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The Hollywood Insider Teens Playing Teens

Photo: ‘Riverdale’

Being a teenager in this day and age equals constant subjection to judgment and criticism from the four corners of social media. Increased access to technology means comparisons are not far and few, but instead manifest themselves every day in like-counters, amount of followers, or your personal notoriety on an app. 

The media’s responsibility to create a safe and realistic environment for teens to thrive in has never been more important but television and film fall short in this much-needed representation. With teens being depicted as unrealistically attractive, popular, and perfect characters, it’s no wonder TV and film have been the root of many insecurities for this generation.

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TV and Film Are Exploiting Teen Roles to Remain Relevant

Not only does this false representation create insecurity in viewers but it pushes oversexualized and exploited roles that exist purely for shock factor or to advance sexual plots rather than meaningful arcs. 

Fast food content has never been more prevalent and many studios find that peak popularity and success are tied hand in hand with these unrealistic but addicting storylines. 

A prime example of this is ‘Riverdale’ (2017), a teen drama about the inhabitants of a small town trying to navigate high school and the mysterious and evil happenings that seem to follow in their wake. The four leads are sophomores in high school but their respective actors are all aged 24 and above. The intent of the production and casting team is apparent. It was not to create an authentic teen experience but instead to cast actors with visual magnetism. 

With thousands of fans falling in love with KJ Apa and Cole Sprouse, the leading men, it’s no wonder why this approach is taken by studios. But it also allows for the show to put them in oversexualized situations, exploiting their body and romantic relationships to add sex appeal to their show. And as we know, sex sells. 

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Teenagers being put in mature situations and having to deal with it throughout the show could breed an impressive and meaningful storyline, one that allows viewers to relate and recognize parts of themselves on the screen. Instead, as seen throughout TV history, shows like Riverdale, do the opposite and take advantage of casting young adults. 

Oversexualization of Teens to Create Sex Appeal

Another prime example is the Spanish show, ‘Elite. Three seasons long, the show follows teenagers in their sophomore and junior years of high school as a murder unfolds on their campus. Mina El Hammani plays Nadia, the shy new girl at the elite private school, and is 27 years old while her character is barely 16. Her supporting cast also exhibits a similar issue, with her love interest, Guzman, being played by 24-year-old Miguel Bernardeau. 

Carla, played by Ester Exposito, and Polo, played by Alvaro Rico, are respectively 21 and 24 years old but their barely 15-year-old characters engage in high-intensity sexual situations. From their engagement in threesomes to their many cheating scandals, a pretty picture is not painted for teens watching and internalizing the show and its messages. It creates a facade that sex should be a central theme in everyday life and that a lack of it remarks poorly on you and your maturity. In reality, maturity is understanding that every teenager’s experience is unique, and perpetuating a specific image on media negatively impacts that journey. 

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Teens Playing Teens

The show takes a gritty, dark, and sexy twist on a murder mystery and it perfectly feeds off of the audience’s own needs to be as popular and beautiful as the leading ladies in the show. Their fully developed bodies and actions are disarming for young teens to watch and then wish to replicate. 

Whether it be the parties the students throw, with sex and drinking and drugs as the main focus, or the designer purses and clothes they show off like pets, needless comparisons are being drawn by viewers, especially when they realize that at 16 and 17 they didn’t look anything like the teenagers on screen. The unnecessary comparison and anxiety that is being pushed add to already tumultuous times for teens questioning their identity. Overall the lack of validity and genuity makes these shows a tough pill to swallow. 

Especially in ‘Elite’ authenticity is lost to the appeal of putting characters in situations that will attract audiences purely because of the allure of sex and something forbidden. 

Why Media Needs Teen Representation Across All Races, Sexualities, Genders, and Ages 

While the maturity of these actions can only be executed with young adults playing the roles, these are not realistic reflections of today’s youth. Rather than oversexualize characters and bring forth a pressure to look and act like them, to emulate the same beauty and sensuality that is often fabricated for the purposes of media, studios should focus on maintaining authenticity in this area too. 

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Despite the fact that this is all fictional and done for shock value, the reality of the situation is highly disgusting. Adult screenwriters glorifying sexual and mature scenes for teenagers is not only an uncomfortable image but also a negative reflection on the people responsible for creating our content today. 

Countering this action lies in casting actual teenagers for these roles. The benefits outweigh the drawbacks of such a decision and simple solutions can be found. While teenagers have to attend school and their schedules lack the same flexibility as adults, the chance for viewers to see themselves accurately reflected in television and film is worth the adjustments. This can also offer young actors a chance to get their big break and fulfill their ambitions of becoming notable actors in the cinematic world. 

The importance of representation lies in giving teenagers an image they can relate to and find parts of themselves in throughout the media they consume. Allowing all races, sexualities, genders, and ages to have their space in media is not just important but a necessity. 

It is a privilege to be able to see and recognize yourself in tv and film, one that everyone should be granted in an effort to minimize comparisons, false expectations, and more than that make sure everyone feels understood. 

By Mireille Karadanaian

Click here to read The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Black Lives Matter, in which he tackles more than just police reform, press freedom and more – click here.

An excerpt from the love letter: The Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, “The Hollywood Insider fully supports the much-needed Black Lives Matter movement. We are actively, physically and digitally a part of this global movement. We will continue reporting on this major issue of police brutality and legal murders of Black people to hold the system accountable. We will continue reporting on this major issue with kindness and respect to all Black people, as each and every one of them are seen and heard.

Just a reminder, that the Black Lives Matter movement is about more than just police brutality and extends into banking, housing, education, medical, infrastructure, etc. We have the space and time for all your stories. We believe in peaceful/non-violent protests and I would like to request the rest of media to focus on 95% of the protests that are peaceful and working effectively with positive changes happening daily. Media has a responsibility to better the world and The Hollywood Insider will continue to do so.”

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