The Last Of Us star Bella Ramsey has hit back at a homophobic backlash over gay storylines in the popular video game TV adaptation, saying such representation is “extremely important”.
The 19-year-old English actress told Sky News she found some people’s opposition to gay love stories in the show “bizarre”, adding: “The climate emergency and stuff, there are so many more important things to be worried about than two people in love kissing on a screen.”
The post-apocalyptic show is set in 2023, twenty years after a mass fungal pandemic has wiped-out most of the population.
It’s earned widespread critical acclaim, achieving HBO’s second-most watched series premiere in more than a decade in the US (second only to Game Of Thrones spin off House Of The Dragon) and proving a hit for Sky Atlantic, with the first episode reaching over three million viewers here in the UK.
The show follows Ellie, played by Ramsey, and Joel, played by Chilean-American actor Pedro Pascal, as they travel through a ravaged United States, battling zombie-like creatures and violent vigilante groups.
‘Just because of the apocalypse doesn’t mean gay people don’t exist’
The drama has remained faithful to depictions of gay relationships first introduced in the 2013 video game, and developed some even further including a love story between two peripheral characters in episode three, titled Long, Long Time.
That episode in particular drew criticism from a small but vocal minority of fans who rejected the focus on the show’s LGBTQ+ characters.
Responding to the reaction, Ramsey said: “Why wouldn’t there be gay storylines in a show like this? I’m so glad that HBO are doing it, and I know it was something that Craig [Mazin – the show’s co-creator] was really passionate about.
“It’s in the game, like the Ellie and Riley stories in the game and Bill and Frank is hinted at in the game. I think it’s really cool. Just because of the apocalypse doesn’t mean that gay people don’t exist.”
Mazin’s co-creator, Neil Druckmann, who also developed the video game, previously told The Hollywood Reporter that Bill and Frank’s relationship “went over a lot of people’s heads” in the game.
“At the time, [the subtlety is] what helped get it in,” he said. “It’s sad to say, but it would have been controversial otherwise.”
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‘It’s about equal opportunities’
As in the game, the TV show also goes on to explore Ellie’s sexuality, with the character developing same-sex relationships.
Ramsey, who has previously spoken about her dislike of being gendered, and doesn’t mind which pronouns people use when talking to her, says it’s all about diversity of representation when it comes to actors taking on LGBTQ+ roles.
She explained: “I think it’s important that queer people are given opportunities to play queer roles, of course. But I also don’t think there’s any issue either with, like, straight people playing queer roles or cisgender roles.
“I personally don’t have a problem with it whatsoever. I just think as long as people are given equal opportunities… I think that’s the most important thing. And not being persecuted when it comes to roles.”
Episode seven of the show, titled Left Behind, introduces Ellie’s best friend Riley, played by Storm Reid.
Reid, 19, who had her breakout role in Oscar-winning film 12 Years A Slave, told Sky News: “We all see the comments and whether they’re good or they’re bad or the sentiments are warm or not. At the end of the day, we know what we’re doing, and we know what the purpose is.”
She went on: “People love each other, and love is love. So, if you can’t accept that, then I don’t know where you’re going to be able to find space of comfortability anywhere in the world, because people are people and are living in their truth. And I think that’s beautiful.”
Looking ahead to season two
In the face of any criticism, and unlike most video game adaptations that came before it, the show is proving a storming success.
With a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it has already been renewed for a second season.
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With the scripts currently being developed, the show is expected to remain true to the second iteration of the game, The Last Of Us Part II, and to continue to explore Ellie’s sexuality as well as introducing a transgender teenager named Lev.
Just as Ramsey is able to ignore any negative reaction to the show, she’s equally good at turning a blind eye to its success, admitting: “I sort of forget when we’re filming that it’s going to be on the screen and people are going to watch it, never mind that it will go really well, and millions of people will watch it.”
Destined to become a household name thanks to this series, she adds: “I think if I was aware of that, I would I’d be scared every day.”
The Last Of Us airs in the UK on Sky Atlantic and NOW every Monday.