If you have an aching desire to ruin your childhood, all you need is a friend in Romania with an HBO Go account.
After being scrapped earlier this year, the Heathers reboot is still screening in more than a dozen countries. While the Paramount Network searches for a new home for Heathers in the U.S., it sold foreign rights to HBO—which has begun airing the program in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
HBO Go subscribers in those countries can watch up to two episodes a week, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The decision to air Heathers in a slew of nations with markedly anti-LGBTQ records, however, is more than a bit tone deaf following criticism of the show’s bizarrely homophobic bent. Based on the beloved ‘80s cult film about a popular clique at an Ohio school, the 2018 version recasts the titular mean girls as queer P.C.-warriors, while the outcasts are varsity jocks.
Instead of airheads who love to play croquet, Heather Chandler (Melanie Field) is a plus-sized sociopath who worries losing weight would hurt her image — while Heather Duke (Brendan Scannell) is genderqueer and Heather McNamara (Jasmine Mathews) is pretending to be a lesbian to fit in.
Writer Samantha Allen of The Daily Beast claimed the show “feels like it was written for aging Fox News viewers who get angry about people’s gender pronouns.”
“Younger viewers — and anyone else who inhabits a real, fact-based world — will know that LGBTQ and gender non conforming kids still face disproportionate rates of bullying in school and have a greater likelihood of self-harm,” Allen wrote after the pilot dropped in February. “It simply is not true that the tables have turned and the marginalized kids are now in charge.”
“Are there some mean genderqueer people and hurtful art geeks out there?” she continued. “Absolutely. But the Heathers of 2018 acts as if it is now universally the case that these groups can access social capital.”
Although Paramount Network publicly cited the show’s depiction of gun violence in schools following the Parkland shooting as the reason for its delay — and ultimate cancellation — its queer critics are likely to have played just as much of a role in its downfall. After all, the only people who seemed to actually enjoy the Heather reboot were Trump supporters.
But if HBO is attempting to funnel a series criticized for homophobia into countries less than friendly to LGBTQ people, it could be extremely damaging. Many of the Eastern European countries where Heathers is available are post-Soviet nations where progress on equality has been slow.
In the last Rainbow Europe report from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), just one of the countries listed above scores above a 50 on LGBTQ rights: Croatia, with score a 51 out of 100. The remainder average just a 30 on equality: Bosnia and Herzegovina (31), Bulgaria (24), Czech Republic (29), Hungary (47), Kosovo (33), Moldova (13), Montenegro (38), Poland (18), Romania (21), Serbia (30), Slovakia (29), and Slovenia (48). (Note: Macedonia was not tracked.)
Falling at the bottom of this list, socialist groups in Moldova have pushed an anti-gay propaganda law identical to Russia’s. The same day that Orthodox groups and Moldovan police shut down a Pride event, President Igor Dodon proclaimed in June 2017 that he wasn’t “president of the gays.”
The situation for LGBTQ people doesn’t improve from there. Poland boasts an extremely high hate crime rate — with a recorded 120 anti-LGBTQ attacks in 2014 alone. Local advocates say a large number of hate crimes go unreported every year. Meanwhile, politicians in Romania are attempting to pass a national law banning marriage equality with the help of Kim Davis, and religious conservatives in Bulgaria have called for gays to be stoned.
Because few queer and trans individuals in these countries have a national platform to push back on media which portrays the community in a harmful light, Heathers won’t receive the same backlash as it has from American audiences.
Unchallenged, the show’s distorted view of LGBTQ people could serve to make the problems Eastern Europe faces even worse. The conservatives marching on the front lines against equality could potentially view the Heathers reboot as a warning: This is what accepting queer and trans people looks like, and it must be stopped.
Heathers will continue to roll out to additional territories in the coming months but dates have yet to be released.
In addition to gay-friendly Portugal, this list also includes the African countries of Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and Sao Tomé and Principe. Due to the legacy of British colonial laws criminalizing homosexuality, the LGBTQ equality movement has enjoyed a mixed reception across the continent.