"I don’t know, I feel like it’s just something so small but so significant that we just made," Quintessa Swindell says, sitting alongside their Trinkets co-stars Brianna Hildebrand and Kiana Madeira. They were still over a month out from the AwesomenessTV show’s June 14 debut on Netflix, but spending the day filming marketing promos and talking to MTV News had everyone thinking about how things would play out in just a few short weeks. "I know it’s important, but for some reason I just can’t visualize it."
Its importance is not entirely unlike that of John Hughes's seminal teen film The Breakfast Club. Central to both stories is the idea that no matter your circumstance or social status, we’re all, essentially, the same. Pretty people feel sadness. Rebellious misfits worry. Even loners feel lonely sometimes.
The difference is that The Breakfast Club was released in 1985, and now it’s 2019. You’d think that we would have learned by now that our hearts are all pumping the same blood, but this is one of those grass-is-greener lessons that is doomed to repeat itself in every generation until the end of humanity. And so now we have that message updated for today’s teens in Trinkets.
Based on the book by Legally Blonde and 10 Things I Hate About You writer Kirsten Smith, Trinkets tells the story of three high schoolers who become unlikely friends after they find themselves attending the same Shoplifters Anonymous meetings. There’s the pretty, popular, rich one, Tabitha (Swindell), the comfortably middle-class, quiet, friendless new girl, Elodie (Hildebrand), and the angry outsider who’s learned to live with less, Moe (Madeira).
Of course, those character descriptions are highly reductive. Identities are never that simple. We all have different versions of ourselves that we show to different people or in different places; how we want to be seen, how we actually are seen, and who we really are inside. That’s why managing our identities can feel like a constant juggling act.
"I think at the beginning of being in the industry, I really let it get to me. How perfect I should seem and dress and act,” Hildebrand says, thinking back to her breakout role as Negasonic Teenage Warhead in Deadpool and Deadpool 2. “For a while, it kind of confused me. I was like, ‘Who am I going to be when I’m doing the interviews?’ And then does that mean I can’t be who I am just living my life? If I meet someone who knows someone who knows who I am? I put so much thought into it. Like, it’s ridiculous how much thought I put into it."
In time, she let some vulnerabilities slip into her public persona, and then some more, and some more. And eventually, those conflicting layers of her identity compressed into one.
“It’s OK to just have one version of yourself,” Madeira adds. “It’s OK to have multiple versions of yourself too, but you don’t have to. I can be the same Kiana that I am at home, on set, in interviews, everywhere that I go. And I think that it’s such a relief when you accept that and acknowledge that about yourself.”
That’s the realization we see Tabitha, Elodie, and Moe come to over the course of Trinkets’s 10-episode season. Before they had each other, they moved through life hiding behind their curated façades, posting happy photos on Instagram after getting into a fight with an abusive boyfriend and blowing off classes while discreetly qualifying for an elite STEM program. But sharing secrets can be powerful, and being forced to share one — their shoplifting habits — quickly leads to more. Soon, their guards fall down and their forced identities melt away, and the trio are leaning on each other during times of joy, of heartbreak, and, most crucially, of mischief. And as Tabitha, Elodie, and Moe grow closer to each other, they find themselves falling away from the cliques they’d previously associated with. Beyond the superficial labels, it turns out, they just didn’t have much in common with those people.
It’s one of those facts of life that can be hard to see when you’re in high school, but seem so obvious once you leave. Life is bigger than high school. Eventually, just like the three characters, you’ll move on from the people you’ve been placed with by chance and it’ll be easier to flatten all your identities into the singular form that feels the most like you.
“It wasn’t until I left my hometown, when I was going to college in New York, where I felt like, ‘Wow, I can be whatever I want to be. And I can be completely surrounded and immersed within communities that I have always sought out to be within,’” Swindell says. “And I think those moments happen when you truly allow yourself that sense of exploration.”
All three actors agree on that point, reflecting back on the identities they once presented to the world. “In high school, I had hair down to my hips,” Hildebrand, who now rocks a tight pixie, says through a smile.
“She did,” Madeira and Swindell reply, in almost perfect unison.
“I was super hippie. And then I cut it to donate, like a foot of it to my shoulders, and then I just got addicted to cutting my hair,” Hildebrand continues. “And right after I moved to L.A. I was like, ‘I just need to shave my head, because that’s the only thing I haven’t done.’ And if I can be comfortable with a shaved head then I can be comfortable at any point in time, you know, with myself. And so I did and it was super liberating and I’ve had short hair ever since."
Then, the actor adds thoughtfully, "I don’t think I could go back to having long hair. Not because I don’t want to — I think styling hair is really fun. But I just think it doesn’t suit me as a person anymore.”
“I feel like I’m still finding that,” Madeira jumps in. “I’m constantly experimenting with different things to see how it makes me feel too. And some days I feel good about things, and some days I don’t. And you know, it’s just a journey.”
At this point, Swindell looks contemplative. “For most of my life I didn’t really identify with how I looked or my body,” they say. They’re still thinking back to their move to New York. “I started identifying and looking at myself as non-binary, and through that, and through the recognition of that feeling and just the happiness that that gave me from that identification,” they recall, “I felt liberated.”
Swindell describes adapting their look by trying out different tailoring and silhouettes to “accentuate the things about myself that I felt most comfortable with,” and giving themself space to present femme and still see themself as non-binary. “It’s an incredible struggle for non-binary people,” they say. “Presentation and also how you feel about yourself and how your body looks in the mirror is an incredible feeling.”
In the end, it all comes back to identity being a journey. “As years go on, you find new ways to express yourself, whether it be from hair, or clothes, or even makeup. Everything can kind of contribute to who you are,” Swindell says. “Once you step away from the societal norms of different things, you really are embracing who you authentically are and that’s like… so beautiful.”
Trinkets is now streaming on Netflix.