Young Royals: Representation of Sexuality and Class in Modern TV
by Crystal Wolf
Growing up in the Catholic church, I didn’t have a lot of good exposure to the LGBTQ+ community. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more exposed to the media and people who are a part of that community and I’ve come to support it despite my upbringing. I chose Young Royals because it has an amazingly diverse cast and is one of those shows that just does it right from the start. There’s no sugarcoating the problems that the characters face, homophobia, mental health problems, addiction, and even subtle classism. Young Royals does a wonderful job at displaying these issues in a respectful way, through the chosen cast, cinematography, and literary design. Using these tools, Young Royals represents these issues in a way that people can understand and even relate to them even if they’ve never faced these problems before.
Young Royals takes place in Sweden and follows the trials and tribulations of Prince Wilhelm who is second in line for the throne. After getting involved in a scandal at a party, Wilhelm is sent to Hillerska, a private boarding school for Sweden’s elite children. It’s there that he discovers himself and what he really wants in his life, as opposed to what his parents want. All seems to be going well for Wilhelm, he’s making friends and even finding love, even if it’s not ‘traditional’, meaning straight. There at Hillerska, he doesn’t have to worry about his royal responsibilities. However, not long after arriving at Hillerska, tragedy strikes. After being second in line for the throne for his whole life, he becomes the next in line. The tragic death of his older brother, Erik, not only leaves him with the grief of losing a brother but the burden of the royal responsibilities that now fall onto him. He has to pick between his newfound desires in life and his royal obligations.
Some of the best choices that Young Royals makes is in its casting. The casting directors of Young Royals, Pernilla August and Carmen Perez, did an amazing job of casting actors for roles that were appropriate in both age and accuracy. The film industry has had a long history of casting actors for roles that aren’t made for them. In fact, one example from the textbook America on Film is “Hollywood is still occasionally caught practicing yellowface, as with Emma Stone in Aloha (2015), Tilda Swinton in Dr. Strange (2016), and Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell (2017)” (Benshoff and Griffin 148). The act of casting actors for roles that aren’t made for them is detrimental to the already underrepresented groups in film. It’s not only racist but also takes away opportunities from minority groups. Although casting actors as accurately as possible should be an industry standard, it’s not. That’s why I appreciate and applaud August and Perez for making the casting choices they did. One of the stand-out examples of August and Perez casting accurate actors in Young Royals was Frida Argento as Sara Eriksson, Simon’s sister.
In the show, her character has Aspergers and Argento does too. The directors could’ve chosen to cast a neurotypical person for the role, but chose not to. In doing so, this not only shows respect for these groups, in this case the neurodivergent, that are being played on screen, but also gives actors of those groups a chance to make a name for themselves. Another reason the cast stood out to me was because the actors were either the age of their characters or reasonably close. In an article written by Shawn Laib, he discusses the age of the actors and why it’s important. “The people in this show seem like they could show up at any secondary school … this provides an authenticity to the storytelling that you simply don’t get with the majority of teen romance media” (Laib). Hillerska is a secondary school so the characters should be about 16-17. Edvin Ryding, who plays Wilhelm is 18 and Omar Rudberg, who plays Simon, is 22. By having actors that are similar to the characters’ ages, it makes them more relatable.
The show utilizes the tool of literary design by giving Wilhelm and Simon certain characteristics to showcase the differences between them. In season 1, there are a couple of major turning points that Wilhelm faces. Those turning points are used as representations of differences that Wilhelm faces throughout the rest of the show. The first turning point is when Wilhelm lets the grief of his brother’s death hit him. He was the ‘spare to the heir’, but now since he is no longer the spare, he has to be responsible and now holds the title of heir. This affects him because he’s worried about how it will affect his growing relationship with Simon. Simon comes from a single, immigrant mother who can’t afford to let him live on campus. This show of difference in class is important because it shows that although they both come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, they can both still be friends and even partners. An excerpt from Laib’s article puts this idea into perspective pretty well, “Wilhelm is expected to hide his sexuality and his desire for someone low on the social ladder. The way both young men work together to figure out a common ground solution is simultaneously touching and heartbreaking” (Laib). Even though it seems that Wilhelm is going to have to make a tough decision, his love or his obligations, he finds a way to work through these differences in a way that makes him and Simon happy. Simon also plays a big role in overcoming the differences between the two. Although he didn’t grow up in the environment that Wilhelm did, he is empathetic for Wilhelm and gives him the time and understanding needed for Wilhelm to figure things out. I think this is a great representation of class differences in TV because in most of the media that I watch, class differences are used as a tool in order to get two groups of people to fight. Even though the upper class is the hegemonic group in the series, they are not mean towards the two characters that are a part of the lower class, Sara and Simon. However, one qualm I have against the series is that the only two lower-class characters are also people of color, and neurodivergent. While I don’t think that was the director’s intent, I feel that they should’ve reconsidered that choice. Stereotypically, people of color and minorities in film have been portrayed as being in the lower class. By continuing to push the stereotype that poor people are usually a part of a minority, it further perpetuates harmful ideas.
The second, and the most major turning point that Wilhelm has to come to terms with, is his sexuality, based on his realization that he likes Simon. As the show progresses, Simon and he grow closer until they realize that they want it to be something more. This scares Wilhelm because all he’s ever known and been taught, in terms of relationships, is straight. Another thing that isn’t directly stated, but is heavily implied is Wilhelm has to be in a straight relationship in order to carry on the crown. Had Erik lived, Wilhelm’s sexuality wouldn’t have mattered as much to Queen Kristina. However, because of Erik’s death, it becomes clear that Kristina cares more about the family image than Wilhelm’s happiness. I think the show did a really good job of conveying the struggles of coming to terms with one’s sexuality while keeping it realistic. Many shows and movies that I’ve seen use sexuality by having one or two token gay characters as a way to meet the bare minimum in terms of inclusion. They are usually background characters and are either the comedic relief, overly flamboyant, or follow the ‘buddy formula.’ In other words, “it comprised a straight female lead and her gay male best friend” (Benshoff and Griffin). This is what sets this show apart from others that try to use sexuality as a plot point.
Throughout the show, the cinematography and sound design played a huge role in showing the power of the characters. In the scene where Wilhelm is giving a speech, thanking his classmates for their condolences, he is the center of the shot. There’s no background music in this scene either which makes the viewer and students focus solely on what he’s saying. The cinematic and sound choices here give power to Wilhelm, even though it’s not typically what you’d think of when you think power. Another scene that shows power using cinematography and sound is when the camera pans to August standing outside of Wilhelm’s window filming him. After August realizes what he’s filmed, he smiles and the background music swells ominously. The camera is used in such a way that it almost looks like August is looking down at the audience and it makes him look evil in a way. These two things coupled together give the audience the impression that August now holds power over Wilhelm who is unknowing of this danger.
In Young Royals, discrimination isn’t glaringly obvious. The cast is diverse, having a main character who is a person of color as well as multiple side characters who are also people of color. The cast also had main characters that were a part of the LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent community and the show itself passes the Bechdel test, which tests the representation of women in films or TV shows. All in all, there were no issues of discrimination with the cast and certain parts of the show. However, within the story and literary design, there are subtle hints of racism and homophobia. As mentioned earlier, there are two important characters who are lower class and they both happen to be colored and/or neurodivergent. This literary design choice only furthers stereotypes that minorities are of the lower class. The other display of discrimination can be seen in the story and comes from Queen Kristina and August. I don’t believe Kristina or August intended for their actions to be homophobic, but it certainly translates that way. Kristina tells her son to lie to the public and say it wasn’t him in the video that outed him to the world and August was the one who published said video. Kristina was trying to protect the image of their family by doing this, but I think it comes off as slightly homophobic because it reads as her caring more for how people see them rather than how her son feels. August, on the other hand, posted the video only after he got into a fight with Wilhelm. The video wasn’t posted out of hatred because he was gay, but because of a mountain of other things that had been building up until this point. However, even though August’s intent wasn’t directly homophobic, it still was indirectly homophobic. He knew that by posting the video of Wilhelm in bed with a boy would create bad publicity and more or less ruin his life and relationship. I enjoyed how the role of discrimination was written into this story because it wasn’t readily seen and I really had to think and pay attention to see it.
Young Royals got amazing reviews with a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, out of 5 reviews, and a 8.3 star rating on IMDB, out of 35,712 reviews. Nevertheless, there are still people who don’t like the show. On Google reviews, there are a fair amount of viewers who didn’t like it. When I read the reviews, most of the complaints for the show were either about the looks of the actors that were casted, the plot, or they were comparing it to another show of the same genre. The two shows it was compared to the most were Heartstopper and Elite. Some comments that stood out to me were “This show is very cringe. The plot is boring and the characters have little personality. I would not watch season 2” (user William Shakespeare), and “IF YOU THINK ITS LIKE HEARTSTOPPER, IT’S NOT !! … felt like the scenes had no connections between them. The cast and their characters did not go well together. So it wasn’t engaging the viewers. Some scenes were just gross, they were unnecessary. The soundtrack was irrelevant and unwantedly loud, except the last one” (user Sara Grace). Addressing the first review, people like what they like and I can’t change that. I would disagree with there being no plot and the characters not having personality, but live and let live. As for the second review, I think it’s unfair to compare it to Heartstopper because the only thing they share is the genre of the show. Grace also said that she felt there was no connection between scenes, but I don’t agree. In a review I do agree with, written by Raymond Tran, he says “I also felt like this season did an amazing job creating parallels from Season 1, especially during the scenes when Marcus asks Simon the names of his fish and when Wilhelm finally closes the curtains” (Tran). Finally, I believe the cast and characters got along amazingly well. Watching behind-the-scenes clips (BTS) and interviews, Ryding and Rudberg definitely have chemistry as do their character counterparts, but they don’t just get along with each other, they get along with the whole cast. While watching BTS and interviews, the cast of main characters seems to get along super well.
I chose Young Royals mainly because I enjoy watching foreign shows. I enjoy listening to other languages and learning about other countries’ cultures and I do that best by watching movies and shows from around the world. I had also previously watched Heartstopper so Young Royals was recommended to me by Netflix. I’m glad I watched it because it gave me insight to DPD issues that people face that I may not be aware of because of my class or sexuality.
Young Royals is a story of love, betrayal, and finding one’s true self even if it means upsetting those close to you. The show does a wonderful job of highlighting minorities in a good light and represents the problems they go through in a respectful way. The cast, cinematography, and literary design were well chosen and DPD issues can be seen throughout the show. While there are a few disparities with some minorities being unfairly stereotyped, this show actually did a satisfactory job of portraying the issues we learned in English 223. This gives me hope that more films and shows will follow in Young Royals footsteps and start representing minorities in their cast and characters in future shows.
Tran, Reymond. TV Review: “Young Royals” – Season 2. The Guardian, 13 Nov. 2022, ucsdguardian.org/2022/11/13/tv-review-young-royals-season-/.
Young Royals. IMDb, www.imdb.com/title/tt14664414/
Young Royals. Rotten Tomatoes, www.rottentomatoes.com/tv/young_royals/s01/.
Laib, Shawn. Why You Should Watch Young Royals. Den of Geek, 13 July 2021, www.denofgeek.com/tv/young-royals-netflix-watch/. (1)
Opie, David. Young Royals does this one thing better than other teen shows like Élite or Riverdale. Digital Spy, 6 July 2021, www.digitalspy.com/tv/a36937479/young-royals-gay-sex-queer-lgbtq/.
Smith, Carol R., and Jude Davies. Gender, Ethnicity, and Sexuality in Contemporary American Film. Taylor & Francis Group, 03-01-2000. ProQuest – LBCC, ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/linnbenton-ebooks/detail.action?docID=1397343&query=sexualit y+in+film. (1)
Benshoff, Harry M., and Griffin Sean. Queer Images: A History of Gay and Lesbian Film in America. Rowman & Littlefield, 10-13-2005. ProQuest – LBCC, ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/linnbenton-ebooks/home.action.
Benshoff, Harry M., and Sean Griffin. America on Film. Third, WILEY Blackwell. Linn Benton Community College , online.vitalsource.com/#/.