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All About Adam: Degrassi’s The Boiling Point Tackles Transgender Identity

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the popular Canadian teen show, Degrassi: The Next Generation.  Specifically, I previewed its Summer 2010 soap opera-styled block of episodes, collectively entitled Degrassi: The Boiling Point. 

In the post, I poked some fun at the show’s recent run of lackluster plotlines, and expressed concern over whether the series I had once loved had forever lost its Mojo . . .

Well, this is the blog post where I eat my words . . .

Why the change of heart, you ask?  Well, it has a lot to do with THIS GUY . . .

Meet Adam Torres, a sophomore, and recent transfer to Degrassi Community School.  As far as personalities go, Adam’s got a pretty good one.  He’s smart, funny, a little bit snarky, and a loyal friend.  He’s also biologically female.

Up until this year, Adam was known to the world as Gracie Torres.  And he looked like this . . .

By the way, special kudos to the Degrassi writers for not making the character’s birth name, Eve . . .

That would have been SO uncool!

From the time Adam was a little kid, he always knew he was different.  Adam never felt truly female, thus making the person who stared back at him in the mirror each day a complete and utter stranger.  In short, Adam felt as though he was trapped in a body that was not his own. 

After much discussion and hand-wringing, Adam’s parents reluctantly agreed to let him start over at a new school, as a male.  But in order to truly live the life he wanted, without judgment or prejudice, Adam had to keep his FTM (female-to-male) transgender identity a secret, while at Degrassi.  And, for a little while, he did.  But secrets have a way of coming out at the most inopportune moments.  And Adam’s secret was no exception . . .

This week, Degrassi aired an hour-long episode, over a span of two days, entitled “My Body is a Cage.” During this hour, we watch Adam cope with the realities of living life as a transgender.  In the first part of the episode, Adam’s secret is exposed to his classmates.  The first to find out about Adam’s “origins” are his two friends, Clare and Eli.

Clare becomes suspicious that Adam is hiding “something,” when she bumps into him near the lockers, causing an entire box of tampons to explode on the floor.  

(OK.   Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVED this episode.  But come on!  What high schooler carries around an entire box of tampons?  Isn’t “discretion” one of the main benefits that tampons have over pads? Can’t you just stick one or two in the front pocket of your bookbag, and have them go virtually unnoticed?  Wouldn’t you think, of all people, that someone who was trying to HIDE their female parts would be sensitive to this?)

Beware of the Telltale Tampon!

Contrivance aside, Clare handles the situation with class.  When a group of guys pass by, and ogle the tampons on the floor, taking note of Adam’s proximity to them, Clare quickly improvises.  “Silly me, always dropping my feminine hygiene products!”  She sing-songs.  (I love that she calls them “feminine hygiene products” – good ole’ Nerdy Clare!)

Later, Adam sits Clare and Eli down at lunch and reveals his secret to them, permitting them to ask him any questions they might have.  “How do you know you aren’t just a tomboy or a lesbian?”  Clare inquires.  (A good question.)

“I just know,” replies Adam.  (A highly unsatisfactory answer.  But this is an hour-long teen show, where each story only gets 1/3 of the episode’s screentime.  So, I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting here. . . )

Things don’t go nearly as well, later on in the day, when Adam unwisely makes a play for the school’s “Bad Girl,” Bianca, during a Ballroom Dancing class.

Bianca shows interest initially, placing her hand flirtatiously on Adam’s chest, as the two banter back and forth.  But that’s when the problems arise.  “What’s going on there?”  Bianca inquires.  “You’re too skinny to have man boobs.” 

 (Sorry, I’m not buying this scene either.   The actress’ boobs weren’t all that big BEFORE they were taped to her body, and covered with three layers of clothing.  I sincerely doubt this chicky would be able to detect them that easily under these circumstances . . .)

In one swift move, Bianca dramatically rips open Adam’s shirt. (Clearly, she’s got . . .  um . . . experience taking off others’ clothes.)

This is what Adam SHOULD have been wearing under his flannel.

Upon doing this, Bianca spies the “hide the boobies” gauze wrap Adam’s got around his midsection.  (Here’s where the “old sports injury” argument, might have come in handy.  Just sayin . . .). 

Bianca flips out.  “I’ve seen freaks like you on Oprah!”  She yelps, before stomping off . . .

Oh no, you didn’t, Bianca!  You  did NOT just evoke the Wrath of Oprah.  Be afraid, be very afraid . . .

Bianca’s reaction to Adam, though definitely mean-spirited and b*tchy, was, to some extent, understandable.  Unlike Clare and Eli, who were let in on Adam’s secret gently, and heard it “straight from the horse’s mouth,” Bianca was completely blindsided.  She felt attraction for Adam, and then learned he wasn’t AT ALL who she thought he was.  

Bianca must have felt betrayed, tricked, and manipulated.  Her sexuality was challenged, and she felt threatened by it.  So, she lashed out.  And if things ended right there, I would actually have some sympathy for Bianca . . .

I know, crazy right?  But, it DIDN’T end there.  Instead, Bianca told the ENTIRE school, which led to THIS highly uncomfortable to watch scene . . .

Now, while I could slightly commiserate with Bianca’s initial reaction to Adam, the above-illustrated reaction by bullies, Owen and Fitz, absolutely floored me.  After all, however you slice it, these guys joyfully beat up someone they believed to be a GIRL!  (Isn’t that against Bro Code or something?)    And yet, as awful as it was, I can certainly see something like this happening at a real high school.

Fortunately, for Adam, he isn’t without support.  And I love how his relationship with his stepbrother, Drew, is portrayed in this episode. 

Drew is the quintessential school Golden Boy, a popular “dumb jock,” in every sense of the word.  He is even friends with the bullies who beat up Adam.  And yet, Drew stands by his brother, without question.  He is even willing to fight physically with his (former?) friends to defend Adam’s honor.  (He gets his ass kicked doing it, but STILL . . .)

The second part of the episode, deals with Adam grappling with his parents’ inability to come to terms with his decision to live life as a male.  They call him by female pronouns, and force him to dress up as “Gracie,” when Grandma comes to town.  But things really come to a head, when Adam tries to deny his identity, by coming to school dressed as Gracie.  Adam soon becomes so depressed and overwhelmed as a result,  that he turns to self-mutilation, as an outlet for his emotions. 

Despite the aforementioned doom and gloom, the episode actually ends on a relatively positive note, with Adam’s parents coming to terms with the “loss of their daughter.”   They even going as far as to hold a bonfire, where all the material things that represent “Gracie” are burned.

A few unbelievable scenes, and a smidge of cheese aside, I thought this episode was pretty brilliant.  It handled the issue of transgender identity believeably, without being heavy-handed or overly  maudlin.  The actress who plays Adam, was also relatable, and sufficiently understated.  Watching the episode, I could definitely see how a lesser actress could have really “butched it up,” just to prove a point.  Fortunately, that did not happen here.

You may recognize Jordan Todosey, the actress who plays Adam Torres, as little Lizzie, from Life with Derek, a Canadian sitcom about a Brady Bunch-esque blended family with a modern twist.  (It still airs on the Disney Channel, every once in a while, in case you’re curious . . .)

She’s obviously very talented.  I suspect this is not the last we will hear about her . . .

So, there, I’ve said it.  With nearly ten years of episodes behind its belt, Degrassi still manages to surprise me, every once in a while.  O’ Canada, I will never doubt you again.

That’s the crow I just had to eat . . .

Degrassi: The Boiling Point airs weeknights at 9 p.m. on Teen Nick.  Have you been watching? 

[www.juliekushner.com]

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Filed under Degrassi: The Next Generation

Create Your Dream Cast: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

 

One of my favorite reads of 2009 was Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.  The novel follows Katniss Everdeen, a strong willed 16-year old girl, who is forced to take part in a nationally televised fight-to-the-death survival competition against 23 other teenagers in the post-apocalyptic fictional nation of Panem.  From page 1, The Hunger Games is the quintessential page turner.  It transports you into another world and keeps you there, long after you’ve completed the book.

Collins does not discriminate, and there is something here for all ages, sexes, and book preferences: a bunch of knock-down drag-out, surprisingly gory, fights for the action buffs, a romantic triangle for the lovers, political intrigue for the Tom Clancy and David Baldacci inclined, a futuristic otherworld for the fantasy and sci fi geeks, adolescent angst for the teens, dry humor for the comedy lovers, and tons of thinly veiled pop culture references and digs at reality television for entertainment addicts.

The Hunger Games is actually the first novel of a trilogy series.  Its also-excellent sequel, Catching Fire, is already a bestseller.  The third book of the series, Mockingjay is due out August 24, 2010.  However, the novel is already available for pre-order on Amazon.  (Only $8.50 for a hardcover!  Way cheap!)

When I learned that Lionsgate Entertainment had purchased the film rights to The Hunger Games, and the Suzanne Collins, herself, was hired to write the script, I was excited and highly intrigued.  This book has surefire blockbuster written all over it!  The news got me to thinking about who they were going to cast for the major roles in this film — and, more importantly, who I would cast if I were making this film . . .

So, without further adieu, here are my casting pics for Lionsgate Entertainment’s adaptation of The Hunger Games:

Katniss Everdeen

My pick: Ellen Page

Why?  Although technically a bit older than Katniss (aren’t they all?), Page has the physical look of the character, as well as Katniss’ tough exterior and inner vulnerability.  She also brings to the table a recognizable name that will inevitably bring big box office bucks to the film.  Page definitely has the acting chops for this complex and meaty role.  Plus, if the X Men films, Whip It, and the ultra-dark indie film Hard Candy are any indication, she also possesses the strength and deft to pull off some fairly hardcore stunts, which may be necessary, given the action aspects of this novel.

Peeta Mellark

My pick: Sterling Knight

Why?  Like Page, Knight definitely looks the part here.  As the attractive and inherently likeable boy-next-door type, who may or may not be completely trust worthy, the actor who plays Peeta must appear both sweet and a tad sly.  I think Knight has what it takes to be both.  Best known for his role as Chad Dylan Cooper in Disney Channel’s tween sitcom Sonny with a Chance, Knight has already shown himself capable of playing the male lead in a love/hate type relationship.  I think he and Ellen Page would play off one another well, with respect to the romance aspects of this tale.  

As far as action scenes, I’m not sure whether Knight has what it takes, as I’ve never seen him act in any particularly physical roles.   Then again, Peeta always struck me as kind of a wimp (sorry girls).  So, athleticism may not be entirely necessary here . . .

Gale Hawthorne

My pick: Taylor Lautner

 

Why?  This one may be a bit of a stretch, seeing as Lautner is such a big name in Hollywood now, and Gale’s role in The Hunger Games is a relatively small one.  (Gale plays a much bigger part in The Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire, however).  And yet, I can’t help but think Lautner was made for this role!  Dark complextion, killer abs, physical prowess, the ability to brood and pine over unrequited love, all the while being all-manly / hunting stuff . . . who could ask for a better Gale than Lautner?  Plus, we all know how much Taylor loves his love triangles . . .

Haymitch Abernathy

My pick: James Gandolfini

Why?  Yeah, I know, this is also a bit of wishful thinking on my part . . .  But I LOVE my Gandolfini!  Plus, I think he would be awesome as this gruff and hard-drinking, yet wise and loyal, former Games winner and mentor to Katniss and Peeta.  And, it’s my cast, dammit!  So, I’ll hire who I want!

Effie Trinket

My pick: Kristin Chenoweth

Why?  Chenoweth has the sophisticated look, chirpy ebullience, and high-pitched (at-times grating) speaking voice to pull off District 12’s well-meaning, but slightly haughty, PR representative, Effie Trinket.  I’ll cast her in this role on one condition . . .  she MUST sing at least once during the film!

Cinna

My pick: Adam Lambert

Why?  Lambert has the guy-liner, fashion sense, natural flamboyance, and addiction to hair dye necessary to pull off Katniss’ personal stylist for the Games.  Granted, I’m not really sure Lambert has any acting experience (unless you count those daytime talk show interviews).  However, Cinna never struck me as a particularly complex role.  So, I think Adam could pull it off.  Plus, those American Idol fans would go wild!

Primrose Everdeen

My pick? Elle Fanning (Dakota’s little sister)

Why?  Honestly, I don’t have much to say here.  The role calls for a fair-haired and cherubic pre-teen to play Katniss’ little sister.  I am pretty sure there is actually a law in Hollywood that states that whenever a role like this is created, a Fanning must be cast in it.  So, here we are . . .

Mrs. Everdeen

My pick: Toni Collette

Why?  The role calls for someone who is believable as the slightly unstable and depressive herbalist mother of both dark-haired tomboy, Katniss, and girly blonde, Primrose.  I think Collette fits in quite nicely here . . .

Well, there you have it.  Now, it’s your turn.  Hop on to that casting couch (no pun intended), and pick your favorites.  Who knows?  Lionsgate Entertainment just might be listening . . .

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Filed under casting, Novel, The Hunger Games