Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series introduced characters Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane back in 2007, a time where LGBT representation in mainstream film and literature was a rare commodity. While the representation itself was not without its flaws and greatly restricted to the abyss of the unwritten and unseen, Alec’s and Magnus’ stories appeared in all six books alongside other prominent characters. They were as front and center as was allowed for LGBT characters at the time, and their presence subtly increased as the books flew off the shelves. Many would argue it wasn’t enough, but Alec and Magnus were developing as characters during a time that was also developing a conscious acceptance, and their ability to overcome and persevere in the face of obstacles both human and supernatural struck a chord with the audience in a way no one back in 2007 could have seen coming.
While they appeared very briefly on the silver screen in 2013’s misguided venture The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones, the stars simply weren’t aligned long enough to see them receive adequate face time. Now, almost ten years on, Alec and Magnus have been brought to broadcast television. They face a vastly different audience, and being homed on a television network that means to educate in place of restrict and normalize instead of outcast, Alec and Magnus and their relationship are getting the treatment they could have had from the start, had our world been ready.
On Freeform’s Shadowhunters, the relationship between Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane – the lovingly named ‘Malec’ – represents, actively promotes and normalizes two minority concepts. Not only are Alec and Magnus an LGBT couple, being gay and bisexual respectively, but they are also a biracial couple by real world and fictional world standards. Alec is the epitome of white privilege as a man made with the blood of angels, held above and beyond all other beings in his universe. Magnus is the polar opposite; a man of Asian heritage, a mix of human and demonic genetics, and he represents everything the Shadowhunters despise yet tolerate for the sake of societal progression.
Among the Shadowhunters, Alec is seen as special – a warrior born and bred to the war against evil and the responsibility of humanity’s safety – while Magnus is viewed as genetically impure, unwanted, no good. On the other end of the spectrum in Downworld, Magnus is a grand leader as the powerful High Warlock of Brooklyn, wise and sought after for his talents and Alec is the one considered the elitist, arrogant nuisance, ignorant to the world outside his own. Alec and Magnus’ individual races frown upon each other as the oppressors and oppressed – yet in each other’s company they are simply human souls struggling to open up, seeking understanding, comfort, and connection. Alec’s journey to reconcile his needs with familial obligation and Magnus’ cautious adjustment to love after centuries of shunning it have made their supernatural romance a beautifully human one, and human love stories are something LGBT characters in mainstream media are rarely afforded, which is perhaps the appeal. Fans are invested in the lives of these men, in their happiness – so invested, in fact, that the Malec relationship has become its own entity with its own fandom. And after a humble 13 episode premiere season done and dusted, the impact of Malec and their fandom is already making waves.
Following the event that was Malec’s first kiss in the season’s penultimate episode, the aptly titled “Malec”, the hashtags #Malec and #ShadowhuntersMalec were fandom-planned tags to celebrate the episode with both trending worldwide. #MalecKiss, an unplanned hashtag, began trending worldwide all on its own and lasted over 48 hours later.
Electro-pop artist Ruelle released the song ‘War of Hearts’ back in 2014, but Malec made it an anthem when it was featured as the soundtrack to their first kiss. Having previously appeared in Teen Wolf‘s season five episode “Parasomnia” as the background music for Theo’s brooding bout of skateboarding, the song hit its intended mark when it gave voice to both Magnus and Alec’s mutual decision to follow their hearts. It set the scene for Alec’s melancholic resignation of his political nuptials and his decision to trade that in out of respect for his true self and his feelings about Magnus, but it also gave soul to Magnus’ final attempt to be seen as he essentially threw himself and his heart to the wolves for the possibility of a rare love.
The track ranked number 10 in The Hollywood Reporter’s Top TV Songs Chart for March, behind musical cues for shows such as AMC’s The Walking Dead, HBO’s Girls and ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. It achieved 39,000 tags, 2,000 downloads and 329,000 streams for the month, which it impressively accumulated in a matter of nine days.
The battle for E!Online TV’s Top Couple this year proved how much viewers welcome and demand LGBT representation in mainstream media. The media outlet annually hosts a poll that pits fandom against fandom in an effort to vote through 64 beloved couples from a wide range of shows, which are ultimately narrowed down through six rounds and millions of votes. While Shadowhunters‘ other main coupling, Jace and Clary were eliminated in the third round, the fandom pushed Magnus and Alec into the final after holding the fort against the likes of The Walking Dead‘s Glenn and Maggie, Teen Wolf‘s Stiles and Lydia, and Outlander‘s Claire and Jamie.
Malec lost out with 48% of the vote after several hours of neck-and-neck voting, which wasn’t enough to overcome the vast, unforgiving relentlessness of the fandom behind The 100‘s Clarke and Lexa. But it was an impressive first-year attempt in a Top TV contest and Malec’s placement in the final not only made them the fourth LGBT couple to ever do so, and it also marked the first male LGBT couple to have made the finals in the poll’s history.
Over on Tumblr, Shadowhunters has consecutively placed in the top 20 trending television shows every single week since December 2015, but in the week following the Malec-themed March 29 episode, Shadowhunters rose to the number one trending television show, and stars Matthew Daddario and Harry Shum Jr. both made the top 20 trending celebrities. In the week ending April 11, Shadowhunters once again was the top trending television show on Tumblr, while Matthew Daddario was the highest trending celebrity. One could say the fandom were still talking about that kiss, but take one look across any social media platform today and you’ll find they are still talking about that kiss.
Malec’s first lip-lock was also the catalyst for the fandom’s first meme. As their kiss was shared thousands upon thousands of times across social media, “I don’t even watch Shadowhunters…” became a meme trend across Twitter and Tumblr, used by people outside of the fandom who were either newly influenced to tune into the show, or simply congratulating the show and its audience on a great moment of television.
I don’t watch Shadowhunters but I know enough about it and tbh I’m so glad the canon has an interracial relationship between two men. @keiji-koutaro
I don’t even watch Shadowhunters and I screamed. @tfabellamy
My whole timeline is this Malec kiss. I don’t even watch Shadowhunters but I ship it so hard. @halesmile
I don’t even watch Shadowhunters and I have no idea what it’s about but I’m glad those two boys kissed. @lukebiwalker
I don’t even watch Shadowhunters but that kiss was A+. @stillles
I don’t even watch Shadowhunters but damn I think I’mma start. @stydiasriver
I don’t even watch Shadowhunters but Tumblr is making me ship Malec jeez. Where can I find this show. @g-o-l-d-s-w-o-r-t-h-y-s
Me last week: I don’t even watch Shadowhunters but I’m glad the pretty boy & the glitter man kissed. Me now: [RUELLE_WAROFHEARTS.mp3]. @communistbabe
I have never seen an episode of Shadowhunters in my life, but damn am I proud of the Malec story line. @hotdiddlydean
I swear I never heard of Shadowhunters until this week and now Jupiter Ascending AU Mike from Glee is gay and all over my dash? Thank god. @marsixm
One Tumblr post in particular was a ‘Proud Mom Moment’ of a parent witnessing her young child observing Malec’s first kiss with the kind of innocence and unwavering acceptance our world desperately needs:
I don’t watch Shadowhunters but for obvious reasons it’s all over my dash. I watched a YouTube video of the wedding scene and when the whole kiss thing happened my two-year old went ‘Whoa! Those boys are kissing!’ I asked him: ‘Is that okay?’ He put his hand over his mouth and said ‘Course…it’s so cute!’
Wow. Even my two-year old knows it’s okay to be gay.
E!Online’s recent TV Scoop awards had Harry Shum Jr. winning the much deserved Breakout Male Star award for his captivating portrayal of Magnus Bane, and while Malec may have lost out once again to The 100‘s Clarke and Lexa in the Best Kiss category, they came in a close second while thrashing the numerous other pairings in the poll.
Shadowhunters episode promos also regularly boast some of the highest viewed promo clips on Freeform’s official YouTube channel, but it is the video of Malec’s first kiss that holds the record of most viewed episodic clip with a view count of well over 880,000 views – a feat that trounces the first kiss view count of fellow Shadowhunters pairing Clary and Jace an impressive eight times over. Malec is not only a favorite among the general Shadowhunters audience, but it is the satisfaction of what they represent, displayed openly and proudly on our television screens, that has had an everlasting, personal impact on the lives of many fans.
Several took the opportunity to express their gratitude for Malec across social media when offered the chance. Sam, 18, explains:
When I was about 12, I realised that I’m gay and for 6 years I was hiding it from everyone, terrified of how they would react, thinking there was no way that anyone would accept me. When Shadowhunters started, I saw so much of myself in Alec. I had read the books before, but Alec was such a background character that it was hard for me to really relate to him there, but in the show with all this added focus on his character, he really helped me to learn to accept myself more. In the Malec episode…when Alec went down there and kissed Magnus in front of everyone, it gave me the push I needed. It was the first time I had ever seen a big romance plot that was between two guys and I didn’t feel so wrong anymore. So when my mum came home that evening, because of Malec I had the courage to finally tell her that I’m gay.
Monique, 28, is an avid fan of Magnus and Alec and describes them as “more than their sexuality,” a welcome rarity in today’s mainstream LGBT representation.
They’re a functioning relationship involving two complex and formed individuals. Their existence means a great deal to the community. And to me? Well, I came out publicly on Facebook recently – mostly because of Orlando and wanting to put another face to bisexuality – but also because their relationship has been in the background of my days for half a year. They’re a stunning contribution to a medium that can sometimes be void of character complexity, let alone queer character complexity. They’re beautiful representation.
Julie, 18, cites the show’s positive representation of LGBT characters for helping her make the decision to live authentically.
Magnus got me thinking. The way he casually talked about being with men and women, the way no one had a problem with that at all, it made something click in my head. After years of feeling uncomfortable with my own personal desires and totally ignoring this huge part of me, a simple character on a TV show put all the pieces together. This helped me realise how important real and authentic representation is as well. How often do you see bisexual characters that are not being slutshamed or told they’re greedy or that they’re ‘just having a phase’?
Magnus helped Alec to acknowledge that he is in the closet and then helped him to get out of it and without even realising it at first, he took me on the same journey. That’s why Alec is just as important to me, because he is me. He ignored his desires, tried to be what everyone wanted him to be and never even went as far as being honest with himself, when he couldn’t be honest with everyone else. I’m going through that too and they showed me that it’s okay. I love Malec for what they are, for what they represent and for what they did for me. I can finally scream it into the freaking void, I’m bi, I’m real and I’m proud.
Erin, 17, found Malec when she needed them most.
The Mortal Instruments was the first book series I ever read with a gay character in it and I lived in an area where being gay wasn’t looked down upon but it was treated like a taboo, and anyone who was gay was looked at kind of like an anomaly. Malec became so important to me because the years where I read the books and was invested in the fandom were when I was struggling the most with my sexuality. Malec was my escape, through my love of them I met people from the community I’d never have met otherwise. And eventually it gave me the courage to come out of the closet to my family and friends and I finally got to be myself.
Even just being able to see LGBT characters represented in television means so much. It’s something that is very rare to see and it’s incredibly encouraging that we’re getting more and more of it. The way [Alec] is portrayed in the show makes him a perfect role model for closeted youth. And Magnus is a perfect means of representing bisexual people and demolishes stereotypes such as bisexual people being indecisive and greedy and are just straight people looking for attention, and this is so important for people to know and learn and understand, especially youth. Malec’s representation in television means so much to me because it will be one step closer to LGBT characters becoming a normal thing on the same level as straight. And hopefully soon we won’t need to be demanding representation because it will be there naturally and without need for fuss.
Lauren, 24, hesitated for years about coming out to her mother – until Alec walked down that aisle.
I was so touched by Alec’s courage to forget everything he knows and just go after what he wants. Kissing Magnus at his own wedding, in front of literally everyone who matters, gave me the courage to finally come out to my mum as bisexual. Alec inspired me. And Magnus reminded me that being bisexual is not a dirty thing. The way his sexuality is literally portrayed so normal makes me so incredibly happy and makes me feel like I can love anyone. [Malec] inspired me to want to be who I really am.
Madge, 16, didn’t have a word for her feelings until she came across Magnus Bane.
Magnus’s character helped me realise the possibility of bisexuality. I had finally put a word to my feelings. I’m finally at peace with who I am after a long time struggling. Also, seeing happy queer characters on television and in literature really made me feel hope for my community. Hope that things are finally taking a turn for the better.
Alice, 16, found the things she loved about Alec and Magnus helped her to appreciate herself.
Alec and Magnus helped me a lot. Alec, especially, as I was ‘repressed’ like him when I read the books for the first time. While I was reading, I felt like me and Alec were holding hands, because everything I was going through, Alec was too, and we made it together. From personal experience I can say that sometimes you need just a simple book character to feel better. You appreciate them and you love them for who they are and for what they do, and then you notice that you have a lot in common with them, so you start appreciating and loving yourself, too. You understand that you must never be ashamed of being able to love someone, no matter who he/she is but instead you have to be proud of it.
Matthew and Harry have done a perfect job. They’ve been able to bring to life two characters that mean a lot to me and if I look at them on the screen I have the same feelings that I had when I was reading the books. They give me the same support and love that I received from book-Alec and book-Magnus. I’m really thankful to the two of them because they’ve acted with care and prudence. I’m thankful to the producers too because they have deepened Alec’s story, and his development gives me an incredible strength. I am relieved to see that Malec’s relationship has not been taken with lightness but has been incorporated in the show in a wonderful and perfect way. As a member of LGBT+ Community I couldn’t be more happy or proud of all this. Before Alec and Magnus I was literally a mess, kept together with scotch tape. Now I’m happy and I feel free to be who I am. So truly, thank you to everyone that has made this possible.
Too often we see the other side of possibility, the risks that remind us that maybe we shouldn’t have bothered to try. Malec is the silver lining, the possibility of happiness, acceptance, growth and self-love that all hope to have for themselves, whether they are of the LGBT community or not. The message is universal. We all want to be comfortable with who we are, we all want to overcome what burdens us. Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood represent hope, strength, integrity, respect and honor, and those subtle, relatable acts of heroism are far-reaching and profound.
Malec’s message is a beautifully simple one: Sometimes being a hero means simply being yourself. And it’s for this very reason that Malec has a special place in our hearts.
A very special thank you to Sam, Monique, Julie, Erin, Lauren, Madge, Alice and the countless others who graciously took the time to share their stories with me.