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Why Netflix's new show Sex Education is so important

It’s not very often that a scene in a film or a television show completely blindsides me.

But after watching episode five of Sex Education on Netflix, that is exactly what happened.

For those of you who haven’t seen Sex Education you definitely should, it follows the life of Otis—the son of a sex therapist played by the stunning Gillian Anderson—who starts a business giving advice on topics related to sex; these topics include masturbating, vaginismus, and consent, while also trying to navigate school at the age of 16. It may sound like another typical, coming-of-age story, however, it deals with many real life issues that are rarely spoken about. The portrayal of sex, abortion, the LGBTQ community all at the tender age of 16 and 17 is astounding—mainly because of how spot on it is. It has a diverse cast and although no one can seem to pinpoint exactly what period this is set in—the music, clothes and setting suggest the 1980’s but the mention of PornHub and the use of technology suggests modern day—it's a beautifully crafted programme.

Episode five particularly caught my attention because of the narrative of Eric, Otis’ gay best friend. He comes from a devoutly religious African home. In the episode, the story focuses on a range of issues, including a vagina-shaming photo that was sent round to every pupil at the school, however, the one that engrossed me was the reality, and danger, of being yourself in the 21st century. Eric dresses in a wig and make-up, playing a character from the film Hedwig and the Angry Inch—a 2001 musical comedy-drama revolving around a transgender East German singer—a tradition that he and Otis have every year on Eric’s birthday. Unfortunately, the story ends with Eric being alone, robbed and then beaten up on the side of the road. It is almost subtle in the way it is presented, mainly as a side-line story as a way of supporting Otis and Eric's relationship.

However, it is because of the normalcy of the scenes that make it even more shocking; it was a harrowing scene that was sickening because of how truthful it felt. It reminded me of the 1988 film The Accused, where you see the gang rape of Jodie Foster’s character. I had the feeling of disbelief and shock when I watched both scenes, two different stories, thirty years apart but with a common motif; the abuse of power paralleled with the victimisation of someone who is seen as inferior.

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I empathised massively with this character who has throughout been so positive and outgoing until he his bought down by society’s rules that say you are not allowed to be different. It resonates with our society in the present day, in which we seem to be reverting back to times when people believed beer and cigarettes were good for your health. Despite the dramatisation of it on television and in films, incidents such as these are reported on every day: The Accused was loosely based on the gang rape of Cheryl Araujo in Massachusetts and it was only 20 years ago when the torture and subsequent murder of openly gay college student, Matthew Shepherd in Wyoming.

It is an uncomfortable episode, but one that is very relevant today with it recently being decided that the Supreme Court will allow Trump’s policy on transgendered people being banned from serving in the military to go into effect.

It is hard not to draw comparisons between drama and reality, to ignore the way lives are destroyed because of ignorance and hate. This one scene, which at first seems only minor amongst the other character arcs, shows a perspective that needs to be seen, it needs to be heard, because if not in the media then where? In the typical way of most young adult television shows and films, the narrative resumes with Eric losing himself for an episode and a half before coming to the conclusion that he really must be himself even if it will hurt. He has faith again, in God and in himself, and he definitely gets his style back. It is a convincing ending, a happy one for my favourite character of the entire show. Although a happy ending for the rest of us is still to be decided.

Featured image: Sam Taylor/Netflix