Soap history made as EastEnders and Hollyoaks cast transgender actors
Not one but two British soaps announced the casting of a transgender actor last week, marking an important step forward in the journey towards greater diversity on the small screen.
EastEnders has stayed true to its word by casting a transgender actor to play a transgender character in a permanent role. On the same day Hollyoaks announced that it had also cast a trans actor in a trans role.
EastEnders' trans character Kyle will be played by 21-year-old Riley Carter Millington, who will make a brief appearance on screen this month before returning permanently at the end of the year.
“I am extremely excited to be joining EastEnders,” said Millington. “I can honestly say that I have now fulfilled my two biggest dreams — to be living my life as a man and to be an actor. I cannot wait to really get stuck in with filming and I look forward to seeing what is in store for my character.”
EastEnders bosses said in March that they intended to cast a transgender actor, which inspired several trans actors to put themselves forward for the role. The long-running BBC soap enlisted the help of trans groups and workshops to find the right actor and created the character of Kyle after meeting Millington.
Dominic Treadwell-Collins, the soap’s executive producer, said “Alex Lamb and his story team have worked with Riley to create an EastEnders character who is fresh and relatable — but also comes with his own stock of secrets and is going to be thrown right into one of our biggest stories for the end of the year. I hope that the audience will take Riley and his character to their hearts as quickly as everyone here at EastEnders has done.”
Over on Channel 4 transgender actress Annie Wallace will soon be joining the Hollyoaks cast as a trans teacher. Wallace, who was actually the inspiration behind Coronation Street's long-running transgender character Hayley Cropper, took to Facebook on Saturday to confirm her excitement at being part of the popular soap and also to congratulate Millington, posting: "Crumbs… it's all happening isn't it? All over the internet now! What I will say is this… I'm delighted that Riley and I have totally different stories to tell… and that having a trans man on EastEnders is really fantastic. Trans men often get overlooked in this trans-zeitgeist, and he'll rectify that."
Of course transgender characters aren't new to British soaps. The most well-known and beloved has to be Corrie's Cropper, who was played by cisgender actress Julie Hesmondhalgh for 16 years. Hollyoaks' character Jason Costello was transgender but played by cisgender actress Victoria Atkin.
The casting of Millington and Wallace in British soaps marks an important step forward in the journey towards greater diversity on the small screen. Fingers crossed other programmes — not just soaps — follow their lead.