If you’re a fan of Netflix’s hit show Sex Education, then you too have probably followed the ups and downs of character Otis’ (Asa Butterfields) best friend, Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa). From his challenges with accepting his queer identity, navigating relationships with his family, friends, boyfriend(s), and religion – Eric is a character that has a multitude of dimensions that make him such an easy person to relate to.
However, the one thing that makes him such a loveable character is his ability to be such a great friend – even at times when he is clearly getting the short end of the stick.
Throughout most of the show’s run, we’ve seen Eric be the glue that holds the fictional Moordale Secondary School and his family together. From helping Otis with his awful attempt at running a sex therapist business to helping his family see the beauty that is being queer, Eric is the best friend that anyone could ever want.
He even proves to be an amazing partner, helping his partner Adam (Connor Swindells) come to terms with his sexual identity even when Adam wasn’t giving Eric the love he so rightfully deserved. Even in the most complicated situation, Eric has proven to have a heart of gold. Though there are several moments in the show where you might get frustrated with Gatwa’s character – because let’s face it, Eric is the personification of what it means to be THAT girl – Eric does in fact deserve the world.
For many viewers though, what’s been frustrating while watching the series develop is seeing Eric continue to live in the shadows of his white counterparts. From the ways that Otis didn’t offer any type of support when Eric broke up with both Adam and Rahim (Sami Outalbali) to Adam consuming so much space in the relationship, there were so many moments where viewers were left asking, “Who supports the Black queer characters?”
The need for Eric to find community comes after seeing how much he was (challenged) and changed after going to Nigeria. Not only did he meet other Black and queer people who understood the intersections of his identity, but it was evident that Eric left the country with a better sense of what he wanted and needed in his friend circle. More so, it felt like Eric had a better sense of self – showing us that sometimes you don’t know what you need until you find it.
That’s why it’s so exciting to see Eric finally find a more diverse queer community at Cavendish Sixth Form College in season 4. The latest season introduces the viewer to a new popular group called “the Coven”, featuring three new individuals – Abbi and Roman (Anthony Lexa and Felix Mufti) who are the schools it, trans power couple and Aisha (Alexandra James) who reps hard for the deaf community.
But it’s more than just being queer that makes this group the community that Eric needs. From the moment that Abbi meets Eric, it’s clear that she understands what type of “transition” Eric is going through. Moreover, she also understands the struggles with religion that Eric has had in the past and even meets with him several times to talk about the struggles she’s had with losing her religion and how she’s made peace with it. But it’s more of what the coven does to make Eric feel welcome at Cavendish Sixth that speaks volumes to why Black queer people need BIPOC (Black/Indigenous People of Color) community.
By being in the group, we see Eric begin to use his voice in ways he thought he never could in past seasons. This is all in part of Roman and Aisha challenging Eric to see the ways that both Adam and Otis fail to be good friends to Eric and how much of that is related to Eric’s Black and queer intersections. What’s beautiful in this is that we later see Eric hold his white counterparts accountable for what they do and don’t do for him, something that Eric might not have ever have done if Roman and Aisha didn’t bring it to Eric’s attention.
While some might watch season 4 and think that Eric is the one who has deserted his friendship with Otis for the newfound friendship with the Coven, it’s important to note that this is the first time in the show that we see Eric put himself (and his needs) first – something that we rarely see Black characters do on camera.
The Coven also opens doors for Eric to have more connections. In season 3, we rarely saw Cal (Dua Saleh), a Black nonbinary character in the previous season, and Eric interact with one another. Considering there were a few moments during the season where the two crossed paths, many of what could be considered vital moments for both Cal and Eric were lost due to the mess that was Moordale Secondary School.
However, it’s Cal’s connection to Aisha that ends up saving their life, considering Cal’s mental health is failing as they struggle with their identity this season. It’s the covert interactions that both Eric and Aisha have with Cal as Black queer people this season that I think makes a lasting impression on Cal, specifically when thinking about how hard it can be to be Black and queer in a predominately white space. It’s what, in turn, saves Cal’s life.
The best part of this final season is that it speaks directly to why it is so important for Black queer people to have people around them who not only understand the struggle, but comprehend what it means to thrive in it. The Coven offers Eric an ability to not only dream beyond the boundaries and limitations set for him, but it also provides room for him to fully bloom and live more loudly and proudly.
If anything, this season gives us a real education on what it means to find people who truly get us.
“I had never met another queer Rwandan person. I thought I was the only one in the world.”