Welcome to the first installment of our 2021 Pride Month Series! Each day in the month of June, we will be highlighting a different member of the LGBTQ+ community who we think is a great example of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQ+ community and in mainstream media.
Today’s profile focuses on Nancy Drew’s newest arrival: billionaire and inventor extraordinaire Tom Swift. His first and thus far only appearance on Nancy Drew is in “The Celestial Visitor,” which was created as a backdoor pilot for a potential spin-off series focused on the character.
Note: Some spoilers for “The Celestial Visitor” ahead.
Tom’s entrance into the world of Horseshoe Bay is instantly memorable. Decked out in designer clothes, Tom confidently asserts his expertise as he engages Nancy’s services to find a meteorite that is causing havoc all over town. He’s a billionaire genius accustomed to getting what he wants, and with the help of his trusty AI assistant Barclay, Tom is unstoppable when it comes to scientific discovery. But Tom quickly finds himself immersed in the world of the paranormal as it turns out the meteorite he’s searching for is connected with the mysterious secret society that is responsible for the events Nancy is investigating. Their odd-couple dynamic of science versus supernatural creates some hilarious moments, and in the end it’s Tom’s tech combined with Nancy’s knowledge of curses that saves the day.
But it’s Tom’s emotional journey throughout the episode that draws viewers in. Tom is gay, a fact that he has mostly hidden from his father, Barton. The meteor he so desperately wants to find is meant to help him create a special rocket fuel that will allow his father to explore the cosmos, a dream Barton has always had. Tom hopes that by creating a way for his father to live his fantasy, he will finally be able to be his true self around him. As he says to Nancy, “It might be enough for him to see me as his brilliant inventor son instead of his gay disappointment.” Nancy wonders aloud if he could be both gay and his brilliant inventor son, but Tom shares why he chooses to keep his identity hidden in a speech familiar to anyone struggling with being their authentic selves.
“There’s something nice about keeping power over one piece of my identity. If I force my dad to acknowledge I’m gay, I become vulnerable. Because then I’ll know what he actually thinks. I just put that part of myself away, to protect it. To protect me … My armor is Balmain, fast cars, savage wit. It’s like a Fourier transform in calc. Sometimes you can be in the middle of a function, and the only way to solve it is to do some trig. To do something you never thought would work for you.”
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By the end of the episode, Tom is ready to broach the subject of his sexuality with his father, but he worries his words will fail him. In a moment of brilliance inspired by Nancy, he decides coming out via words isn’t going to work — but coming out via actions might. With Nancy’s friend Nick and Nick’s girlfriend George’s hearty agreement, Nick and Tom kiss live on social media, getting his father’s attention immediately. He nervously picks up his father’s phone call, but before his father can speak Tom simply says, “Dad, I found the meteorite. I’m sending you to Saturn.” Hanging up, he zooms off in his Ferrari to his next adventure, wherever the road may take him.
From the moment he appears, Tom Swift is a breath of fresh air (one might even say a shooting star … I’ll see myself out.) He’s witty, charming, and intelligent, and he shines among the Drew Crew. But there’s also a vulnerability behind his actions that gives him depth and makes it clear there’s so much more to know about Tom than just what we were shown in the hour we got to spend with him. He’s compulsively watchable, much of which is due to actor Tian Richards and the writing team of Noga Landau, Melinda Hsu Taylor, and Cameron Johnson (all of whom will co-create the potential series).
Tom is not just a dynamic, interesting character who added a fresh perspective to Nancy Drew. He’s also a major step forward in representation. The character of Tom Swift has been around since 1910, starting in books made by the same publishing company behind the original Nancy Drew series. In those early novels, Tom is universally a blonde, blue-eyed, and white character, and the novels are full of outdated and offensive stereotypes. The Tom we see in “The Celestial Visitor” is a gay, Black billionaire comfortable in his own skin. Richards noted in an interview with TV Insider that at the time the original Tom Swift was written, the character represented “the idea of having endless possibility in this country. Today, that looks so different. It can be somebody that’s Black, that’s LGBT, and queer, and all the beautiful intersections that I represent and that Tom represents.”
If Tom Swift goes forward as a series, he will become the first Black gay male lead on network television, and he won’t be the only queer character on the show. Hsu Taylor has said that his so-called “Swift Squad” will also feature a transgender series regular character who will be involved in a love triangle with another member of the Squad. Richards also promises the many facets of Tom’s identity will be fully explored, noting in an interview with TV Line that there’s a lot to cover.
“We’re going to talk about Blackness — and a different kind of Blackness than we’re used to seeing, which is the Black elite, the 1 percent, the billionaires. We’re also going to talk about a queer boy’s journey into becoming a queer man. Not only self-acceptance, but acceptance as a whole, having the community and people around you.”
Beyond exploring intersectional identities while also entertaining with sci-fi mysteries of the week, seeing Tom on-screen in all his glory will be monumental for those still waiting to see themselves on screen. Richards added in his interview with TV Insider that he could have used such a character when he was younger.
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“If I had an opportunity to see someone like this exist when I was younger, just think of how much sooner I would have felt [more confident] in my skin and welcomed by the world. I had representation here and there, but it was usually a secondary character, or you felt like they were being stereotyped. Tom gets to exist in all of his beauty and pride. He gets to grow up in a family with a legacy, to have endless possibilities in education and tech and inventing. He gets to realize himself for himself, and that’s beautiful for anyone to see.”
Tom Swift is the perfect character to highlight for Pride Month here at Nerds and Beyond — and a character who deserves the chance to shine on his own series. For more of our coverage of Tom Swift, click here! Be sure to check back every day in June for a new spotlight.