ANNE WITH AN E & LGBTQ Representation
Updated: May 25
Over the last several years there has been a rise in inclusive and diverse programming in television. However, few period dramas have tried their hand at incorporating historically accurate portrayals of minorities during the time period represented in their storylines. ANNE WITH AN E combines amazing cinematography and casting with meaningful and emotionally relatable storytelling. One of the show’s greatest strengths lies in its inclusive and well-researched representation of minority groups in the late-1800s Prince Edward Island, such as the community of black islanders (The Bog), the Mi’kmaq First Nations, and LGBTQ characters. Moira Walley-Beckett, ANNE WITH AN E’s showrunner and creator, included these stories and applied them to both established characters from the books and original characters.
In season one, we were introduced to Diana’s Aunt Josephine, who became a mentor and a source of wisdom to Anne when she was in the “depths of despair.” Aunt Jo never married but lived a full life in the company of her late best friend, Gertrude, who was later revealed to have been her romantic partner. As it wasn’t socially acceptable or legal to be in a same-sex relationship at that time, Jo and Gertrude had to hide their relationship from their families. Notably, through Aunt Josephine, the show spotlights the stories of older LGBTQ individuals, a type of representation that is often lacking.
Season two introduced Cole Mackenzie, an original character, as Anne’s new quiet and artistic kindred spirit. In season two’s Memory Has as Many Moods as the Temper, we followed Anne, Diana, and Cole in an adventure at Aunt Jo’s summer-themed soirée. The extravagant and colorful event introduced them to a whole new world of art and a group of diverse individuals. The experience was life-changing for the trio, particularly for Cole and Diana. Aunt Jo reprised her important role as a mentor, this time with a struggling Cole, who was living through his own challenges of finding his place in the world and accepting his own sexual orientation. Meanwhile, Diana, who was disturbed by her aunt’s hidden life and relationship, was challenged to open her heart and mind to a world of different possibilities she could not imagine. The episode ends with the friends’ hearts full of new discoveries, understanding and acceptance of themselves and others.
In an interview with CBC, Walley-Beckett explains why it was important to include Cole as a character: “I added the character of Cole because so many kids are exploring their identity and it’s such a ripe time of confusion and difficulty and isolation in school. And I wanted to represent that, that which is true — in the world, in that time period or any time period.”
“You have a life of such joy before you. Not without hardship. Not without bumps in the road. Be safe with those you trust. But when you do find people to trust, the bond will be that much greater. I’m quite touched… by you choosing me as one.” – Aunt Jo to Cole, after the latter confides in the older woman about his sexual orientation.
The show also depicts a different queer perspective with another character, Mr. Phillips, Avonlea’s school teacher. In season two, it is suggested that Mr. Phillips is attracted to men and that his disdain for Cole and eagerness to marry one of his students, Priscilla Andrews, is an attempt to avoid dealing with his own sexuality. In one scene, Cole shared an uncomfortable moment with Mr. Phillips, which provoked disgust in the teacher. After this, Cole suspected that Mr. Phillips was like him and confronted his teacher during one of Mr. Phillips’ outbursts, telling him that the reason he hated Cole so much was because he hated himself, too.
“In my mind their teacher Mr. Phillips has always been an unidentified closeted homosexual. He just has no idea that he was. I thought it would be fascinating to use Cole as a mirror for discovery on his part, and see the two different journeys of those characters.” – Walley-Beckett, in reference to Mr. Phillips’ role in season two. (IndieWire)
Despite ANNE WITH AN E being Anne’s story, the show lets its secondary characters live through their own storylines and grow independently from them. Through Aunt Jo and Cole, ANNE WITH AN E shed light on what life was like for the LGBTQ community in the late 1890s. It showed the challenges and emotions that come with feeling like one doesn’t belong and the intolerance from society at the time. However, it also showed acceptance, love, and hope. It showed that freedom comes from within and that we all can find people to love and trust.
“I think I learned some things about love too. It doesn’t look the same for everyone. It can come in so many forms. And how can there be anything wrong with a life if it’s spent with the person you love?” – Anne.