With the release of Netflix’s new show Heartbreak High, one of our writers at The Honey POP shares why one of the characters is doing representation right for her and millions of others, in the show.
Class is in session as Heartbreak High has arrived on Netflix. The eight-episode series is a reboot of the popular Australian series from the 90s, following the students of Hartley High. The Netflix series has been a hit in its first week, with both old fans of the original and new viewers alike tuning into the show that takes place about 30 years after the original. We at The Honey POP have already binged the whole season and are so in love with everything about it, but we really want to talk about one character in particular. Our queen, Quinni Gallagher-Jones.
Quinni is portrayed by Australian actress and neurodiversity advocate Chloe Hayden and has captured the hearts of viewers around the world. Quinni is a buoyant, bubbly teen with a bold sense of style, a love of fantasy novels, and is also autistic. She’s just one of those characters that is simply hard to not love. And she’s also a pretty big deal, and not only just in the show.
The thing about Quinni is she is making history as one of, if not the first, most accurately portrayed autistic characters. Autism is widely misunderstood and misrepresentation is unfortunately all that Hollywood and the entertainment industry knows, making it incredibly difficult for autistic people to be able to enjoy any sort of entertainment featuring the portrayals, because they’re simply quite off the mark, and often can be offensive.
With Chloe being autistic and a well-known advocate who has accumulated over half a billion views on her videos educating on autism as well as her in-person work, she is the perfect candidate to take on the role of Quinni and show the world the realities of autistic people, especially autistic women, contributing to the ongoing fight to help educate the world and unlearn the problematic conceptions it has grown to adopt.
Heartbreak High does a fantastic job of taking common occurrences for autistic people, such as the too-often heard “I’ve met autistic people,” followed by reasons the person can’t be autistic, constructed from troublesome stereotypes, as well as sensory issues and even meltdowns. Chloe’s performances are from lived experience and are perhaps the most accurate that we’ve ever seen in TV or movie.
Hayden has also shared how important the role is to her, too. Speaking to Octopus Sub Hub at the premiere of Heartbreak High, Chloe shared:
While chatting with Refinery29, Chloe discusses addressing the stereotypes and assumptions Quinni faces within the show. “One of the reasons we put that in was because I had conversations with the writers, and they were like, ‘What happens when you tell people that you’re autistic?’ and I’m like, ‘They don’t believe me because I don’t look like Sheldon Cooper and Rain Man and Shaun Murphy and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. I don’t look like that.'”
Autism is also very commonly linked to men more than women, so having a female autistic character is another way to squash stereotypes, something Chloe is very passionate about.
“The thing is, media has such a hold on us as to what we believe is real life. So, people see autistic people represented in media played by non-autistic men and they go, “That’s what autism is.” So then they see me and they’re like, “You’re a young woman who knows how to speak and who can make eye contact and is doing OK for herself. You can’t be autistic, that’s not what my idea of autism is, therefore you cannot be autistic”.”
This experience is far from unique and is something autistic people deal with every single day. “I really wanted to showcase that in the series because that’s not a personal thing. I don’t know a single autistic person who hasn’t had someone say to them, “But you don’t look autistic”,” she explains.
“So, having that shown and having that said by this girl who Quinni is infatuated with is a really important thing to show. That is real life and this is the first time we’ve actually seen what a real-life autistic experience is like because it’s played by someone who’s autistic rather than someone who watched a 20-minute YouTube video on, “What is autism?””
The Impact Of Quinni
It’s no surprise that there has been an outpouring of love for Quinni from autistic people, with many voicing their love for the character over social media. As someone who is autistic myself, I find Quinni truly refreshing. Since my own diagnosis of autism, I’ve been met with an abundance of stereotypes and people questioning the legitimacy of what I’m telling them. Being autistic is already a challenge as we navigate a neurotypical world that wasn’t built for us, but it becomes a thousand times harder when non-autistic people doubt us, question us, and even believe they know more about autism than we do.
Chloe is someone I’ve learned a lot from over the years when it comes to understanding myself and also trying to educate people around me, and while watching her as Quinni over the course of eight episodes, I felt so seen. It was so special being able to watch something and not feel misunderstood or mentally criticizing such a poor portrayal of someone like me.
I also felt hope and admiration for Quinni’s best friend, Darren, who took on the role of an ally for autistic people when they showed true understanding and love for Quinni, helping relay her needs to others when she couldn’t and informing people if their interactions could possibly cause harm to her. I’d like to think that people seeing their friendship will help other people understand and support their autistic loved ones even more.
We Need More Quinni, And More Accurate Representation
Heartbreak High‘s reboot has been nothing short of exciting with the diversity in the cast, and storylines that hit home for many, but for autistic people this is truly something so huge and I can only hope it helps inspire future projects that plan to have autistic representation and encourage better research and effort, to help the world’s understanding of autism. Here’s hoping we get more seasons of Heartbreak High, as I’d love to see more of Quinni’s story!
Have you watched Heartbreak High? Are you in love with Quinni as much as us? Let us know in the comments below or by tweeting us @TheHoneyPOP!
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Creative Director of The Honey POP. Disney and pop culture enthusiast.