Queer people often end up being side characters in TV shows and movies, but a new local kids’ series is making sure queer characters take centre stage as complex, relatable heroes.

Designed for tamariki aged 8 to 12, Little Apocalypse is New Zealand’s first rainbow-led and focused TV show for children.

Series writer and producer Thomas Coppell talks to Re: News about why it’s important to have this representation on our screens.

Little Apocalypse is about two siblings, Leith and Cole, who are staying at their nanny’s house over the summer holidays. 

Leith is 15 and going through those adolescent feelings and they’re trying to manifest a text back from their crush. They’re a teenage witch and they accidentally open a portal that welcomes in a ghost that starts haunting both siblings. 

Cole is the younger sibling and is kind of wondering what’s going on with Leith and struggling to connect with them, because Cole likes order and structure, not messy witchcraft and pining over boys. 

Over the course of the series, the siblings and their new ghost mate kind of grapple with taking responsibility for their actions. I think their journey is really about accepting our siblings and our loved ones when they’re going through change or turbulent times.

Roshaniah Leo’o as Cole and Linus Lloyd as Leith in a scene from Little Apocalypse

The show’s core demographic is 8- to 12-year-olds, but we've purposefully structured it so that there’s access points for older kids as well.

We've also made it as a series for people like me who never had this sort of show as a kid. 

Changing the narrative

I was thinking about those shows that really shaped me as a kid and wishing to see myself reflected in that. I remember there literally was nothing for me on TV when I grew up. 

I think the content that we consume has a really fundamental role in shaping the possibilities of our identity and our aspirations in life. 

Queer young people are just like any other young person who wants to see themselves reflected on the screen. 

It just gives them a reflection to their own experiences and their own struggles, and gives them touchstones that they can then draw on to shape how they experience the world. 

We've had a little bit of a renaissance of queer content over the last few years, but often our community is kind of stigmatised or locked into a trauma narrative, a coming out narrative, and that's really restrictive when you're a young person. 

So with our show, we really wanted to break open the possibilities of the roles that queer characters could play. 

In our show they're the main characters. They don't come out; their gender and sexuality is never questioned. In fact, I don't think they even say it once in our show. They are just witches and ghosts.

The creators of Little Apocalypse: Elsie Bollinger, Sally Bollinger, and Thomas Coppell. Photo credit / Vanessa Cone

Dealing with the haters

We went a little bit viral on TikTok with a couple of our teasers, which was really cool. 

I was saying: “Get excited for New Zealand's first queer kids show.” 

But you can imagine the comments that came in. But we just ignore that. We deleted those comments and reported those people that were all breaching TikTok's guidelines around discrimination. 

I think I'm winning if I'm upsetting those people. I'm thinking I'm doing the right thing.

Queer characters need to be centre stage

I'm hopeful that our show opens the door to our characters and our people being front and centre. 

I think it's really important, because we do exist as side characters, and we have existed as side characters for a long time. 

But again, that's so limiting, because that’s the whole thing around aspiration. If queer kids only ever see themselves as the side characters to progress someone else's journey, that's a really limiting aspiration. 

And when we have statistics like we do for our queer young people around bullying and self harm and suicide, we need to make their aspirations huge and empowering, so that they can feel a sense of belonging and a sense of hope. 

And that's where I think it's important that we make content like this to change those horrifying statistics.

But the show is fun and it’s weird and it’s exciting. I think a lot of our comments on TikTok were from teenagers who were excited to see a queer Kiwi kids drama in their own voice. 

Because we get so much international content. We don't see stuff in our own voice and this feels like our own voice.

Little Apocalypse is available to watch now on TVNZ+ 

As told to Re: News journalist Anna Murray. This interview has been edited for length.