The Women of Netflix’s Young Royals
I could gush about Netflix’s Young Royals for days. How well it captures the jarring excitement of young love. The teeth rattling urgency to solidify it. The painful need to protect it. How it makes us more aware of who we are. However, we are not here to talk about the romance plots within the series, but rather the women of the Young Royals universe.
Felice, who is the female lead of the series, is a mid-sized, dark skinned girl. The first time I saw her, I thought “ah, our comedic character is here. The diary of a funny black woman has commenced.” This is a trope that we have all seen a billion times. The black girl, often chubby, is supposed to be the messy and funny character. That is her sole purpose in the film. Even in a dominantly black series like Issa Rae’s ‘Insecure’, the chubby friend, Kelly, is there for comedic purposes. No backstory or character development – just messiness and comedy.
Naturally, I thought Felice would be the same. I’m happy to say that I was wrong.
In the first episode of the series, we see that Felice has a problem with her curly hair. She thinks that she doesn’t look pretty when it’s curly, and so she puts a great deal of time and effort into keeping it straight. A lot of black women have a love-hate relationship with their hair, how dense it is, or how curly or thick it can be. That way of thinking is rooted in white respectability politics where black hair is considered untidy and unprofessional, and the series used just one scene to depict this love-hate relationship well.
In episode 5, we see Felice and her mother have a mild altercation over the attendance of an event dubbed the Lucia event. Her mother always wants Felice to look perfect and be perfect, so she tells Felice that she has to wear a dress that isn’t even her size, because 4 generations of women before her wore that dress as the “Lucia”. Felice who is finally standing up for herself replies, “I don’t even want to be Lucia” in a powerful act of defiance which again defines Felice as a strong and progressive character.
Another aspect which is different about Felice is that she isn’t male centric and relationship crazed like many other teenage female leads. Her character isn’t built for the male gaze. Instead, she is her own person, with her own wants and desires. At the beginning, we see that she has a crush on Wilhelm, the Prince. Regardless, she roots for his relationship with Simon and is very supportive of them.
Felice gets into a relationship with Auguste and when she finds out that he made a move on her friend, Sara, she directs her annoyance towards the proper person: her boyfriend. This is not something which we often see on screen. More often than not, that kind of thing would cause a fight between the friends. Honestly, the bar for our expectations of teenage, female TV characters is in hell, but we have to celebrate our small wins – so thank you Netflix!
Apart from the relationship between Wilhelm and Simon, another interesting dynamic is Felice’s friendship with Sara. It begins at the stables, where Sara rides Felice’s horse and takes care of him. The fact that Sara is a better horse person than she is irritates Felice, but her friendship with Sara grows when they spend a drunken night together.
Sara, who is another notable female character, is a girl with Asperger’s syndrome which is a developmental disorder that affects one’s ability to effectively socialise and communicate. She also has ADHD, which is a chronic condition including attention difficulty, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
Frida Argento as Sara // via Netflix
Edvin Ryding & Omar Rudberg as Wilhelm & Simon // via Netflix
These two disorders have made Sara painfully awkward in social situations, and made it difficult for her to have friends.
This results in her having self esteem issues, and she believes that she needs to change everything about herself so she can be important and liked. In episode 6, for example, she tells her brother that “No one likes me when I’m me”. Most of us can relate to this, because at some point in our lives, we have felt the need to change who we are, at our core, in order to be liked and perceived as “normal”.
As the drama builds during the series, we see that Sara is also a social climber. I personally like that she wasn’t painted as some poor, weak victim that we should all feel sorry for. Instead, she was given goals, foolish and short sighted goals, but goals nonetheless.
In episode 6, Sara realizes that the person who betrayed her brother and Wilhelm is Auguste and instead of getting angry and reporting him, she uses that information to blackmail Auguste into getting into a relationship with her.
I found that devious and calculating, but ultimately much better than a character who is just there to incite tears so – go girlboss!
It is difficult to ascertain if Sara genuinely likes Felice or if she is just using her to get the social status that she wants. Sometimes she seems to genuinely like Felice, but the fact that she seems to want Felice’s life for herself, makes her look like a user. I look forward to seeing more of this dynamic in subsequent seasons.
The series depicts its women in a very realistic light, especially Felice and Sara.
Sara is very determined to live a life better than the one she currently lives, and Felice is just trying to be happy. Both Felice and Sara have issues with their mothers, Sara thinks her mother is too little, and Felice thinks her mother is too much. When we look closely, we see that this is also how they see themselves which proves that the girls subconsciously use their mothers as mirror images.
Netflix’s Young Royals is a brilliant series with many beautiful scenes, like Wilhelm’s beautiful confession scene where he gushes about Simon’s beauty and professes his feelings for Simon. The cast look like actual teenagers with teenage problems, and I think it is different from the teen shows we see lately, with “teenagers” who look like 30 year olds and who live overly sexual lives. Overall, I found the series very real, and couldn’t recommend it enough.