Storm Reid, the 19-year-old actress who portrays Riley Abel in the HBO series The Last of Us, is responding to backlash over the inclusion of an LGBTQ-themed storyline featuring her character.
“It’s 2023,” Reid told Entertainment Weekly during a recent interview about the episode. “If you’re concerned about who I love, then I need you to get your priorities straight.”
She echoed previous comments that her co-star, Bella Ramsey, made to GQ U.K. responding to backlash that the series — based on the video game of the same name about a world following a zombie apocalypse — has received over the inclusion of LGBTQ characters and queer-themed storylines, including negative “review-bombing” of the series on sites like IMDb and Metacritic.
“Like Bella said when episode 3 [which featured a portrayal of a same-sex male romance] came out: If you don’t like it, don’t watch,” Reid told the publication. “We are telling important stories. We’re telling stories of people’s experiences, and that’s what I live for. That’s what makes good storytelling, because we are telling stories of people who are taking up space in the world.”
Reid is featured in the show’s seventh episode as Riley, a friend Ellie’s (Ramsey), one of the main characters. Reid is seen in a flashback to Ellie’s days under the supervision of FEDRA, the U.S. government’s dictatorial military arm.
In the episode, Riley, who had left Boston to join the anti-government rebel group the Fireflies, and Ellie share a memorable night in an abandoned mall that culminates in their first kiss.
Reid told Entertainment Weekly that she was drawn to the role because of the chance to portray a character that could provide representation for marginalized communities.
“I’m not only representing women,” she said. “I’m representing young Black women and I’m representing young queer women that are experiencing new feelings and new relationships. … There’s just so much that goes into the complexity of what the episode is.”
Reid previously told Variety in an interview that she doesn’t quite understand the rage that is provoked by mere acknowledgment of LGBTQ people’s existence, whether in the real world or in the fictional world.
“I think being concerned about who people love is just absurd to me,” she said. “I just don’t — I will never understand it. I don’t get it. I think despite what people are going to say, if they don’t like it, I think there are going to be a lot more people that appreciate it. A lot more people that feel represented and seen and heard. So that’s what matters.”
The episode featuring Riley isn’t the only episode of The Last of Us to provoke the ire of the right-wing (as well as some portions of the radical left): in the series’ third episode, the portrayal of a male couple in a semi-romantic relationship was met with review-bombing and negative backlash from anti-LGBTQ forces.
Nick Offerman, who played a gay survivor of the apocalypse in the episode, similarly pushed back against those who criticized queer representation. On Twitter, Offerman quoted a user’s negative remark, writing, “Buddy, your brand of ignorance and hate is exactly why we make stories like this.” (The original commenter’s account has since been deleted.)
Buddy, your brand of ignorance and hate is exactly why we make stories like this. ❤️🕺🏻 https://t.co/KkyZoDh1g2
— Nick Offerman (@Nick_Offerman) February 3, 2023
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