This season of 90 Day Fiance: Before The 90 Days has taken important steps forward.
Sheila and David’s story includes the franchise’s first deaf cast member.
Christian and Cleo’s story gives us the franchise’s first trans woman. She is also autistic.
Fans have a lot of questions about casting, from the general process to how production casts marginalized people. It can be a delicate topic, and a very involved process.
Variety spoke to casting director Brooklyn Bagwell about how they have gone about recent representation milestones.
“Going into each season, we really strive to represent all kinds of people,” Bagwell began.
“And,” the explanation continued, “that can be challenging because we don’t want to share the same stories each season.”
“David came from a social media post and we were just so captivated by his story,” Bagwell noted.
“He is the first deaf person on ‘B90,’” she acknowledged.
“We felt like his story was so strong because there was so much to his story,” Bagwell emphasized. “And we found that he was so rootable and likable.” He certainly is!
The fact that David is deaf does not define every aspect of his life. But it is part of who he is.
Not only does it relate to how he met Sheila — who is hard of hearing and uses a hearing aid.
But it also impacts his story on Season 6.
David and Sheila use translator Aimee to facilitate communication for now.
There are real questions about how long they can last if Sheila does not pick up on ASL.
And then there is the matter of her son. Can David and Jhonreil bond? The hearing world is not always welcoming to deaf folks.
“I love Cleo,” casting director Brooklyn Bagwell commented. Relatable!
“When we first saw her submission, I was like, she’s gorgeous,” she described.
Bagwell acknowledged: “We’ve never had a trans woman on ‘B90’ and again, we want to stay relevant,” Bagwell noted.
If every couple is cis, or straight, or white, or able-bodied, it’s just one homogeneous mess. That’s just not what the world looks like.
“We want to continue to find these diverse characters,” Bagwell expressed.
“And,” she explained, “I found that her story was so diverse.” After all, Cleo is also autistic. That has arguably been more of a factor so far this season than being Christian’s first trans girlfriend.
This season has really brought up whether Christian is comfortable being transparent about his relationship with Cleo. In the past, he has only dated cis women.
Ahead of his trip the UK, some of Christian’s relatives said some clearly unacceptable things about his relationship. Others just had “questions.” Christian let some societal bigotry get to him, clearly.
But, as we noted, it also seems like his life-of-the-party attitude might be the bigger issue. Cleo is autistic. How much can they actually enjoy spending time together? We’ll find out, we suppose.
Cleo and David’s historic casting came on the heels of The Other Way Season 4’s casting of Gabriel Paboga.
Overall, fans responded more positively to the franchise’s first trans man than they are to its first trans woman.
Gabe’s extremely likable, but part of it might be the fandom itself. This notoriously misogynistic fandom seldom likes women.
Best case scenario, Cleo might (jokingly) call the backlash trans-affirming misogyny. Not your standard gender euphoria.
Another couple of tidbits are that casting can take anywhere from three months to a year. They get a lot of audition tapes, after all.
Additionally, Bagwell said that she found Big Ed Brown to be “likable.” Fascinating.