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Hollyoaks’ Diversity Episode Was A Soap Highlight Of 2019

February 5, 2019

Hollyoaks may be known for crazy storylines and unmissable stunt sequences, but the show shines brightest when it’s tackling big issues, reflecting the real world and making us think.

The long-running drama ticked all three of those boxes on Monday night (February 4) with a special episode celebrating diversity, as Mandy Richardson faced a difficult decision over her unborn child.

Mandy has learned that her baby has spina bifida, but has been considering an operation which could minimise the symptoms – much to the disapproval of her partner Darren Osborne, who thinks the surgery is too risky.

Mandy has also been open about how she’s unsure she’d be able to cope with raising a child who has a disability, wrongly believing that she’s not strong enough.

With the dilemma continuing to play on her mind in the show’s latest episode, Mandy was given food for thought as a disability awareness day at the local coffee shop made her see the situation in a whole new light.

Hollyoaks currently has the most diverse cast in its history, setting the stage for moving and beautiful scenes as Mandy interacted with various members of the village who have disabilities or additional needs.

Mandy’s eventful day included a candid chat with Maxine Minniver, whose daughter Minnie has Down’s syndrome. Proud mum Maxine spoke honestly about how other people praise her as “brave” for how well she’s doing with Minnie – a label she rejects, as she’s just a parent doing the best she can.

In equally touching scenes, Mandy was also on hand to comfort Brooke Hathaway, who broke down in tears outside The Dog after her bullying schoolmate Juliet Quinn cruelly described her autism as a “curse”.

With help from Mandy as they had a heart-to-heart, a newly-empowered Brooke accepted that her autism is what makes her who she is – and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Nancy and Darren’s son Oscar, who has a hearing impairment, also took centre stage in the episode as he prepared to perform as part of a children’s choir at the disability event.

Oscar suffered from stage fright at the last minute and considered pulling out. Fortunately, after an inspiring pep talk that fittingly came from Brooke, he went ahead and played his part in the show-stopping performance, which lifted the spirits of everyone in the audience.

Hollyoaks‘ carefully-crafted scenes acknowledged the challenges that naturally do occur when living with a disability or additional needs – from Brooke’s bullying ordeal, to Maxine reflecting on the difficult times she occasionally faces with Minnie.

But what’s most important was the key messages behind the episode – “celebrate difference” and “see the person, not the condition”. Brooke, Oscar and Minnie light up the lives of their loved ones and the Hollyoaks audience were left in no doubt that all three should never be underestimated.

Sarah Jayne Dunn, who plays Mandy, recently explained: “I think it just really opens Mandy’s eyes that people with disabilities are living all around her, and she’s never even noticed that before.

“I think the fear Mandy has is whether she will be able to cope with a child that has disabilities. Parents do find it tough sometimes, but I think you find it tough full stop being a parent and she knows this herself, as she’s got children already. It’s a really eye-opening episode, and it was a real privilege to be a part of.”

As the best soap for multi-platform content, a special shout-out should also go to Hollyoaks‘ digital team for producing a 15-minute documentary which further explores the issues raised in the episode.

The film sees Hollyoaks‘ executive producer Bryan Kirkwood explain how he wants diverse households across the country to tune into the show and feel that they’re represented, while casting director Peter Hunt talks about the soap’s efforts to improve diversity within the cast.

As always, there’s more work to be done with representation, but talented stars like Amy Conachan (Courtney), Talia Vanessa Grant (Brooke), Eva Lorente (Minnie) and Noah Holdsworth (Oscar) have been perfectly integrated into the drama, playing characters who the audience knows, loves and looks forward to watching each week. Long may this success continue.


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