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What the Heartbreak High reboot gets right about First Nations teens

Emma Ruben -

The Australian teen drama reboot Heartbreak High returned to our screens on Netflix September 14.

The 2022 iteration is a blend of Sex Education meets Puberty Blues meets Euphoria. And while on the surface the TV show may feel like the typical teen drama, Heartbreak High has introduced hard conversations within our current cultural zeitgeist.

WARNING: This contains spoilers for Heartbreak High

The show explores topics such as consent, gender and sexual identity, neurodiversity and racism.

And it's the reboot's arguably, ground-breaking discussion of racism within First Nations communities which will stay with First Nations audiences.

Indigenous characters in the main ensemble, Malakai and Missy, played by Kamilaroi actor Thomas Weatherall and Arrernte actress Sherry-Lee Watson, capture the issue of race powerfully through their performances.

Weatherall said playing an Indigenous man like Malakai was really special.

"Reading that script the first time, to see a character like Malakai, as an Indigenous man," he said.

"For me I personally haven't seen a lot like that so it was a really special thing."

Malakai's identity as a First Nations young adult in Australia is at the forefront of episode four written by Indigenous writer Meyne Wyatt.

Weatherall, as Malakai gives a heart breaking yet fundamental performance of what it's like when a young First Nations man comes face to face with police.

In future episodes, audiences are taken on a journey of how this event affects Malakai physically and mentally.

We see him act impulsively and out of character as a coping mechanism for what he's just experienced. It isn't until community, like Watson's character Missy, get involved Malakai is able to begin the healing process.

Part of his healing process sees Malakai head out on Country to reconnect with his identity.

Weatherall said when playing the character he tries not to think about the impact it could have.

"Once you wrap the series and you start seeing billboards or ads and things on Instagram, suddenly it kind of kicks in there," he said.

"It's a privilege to be put in that position but I hope that people that watch it from all walks of life and then particularly First Nations mob enjoy it and like seeing it.

"And hopefully you know might be able to resonate with some of the things we go through."

In an Instagram story, Wyatt reflected on Malakai's journey throughout episode four and six.

"For settlers and yt (white) people at the party they see that as a 'big gee up' thinking he's just charged and entertaining the crowd with jumping from the roof," he wrote.

"They've already forgotten Malakai has been brutalised by police.

"To them it's a party, to Malakai it's numbness.

"Even with Malakai smiling, he's still just considered an entertainment for the yt (white) people."

For Watson, she hopes her character will resonate with other First Nations girls who may have never seen themselves on screen before.

"I'm really excited for specifically like young Aboriginal girls to see themselves on a global screen like this," she said.

"It reaffirms our identity because it's so easy to go through that identity crisis when you don't see accurate representation on screen."

The Heartbreak High reboot is available to stream as of September 14 through Netflix.

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