Let's Put Some Respect On Liberty Van Zandt's Name, Degrassi Fans

Photo: George Pimentel/WireImage..
The short-lived era of the very quickly escalated Drake-Pusha T battle is officially over. While Pusha T mercilessly dragged his rap rival, leaking an image of Aubrey Graham in blackface and subsequently revealing the Canadian performer’s alleged secret child to the world, Drake responded with… a really fun music video. The “I’m Upset” video, which premiered on Thursday, has none of the classic Drake posturing of projects like short film “Please Forgive Me” or the “Worst Behavior,” music video, both of which were crafted to prove the rapper has the kind of tough guy cred Pusha T has gone out of his way to challenge.
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No, “I’m Upset,” is quite literally a Degrassi: The Next Generation reunion, bringing together most of the Canadian teen soap’s all-grown-up cast for the kind of banger of a party they deserve. Nina Dobrev, as character Mia Jones, gets her heel stuck in a children’s tricycle! Manny (Cassie Steele) and Emma (Miriam McDonald) hop in a photobooth! Craig (Jake Epstein) still looks very good! But, the real draw of “I’m Upset” is reminding viewers that Liberty Van Zandt (Sarah Barrable-Tishauer, now a real-life DJ), who shows up in a killer emerald green jumpsuit, is a true queen.
Liberty Van Zandt is an icon, and it is time we treat her as such.
When we talk about the unsung heroes of Degrassi, either Manny Santos or Emma Nelson usually come up since the BFF pair dealt with slum-shaming — remember the entire bracelets at the ravine saga? — long before anyone was even using the phrase “slut-shaming.” Paige Michalchuk also looms large in fans' memories, as the Degrassi queen bee commanded fellow students with the flip of her hair before we ever heard the name “Blair Waldorf.” But Liberty, the only Black girl in the drama’s original cast, was grappling with impossible situations during her series’ heyday right along with her fictional best friends.
Although the young woman of color was introduced as a high-achieving know-it-all, she quickly evolved past the one-dimensional box that Degrassi initially attempted to trap her in. While Emma and Manny were able to avoid the teen pregnancy trope, with one dealing with a simple scare and the other having an unforgettable abortion, the writers had Liberty carry her baby to term.
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That kind of obstacle in itself would be harrowing enough for any 16-year-old, but things only become more difficult when you remember Liberty had to weather this emotional storm with J.T. Yorke (Ryan Cooley). Although J.T. is remembered as a lovable goofball, which is deserved, he is also a bland white boy who often comes with a tornado of trouble. Just think back to the Degrassi period where Liberty and J.T. come to terms with the former’s pregnancy announcement. J.T. breaks up with Liberty almost immediately after she shares the news. The abrupt split starts a dizzying on-again, off-again situation, which soon leads to the dad-to-be both selling opioids to provide for his family and eventually overdosing on said opioids, leaving him hospitalized.
Please remember, Liberty, an actual teenager, is juggling all of these crises while growing a human being inside of her body. Liberty is a survivor. This is why, amid all the catastrophes around her, Liberty decides to give up her baby with J.T. baby for adoption, only holding her son for one moment before handing him over to his new family. Then, by the end of the season with Liberty’s pregnancy, she and J.T., who eventually reconcile as friends, are forced to come to terms with the news that their biological son is moving to America with his new adoptive family. In an effort to make this news a little less gutting, Liberty decides to put together a memory box for her son with J.T.'s help. This way the little boy might grow up in an entirely different country, but he'll at least be able to remember his biological parents.
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Somehow, the following school year is even worse for Liberty, as J.T. is murdered at Liberty's 17th birthday party, of all places. Poor Liberty is the one who finds J.T., who had just romantically rebuffed her moments earlier, bleeding out in the street following his fatal stabbing.
There is no shocking, bizarre, emotionally-gutting hardship Liberty Van Zandt cannot overcome. What makes this all the more special is the fact that Liberty doesn’t let any of them put a damper on her academic dreams. Remember how a major part of Liberty’s pregnancy storyline is whether her high-powered extracurriculars were sabotaging her pregnancy? Well, all of that concern proves to be pointless when Liberty gives birth to a healthy baby boy and later becomes Degrassi’s valedictorian. Yes, she still become valedictorian while grieving J.T.'s very shocking, bloody death.
Teen shows might be pushing the envelope more and more, but very few of them are giving viewers pregnant Black teens with boundless ambition, intellect, and drive, who go on to be recognized as the most successful person in their entire grade. And, even fewer are letting that Black girl with a complicated past go on to rock law school (as we find out she does in Degrassi: Next Class).
Liberty Van Zandt is the GOAT, end of story.
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