netflix's 'élite' puts powerful queer stories at the forefront
There's a reason why we've all fallen under Ander and Omar's spell.
Sex! Money! Drugs! Blood! Blackmail! Poor rich kids, exhausted by always having to carry a heavy backpack (a Chanel one) on their shoulders, filled up with envy and spite. Their biggest dilemma in life is to choose whether they surrender to their hostile parents' decisions or rebel against them. Ring a bell? I'm sure you've read similar comments after the release of other teen series about the affluent lives of privileged kids, replete with dysfunctional families, emotional traumas, and romantic catastrophes.
A couple of weeks ago, Netflix launched Élite, the streaming platform's proposal to fill a gap for those who were born after the year 2000, and who want to obsess over both the lives of the wealthy, and the lives of those who trying to claw their way into high society. However, after months of anxiously awaiting its release, Élite has also reached people of all ages, even those who are not particularly fond of the teen genre. I'm not just saying this: the series has reached its second week in a row at the top of Netflix' audience ratings since its debut on October 5th.
I was obsessed with the lives of Blair Waldorf, Seth Cohen, and Marissa Cooper, but who will the Gen Z kids fondly recall when they start to pay their bills and face the problems of a planet with increasingly unfathomable temperatures? Probably Marina, Samuel, Nano, Lu, or Guzmán in Élite — but the ones they'll remember above all are Ander and Omar.
At last, we have a Spanish production not resorting to tokenism when it comes to sexual diversity. Instead, they've made it the most beautiful love story of the whole season. Would it have been this way without Netflix's guidelines, or if it had been created by a conventional TV channel? We cannot tell for sure, but the most important thing is that everybody has fallen under the spell of "Omander."
The story is simple: posh dude wants to get some weed; normal guy sells him the stuff; posh guy agrees to meet under a bridge with some stranger ―who has no profile pic― through a white-label kind of Grindr (never, ever do this, please); stranger turns out to be the normal guy, and what follows... well, you'll find out if you haven't seen the show yet. The charm surrounding this relationship stems in their attempts to overcome the hardships they face, focused mainly around Omar's family (he's Muslim and his parents aren't quite prepared to accept his sexual orientation.)
Unlike the rest of romantic plots in the show, which carry an undertone of Cruel Intentions replete with plenty of infidelity and lies, Ander and Omar's love story stands out for being totally honest, because the love they feel for each other is truly selfless and unconditional. Their relationship is bound to be impossible as long as Omar keeps living with his parents, and it's this classical formula of "Capulet meets Montague" that has driven fans crazy in the internet.
The fact that both actors are incredibly hot has also helped them become one of the most popular couples in the social media. We'd rather believe, however, that the relevance acquired by this story is because of a change in the audience's mindset, that people are hungry for content they truly can relate to (see a host of diverse Netflix programming for evidence).
Unfortunately, there's still a large segment of our society full of hatred towards the LGTBQI community. Recently, the smart and colourful answer given by Netflix to the homophobic remarks they received in their Instagram account after posting a picture of the couple has been in the news: "Sorry, I couldn't read your comment because I'm surrounded by all these beautiful rainbows," they answered from the platform to one of their trolls. That's why, in #20GAYTEEN (the term used online to define 2018 as the year of acceptance,) Omander is more necessary than ever.
However, Omar and Ander's is not the only "unconventional" relationship in Élite. Carla and Polo, in an attempt to put some spice in their classical heterosexual relationship that started in 6th grade and is going to "last forever," embark on a sexual triangle with Christian, one of the kids arriving with a scholarship from Las Encinas.
The couple has to fight against the prejudices shown by their friends, like Guzmán, who doesn't conceive why Polo allows "that seedy guy to fuck his girl and maybe steal her from him," or Lu, whose social classism won't let him see beyond the end of his nose. Sometimes Carla and Polo ignore other people's opinions and let themselves go with their own instincts, but it's not easy. When the feelings of them three start to bloom, Polo chooses to make selfish decisions and ends up breaking a relationship that, to be honest, was unsustainable from the beginning.
During an interview with El Periódico, when asked if they felt any accountability for representing viewers who might be experiencing the same situation as their characters, Omar Ayuso and Arón Piper ―who play Omar and Ander, respectively― answered: "A lot. It's a huge social task that we have in our hands." At the same time, the scriptwriters have failed somewhat to offer a representative space to queer women or to the trans community in the show.
Even though it's true that Carla takes part in the polyamorous relationship of the show, the true ins and outs of this situation are created between Polo and Christian. Generally speaking, LGBTQI dynamics in Élite end up developing only among cisgender men, and women are reduced to the mere anecdote that Polo has two power lesbians as mothers. This is something we expect to see changing in season two, and if so, we feel tempted to let our imagination fly. Wouldn't it be great that Lu rejected Guzmán and chose to hook up with Samuel's mother? Or if Nadia blew Guzmán off as well and fell in love with a new student who's not subject to the binary gender rules?
The students coming from Las Encinas don't see anything wrong with their classmates' different sexual identities; problems do not arise from self-acceptance, but from other external factors. In this way, the show tries to send a clear message: over the years, society is becoming more openly queer, and it's the previous generations who have to adapt to this progress.
Élite draws upon many TV hits, but is by no means the Spanish Gossip Girl. It's much more consistent with the current social context, than the production created by The CW Network was. If we ignore the blazers, the show is much more of a reflection of the issues we experience in our everyday lives, such as prejudices, intolerance towards the hijab, the still latent stigma towards HIV, and the ubiquitous political corruption that has become a part of the "Spanish Brand."
Since its release, Élite has developed a devoted fandom and received positive reviews internationally. In other words, it's off to good start, and can only get better, developing its narrative and diverse representation further. As Lu likes to say, "Have a lovely day, my dear friends, whatever your sexual orientation might be."
This article originally appeared on i-D Spain.
This article originally appeared on i-D ES.