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  • Fernando Sincero

How Heartstopper’s design gives power to the LGBT+ community

Heartstopper is an LGBT+ coming of age graphic novel by Alice Oseman that was recently adapted to the screens with the homonymous TV show on Netflix. Fans all over the world have been showing their support and admiration for the series as it is a massive piece of good representation of the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people throughout school years.

Nick and Charlie sitting on a school table looking at each other with doodle leaves flying around them.
Fonte: Netflix

What makes the show even more fascinating is how the set design, as well as all the visual elements, create a unique experience that guides us through the story of Nick and Charlie and the blossom of their relationship. It goes from the protagonist's colors, blue and yellow, that are present in every detail throughout the whole series, all the way to small details, such as the cacti that come into bloom in accordance to the development of their bond.

LGBT+ flags’ colors all around

Heartstopper manages to cover a series of LGBT+ experiences in an accurate and genuine way, and this is due to many factors. It goes from the cast and crew that is made out of actual LGBT+ people, all the way to the lightning treatment of the scenes to convey determined emotions.

Nick sitting at his table at school looking forward. There is a rainbow lens flare in the foreground.
Fonte: Netflix

In cinematography, lightning is the use of various lights on a set to give a scene a determined appearance. The role of lighting is an important one, since it can affect the way a scene is captured, and also the emotions that scene is going to convey to the audience. It can be used not only to reinforce actions by demonstrating, visually, what is more and less important, but also to reinforce the story that is being told, by visually representing emotions in a scene.

Bisexual lighting

In various scenes of Heartstopper, we can identify what is known as ‘bisexual lighting’. The term was coined to describe a particular aesthetic that plays with the colors blue, purple, and pink, with the intention of signifying bisexuality on-screen. The bisexual movement, in fact, has a flag that was created in 1998 with those exact same colors.

* Spoilers alert from now on *

The aforementioned bisexual lighting can be spotted in a couple of situations during Heartstopper, one of the most relevant ones is Tara and Darcy kiss scene during Harry’s party, in which Nick lights up in blue, purple and pink while seeing them kiss for the first time in public after coming out. Other than Nick with the bisexual colors on him, Tara and Darcy also got to have their own visual and lighting treatment, with rainbow colors all around them.

Nick's face lighting up in blue, purple and pink while he watches Tara and Darcy kiss.
Fonte: Netflix
Tara and Darcy kissing at Harry's party with various colors showing up behind them.
Fonte: Netflix

Tara also gets a specific lighting when she’s coming out to Nick during Harry’s party, with the scene lighting up in the Lesbian Pride flag colors.

Nick's back on the foreground talking to Tara in her coming out scene while the lighting is in shades of red, orange and pink.
Fonte: Netflix

Other moments in the show in which the bisexual triad was used to reinforce the blossom of Nick’s sexuality were during the bowling and arcade scenes, and also at the cinema.

Nick and Tao sitting side by side at the bowling alley lighted in blue, purple and pink light.
Fonte: Netflix

Charlie's back on the foreground looking at Nick, who's smiling at him. The lighting is ins shades of blue, purple and pink.
Fonte: Netflix

The scene of the medical room also brings the bisexual colors to the screen while Nick sits by Charlie.

Nick and Charlie sitting in the medical room. Nick is wiping Charlie's face with a tissue while Charlie has his eyes one Nick's face. The lighting is in shades of pink while the background is blue. There are also doodle leaves flying around them.
Fonte: Netflix

Blue, white and pink to recall the Trans Pride flag

The colors of the Trans Pride flag are used in various ways during Heartstopper series, one of which are Elle’s outfits throughout the show that are pink, white and blue.

On the first image: Elle earing a white second skin, a blue jeans bib suspender overall, and a pink jacket. On the second image: Elle is sitting on her bed, holding her cellphone on her hands and smiling at it. She is wearing pink and blue striped pajamas.
Source: Netflix

Another element that represent these colors, to reinforce Trans Pride, is the milkshake blender when Nick and Charlie, Elle and Tao, and Tara and Darcy go on a triple date.

Pink and white blender with blue milkshake in it.
Source: Netflix

The artwork room

The artwork room is almost a character on its own, and the Set Decorator, Maxwell Fine, highlights the intention of creating a room that mutates in accordance to the different projects of the students throughout the school year. Not only that, but the artwork room also plays an essential role in giving place to the evolution of Charlie’s relationships, and also the blossom of his new relationship with Nick. We can notice how paper flowers literally blossom over the recycled plastic cacti, reflecting the flourish of their involvement.

Artwork room with student projects. on the firs image we can see recycled plastic bottle cacti on the windowsill. On the second image we can see paper flowers on top of the cacti.
Source: Netflix
“We moved the artwork around the walls more than you’ll ever know, mounting, stapling, creating labels and really trying to capture the vibe of a busy British Secondary school Art room”. Maxwell Fine

Still in the artwork room, we can see how actual gigantic butterflies are positioned in the room when metaphorical butterflies start to flutter between Elle and Tao while they talk about their feelings for each other. Also, butterflies are a spiritual symbol for the transgender community and represent transformation.

Tao sitting at the art room in the foreground looking at the door where two gigantic butterflies are hanging.
Source: Netflix

And there is also a bulletin board full of Keith Haring's, a well known gay activist, art in the art classroom.

Charlie sitting at the artroom on the foreground with a Keith Haring's bulleting board behind him.
Source: Netflix

Reinforcing their personalities

We can see a lot of the characters’ personalities reflected on their personal spaces, objects and devices, from their most used emojis to the arrangement of their bedrooms.

Charlie's frequently used emojis, including a red heart, an in love face, a rainbow, a dog, the lgbt+ flag, the trans pride flag, a sad face, and autumn leaves.
Charlie's most used emojis. Source: Netflix

Charlie can be seen as an eclectic and messy boy, and those characteristics are embodied in the design of his bedroom, that, for instance, is extremely similar to Alice Oseman’s drawings. The aim was to give the room different layers of life that he has collected as he grew up in this place.

Details include Charlie's Alice Oseman's books, some decoration like fake cacti and lgbt+ pieces
Details of Charlie's room. Source: Netflix
“Our question often was, if there were 100 objects available, what ones would Charlie pick to have in his bedroom?”. Maxwell Fine

Nick, on the other hand, can be seen as having a more stereotypically ‘together’ life than Charlie, and it’s almost like his mom has decorated his room for him, and the personal touches were just layers on top of that. Since the story starts with Nick still not understanding his sexuality quite well, his room has a more heteronormative touch to it, despite some elements that lean to a more queer style of decoration, like the string of fairy lights.

Nick's room has some books, a rugby helmet, hoodies, some books, a tool peg board by his desk, and a string of fairy lights hanging over his window
Nick's room details. Source: Netflix
“I especially loved Alice’s ‘Straight boy puts up one string of fairy lights for Christmas and never takes them down’ vibe”. Maxwell Fine

Nick and Charlie’s colors

To close up this article, Nick and Charlie’s colors, Blue and Yellow, respectively, are depicted in every single detail of the show. From the school corridors and uniforms, to the colored glass on Charlie’s front door and his umbrella.

Charlie walking in the school corridor with the colors blue and yellow.
Source: Netflix
Nick and Charlie standing at the front door of Charlie's house. The colores glass of the door features the colors blue and yellow.
Source: Netflix
Nick and Charlie kissing under a yellow and blue umbrella in the rain.
Source: Netflix

We can even notice that, when they get to be together by the end of the season, they even swap colors for a couple of scenes, as a way of conveying their established bond.

Nick and Charlie walking down a street. They are holding hands and Nick is covering Charlie's wyes with his free hand. Nick is wearing a yellow t-shirt and Charlie a blue one
Source: Netflix



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