique framework serial dramas have in that they really do have enormous sway and power to kick start conversations, shift long standing perceptions and stereotypes, and really challenge society’s view on a whole manner of issues. Emmerdale is no different and allowing people to feel accepted and represented through Ryan and Matty cannot be underestimated enough.
Follow Matty and Ryan’s story on Emmerdale, ITV every week night at 7pm with an additional episode at 8pm on Thursday.
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