In our current media landscape, rarely does one come across a queer-centric storyline in television or film. Typically, when queer and non-binary folks are represented in media, their storylines adhere to stereotypes, and often these stereotypes are harmful, leading to further societal stigmatization. This isn’t to say there hasn’t been progress. In GLAAD’s 2018 TV diversity report, they noted record-high LGBTQ representation. And for the first time ever, LGBTQ people of colour actually outnumbered white LGBTQ actors on TV. Recently, more and more LGTBQ-identifying actors, writers, and directors have taken matters into their own hands to produce the type of inclusive, queer-centric, and realistically representative content that they want to see.
Disillusioned and frustrated by popular media culture and its lack inclusive queer representation, Bragale was inspired to create North of Sherbrooke.
Elisabeth (Liz) Bragale, a U3 Arts student, is no exception. Disillusioned and frustrated by popular media culture and its lack inclusive queer representation, Bragale was inspired to create North of Sherbrooke. The student-created, five-episode web series is produced by Bragale with TVM: Student Television at McGill. She came up with the idea last year while in her third year at McGill. After stumbling across the Canadian-made web series Carmilla that follows two lesbian vampires in love, Bragale was inspired to bring queer-centric content into the McGill community. With the seeds of the ideas for the plot and characters in mind, she reached out to different student groups on campus, searching for diverse writers who could help bring her vision to life. Steve Greenwood, a PhD candidate at McGill, was the first to be brought into the project. Next was Tristen Sutherland, an Arts student who graduated in 2018. Finally, Gretel Kahn, a U3 McGill Arts student joined the team. The four began working at the end of the school year, sharing ideas through Google Docs in different time zones and continents throughout the summer.
When it was time to go back to school, the four had collaboratively finished the scripts for the show, and all that was left was choosing a name. They settled on North of Sherbrooke as a reference to Sherbrooke street, Montreal and the McGill community. Bragale was especially excited about the name, because it felt like an ode to the show South of Nowhere, a 2000s TeenNick show that was one of the first to bring sexuality into a storyline on television. Fun fact: everything in the show is actually filmed north of Rue Sherbrooke.
We rely on cultural images to show us what the norms are in society, and what we should be. Bragale and her team have all experienced not feeling validated when you don’t see yourself in media.
North of Sherbrooke follows the story of five friends – Peyton (Siarra Burke-Smith, year 2 Concordia), Jasleen (Summer Mahmud, U2 McGill Arts), Cooper (Maya Taylor, U3 McGill Arts), Taylor (Naomi Cormier, year 4 BFA Concordia), and Valentina (Gretel Kahn, U3 McGill Arts). Peyton is new to town and meets Valentina at her new job. Valentina and Taylor are dating. Taylor lives with Cooper. And Jasleen is their friend, who, as Bragale proudly described, is a caricature of McGill cultural studies students. The five of them are all friends, connected through one another. The plot involves friendship drama and blossoming relationships, all culminating in a big party at Jasleen’s house in the fifth episode. Yet what is key in North of Sherbrooke, is that it’s just students “living their normal college lives, dating each other, being late to school, partying, doing your normal college thing, and they’re all queer in some way,” as Bragale described it. Importantly, while the story may follow their relationships, the narrative isn’t centered around their sexualities.
We rely on cultural images to show us what the norms are in society, and what we should be. Bragale and her team have all experienced not feeling validated when you don’t see yourself in media. At a time when shows like Netflix’s One Day At A Time and IDW Entertainment’s Wynonna Earp, both shows that portray realistic and positive queer characters, are being cancelled or at risk of being cancelled, content like North of Sherbrooke is so important. The students who collaborated to create North of Sherbrooke are commended for their impressive and valuable work. With North of Sherbrooke, they have contributed to a landscape of more representative media and are paving the way for the future.
You can watch all of North of Sherbrooke here.