/ January 28, 2019/ #BerenaDeservedBetter, #GoodAlliesListen, Analysis/reaction, Sandpit/ 0 comments

To all in the #Kana fandom we feel your pain.

This week Bhavna Limbachia, the actor who plays Coronation Street’s Rana Nazir, took to social media with a video message to fans confirming that her journey on the soap will be coming to an end. In the same message she revealed that she and her producer (Iain MacLeod) had collaborated to come up with an “amazing exit storyline”. However, if rumours are to be believed, this exit storyline involves her character dying on the day of her wedding to her partner Kate Connor (played by Faye Brookes). Together they are referred to by fans as ‘Kana’.  Given that this spells the end of an all too rare mainstream TV wlw relationship and the demise of yet another queer female TV character, it’s difficult to understand how this can be described as “amazing”. Add in the fact that the character is Muslim, and thus represents a minority within a minority, and it makes it even harder to comprehend how an exit like this can be described in such optimistic terms. The actress herself reportedly championed the idea that her alter ego should be killed off rather than simply splitting with her future wife because she feared a split would upset invested fans. While her concern for the fans is admirable, the idea that the death of a much loved lesbian character (particularly on her wedding day) would cause less upset than a relationship split is an ill-informed misjudgement.

It’s not as if such a negative trope, in terms of wlw representation, has never been done before. It’s not as if such a trope has never been called out before and it’s not as if the upset caused by such a trope has never been apologised for before. The comparisons with Last Tango in Halifax, in particular, are conspicuous – both stories involve a relationship that causes a rift with family member/s, both involve killing a queer woman of colour, both involve the death happening on or directly after their wedding day. When a production team (because this is not just the responsibility of one actor) have a recent history like this to learn from, it is difficult to fathom why they would even contemplate bringing us back there, never mind actually scripting it.

One argument is that it is a soap opera, it needs the drama. It needs the ‘shock’ factor. If we set aside the fact that leaking the story has removed any element of surprise, which in this context is not a bad thing, TV producers, it seems, have yet to learn that killing a queer female character isn’t shocking, it’s expected. At the time of writing, the body count for queer female characters stands at 202. That’s a lot of corpses from a population that has a history of scant visibility on TV screens. Producers, if you want to shock, let your lesbians live! That it is expected does not make it acceptable. It is true that Rana’s death will not leave the queer community without any representation on Coronation Street. Within the narrow context of a single show that features four queer female characters the death of one of them may appear, at least to those unscarred by a history of misrepresentation, an insignificant plot twist. It asks the question, has their current ‘good show’ on visibility led to an arrogant belief that their lesbian death will be different, it will be good storytelling, it will be the exception to the ‘bury your gays’ trope?

No matter how well written, it won’t be an exception because if we step back and take a look at the bigger picture of wlw representation across wider media, we are still staring at a barren landscape. And within this landscape of underrepresentation the proportion of lesbian/bi character deaths is much greater than that of heteronormative characters. Gay women are killed at a rate five times higher than should be indicated by their appearance when compared to the death rate of non-queer characters. But it isn’t just about numbers. It isn’t just about the loss of beloved characters. It’s the message that the repeated use of this trope sends to already marginalised, often vulnerable individuals – you are insignificant, you are expendable, you do not matter. The rest of society hears it too. It may not be the message that is intended each time such a storyline is penned but intention here is irrelevant. Consequences are what matter. The ‘bury your gays’ conversation has been rolling on for some years now, it would be difficult to believe an entire creative team have been completely insulated from it.

That the characters in this wlw pairing have appealed particularly to younger fans adds another worrisome aspect to the choice of ending. Many fans (but not all) are teenagers or young adults beginning to figure out their place in the world. If TV producers are brave enough these young people do not have to end up cynical and battle-scarred from years of misrepresentation. TV has the power to teach us who we are and what society thinks of who we are. But “with great power comes great responsibility”. In fiction sometimes characters die, we absolutely get that. But until we have parity in representation, killing off queer female characters should be avoided because for many gay women fiction is still the only way for them to see that their version of a happy future is possible. They themselves need to see it and, just as importantly, they need for their family and friends to see it too.

If hearsay about the timing is true, a wedding day death will cement this story’s place in the bulging archives of ‘bury your gays’ tropes. Once again loyal fans have been on a very tumultuous ride as two women manoeuvred their way through excessive amounts of drama and angst while establishing a relationship. Fans had the potential of a ‘happy for now’ dangled in front of them when an onscreen mutual proposal saw the pair get engaged. The decision of one of the actors to leave inevitably means that the fans will be deprived of watching the couple navigate the normal, happy, day to day mundanities of married life. While disappointing for fans, this turn of events is understandable. What is not understandable, however, is that producers once again appear to have struggled creatively to handle this (hardly unusual) development and have defaulted to dramatic death.

It is not the first time Coronation Street have resorted to this trope when an actor playing a queer role requested to leave – Maddie Heath (played by Amy James-Kelly), a previous girlfriend of Sophie Webster (played by Brooke Vincent) died from injuries sustained in an explosion in another dramatic exit storyline in 2015. While previous history of the show and LGBT rep is being discussed, it is worth noting that when Sacha Parkinson (Sophie’s ex, Sian Powers) wished to leave, her exit involved a cheating storyline that culminated in a dramatic wedding day jilt in 2011. Also, Hayley Cropper (played by Julie Hesmondhalgh), the shows only transgender character, died of cancer in 2014. It would appear the cobbled street is an inordinately unsafe place, physically and emotionally, for LGBT women. 

It’s been said before but it needs to be repeated – content-starved gay women do not need their storylines to be written dripping with drama. The relationship ending is drama enough. What would show true respect for the fans would be a parting written realistically with as little drama as possible. Instead, it appears the show has chosen another ‘shocking’ storyline over a community it has been providing representation for. It is rumoured that Rana’s exit involves her dying in the arms of her lover on their wedding day. They don’t want to disappoint the fans so it appears they’re going to devastate them instead.

Everything that has happened with Berena and now Kana over the last few weeks and months brings to mind that annoying sketch from the show Little Britain – time and time again, for lesbian/bi audiences looking for realistic representation… “[TV] says NO”.

Kana fans, sympathies are with you.  We might be grieving for disparate reasons, but we are two fandoms experiencing the pain of losing a beloved onscreen wlw relationship. In both cases it seems it is not the ending itself but the manner of the ending that has caused/will cause most upset. Both our ships have been wrecked by different but equally tired, overused and damaging negative tropes. Berena deserved better, Kana deserves better, TV must do better.

#BuryYourTropesNotYourGays

Please note:

This blog has been written by someone who does not ship Kana and is not a regular viewer of Coronation Street so if there are any inaccuracies please feel free to highlight them.

Also, this has been written prior to any exit scenes being broadcast, and details of the death are being kept under wraps by bosses on the ITV series. So what is written here is based purely on what is rumoured to have been scripted by the press and on social media.  We will very happily stand corrected if it doesn’t pan out to be another addition to the lesbian trope trash pile.

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