Iconic 2000s TV show That’s So Raven may have centred around a girl who could glimpse the future, but who could have predicted then that a reboot of the show, Raven’s Home, would feature the Disney Channel’s first live-action openly Trans character?
That is exactly what happened, though, as audiences learned through a season five episode of Raven’s Home airing on July 8.
The episode, called ‘The Fierce Awakens,’ brought trans actress Juliana Joel onto the show, in a script authored by queer writer and comedian Nori Reed.
Both women took to Instagram to express their excitement about the episode and what it meant to them. In a July 12 post featuring short clips from the show, a picture of herself and Joel, and other behind-the-scenes magic, Reed explained why creating representation of the queer community was so important to her.
“I grew up in Christian County, Kentucky, a rural community that wasn’t the most hospitable to me as an Asian and closeted queer kid,” she wrote.
She noted how the Disney Channel presented her, like many others, with a different world that she could escape to. But, without queer characters in whom Reed could see herself, she felt that TV was telling her she still wasn’t quite welcome in its world of imagination and laughter.
“I cannot fully articulate what it means to me personally that now a young queer person in rural America can pop on the Disney Channel and witness a funny, nuanced trans character that they can relate to,” Reed wrote in her post. “And I pray in my heart that they hear the very clear message: You belong in this world and are included.”
Reed thanked the show’s creators for being actively and intentionally open to the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters on the program, as well as thanking Joel for her performance and the whole cast and crew.
“And thank you to the trans women in my life who lift me up and keep me going,” she wrote. “This is for you.”
Joel, like Reed, also used the Disney Channel and especially That’s So Raven as an escape. In her Instagram post, Joel remembered how That’s So Raven was her favorite show growing up, to the extent that she imagined the show’s main character to be her best friend, and dreamed of being on the show.
She wrote that she’d originally had doubts about the possibility of becoming an actor, and that even once she had started acting, she still didn’t think her childhood dream would come to fruition.
“I then told myself I wasn’t young enough to be on Disney anymore & even if that wasn’t the case I’m TRANS!” Joel wrote. “I’d never seen an out trans actor or character on the Disney Channel. EVER.” When she got to her dressing room on set for the first time, Joel said, she cried.
“I not only get to live out my childhood dream on a version of my favorite show…I get to do it as my authentic self and with a character that is openly trans,” the actress wrote.
Joel connected and contrasted this achievement with the anti-Trans attitudes and legislation so pervasive at this current moment in time, calling her casting in Raven’s Home “a win.”
“I claimed a dream and space for myself while so much of the world is trying to erase me & my community,” Joel wrote. “And now I get to be that person I wish I had to watch on TV growing up. So never tell yourself it can’t happen because it can, in ways you never dreamt possible.”
Joel plays Nikki, the entitled new assistant to the iconic Raven Baxter, originally of That’s So Raven. Formerly a teen with a penchant for seeing the future, Raven’s Home finds Raven a divorced mom with two kids, living with her best friend and her kids as well. In season five of the show, when audiences meet Nikki, Raven has moved with one of her kids back to her childhood home in San Francisco in order to take care of her father, who has suffered a heart attack.
Audiences haven’t yet seen much of Nikki, but she doesn’t seem particularly dedicated to the work she would be doing for Raven. As Raven puts it, Nikki appears to be “unqualified, unmotivated and uninterested.” But when Nikki adds that she “can also be unpaid,” Raven jumps on board.
Assumedly this means Joel will get air time for the rest of season five, and audiences will have the opportunity to enjoy Nikki’s absurdity along with the rest of the Baxter family shenanigans.
For a company that has made as many significant missteps as it has progressive moves, including the character of Nikki in a show reflects well on Disney. It gives queer viewers like Reed and Joel someone they can relate to, and demonstrates to non-queer viewers that everyone, regardless of gender identity or sexuality, is human, can be funny, and should be welcomed into every corner of society with open arms.
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