From Big Little Lies to Derry Girls and Bridgerton, we’re seeing a surge in the ‘strong female lead’ rightfully taking up space on television screens.
As they promote their new show, Swift Street, which airs on SBS in 2024, Tanzyn Crawford (she/her) and Bernie Van Tiel (she/they) say they’re proud of how their characters challenge what the entertainment industry has perhaps typecast as a ‘strong female lead’ for so long.
Both being queer people of colour, the actors have stepped into roles that they say are relatively rare in the Australian TV industry – a landscape that is slowly progressing when it comes to diverse representation onscreen.
Crawford portrays the lead character Elsie, a 21-year-old who helps her father after discovering he is being hunted down by a crime boss over a bad debt. Van Tiel plays Elsie’s love interest, but is also a fearless person in their own right as the leader of the ‘Flower Shop’, a refuge for youth who “want to stay out of trouble”.
“I'm someone who really cares about the intersectionality of one's identity,” Van Tiel tells Missing Perspectives. “Being a queer person of colour, it is really important. So this representation matters, and that was something written into the scripts.”
Crawford says the strength of her female character is in Elsie’s vulnerability. She doesn’t need to be depicted through stereotypes of the angry or sad Black woman, nor does she need to always have her emotions in check.
“I think [being] strong doesn’t have to mean flawless,” she says. “I think Elsie is very strong. She basically takes care of her entire household but she has moments of weakness and confusion.
“I think that makes her strong because it doesn't make her ill-equipped to deal with her own emotions… or she's not bogged down by feeling sad, which is a normal human thing. I love that this strong woman is a very flawed woman,” she continues. “I think that's OK, and I think that makes it even stronger, to be honest.”
Van Tiel adds that masculinity is often another trait that some people perceive women need to embody in order to appear strong. But Swift Street goes against the grain in this respect.
“There is such softness to both Elsie and Aisha in this series that you see in those tender moments, both when they're together and when they're not,” she explains.
“I think through those tender moments and through that softness and vulnerability, that's where you see the strength. That's where you see them go, ‘OK, I am committed to this thing that I have to do now out of survival.”
Also starring in the show directed by Tig Terera is Australian actor Keiynan Lonsdale, famed for roles in Dance Academy, The Divergent Series: Insurgent and Love, Simon.
Similar to his co-stars, he hopes the diversity on the show resonates with young multicultural and queer Australia, especially those who haven’t seen themselves reflected on mainstream TV before.
“There's far too many Australians that haven't,” he says “We get to paint just a tiny speck of that (bigger) picture, and I think we're doing it as best as we can.”
Swift Street was announced at the SBS Upfronts as one of the network’s major local dramas to air in 2024.