Bianca Christine Montgomery is a fictional character from the American daytime drama All My Children. She is portrayed by actress Eden Riegel; others who have portrayed this role include Lacey Chabert, Nathalie Paulding, Gina Gallagher, Caroline Wilde, and as a baby, Jessica Leigh Falborn. Previous to Riegel being cast, Bianca was portrayed solely by child actresses.
The daughter of characters Erica Kane and the late Travis Montgomery, Bianca was born on-screen on February 8, 1988; however, her birthday was revised to February 9, 1984 on January 31, 2002 by the show's producers. The middle name given to the character is Christine, after Bianca's paternal aunt, Christine Montgomery. She is portrayed as well-loved in the fictional community of Pine Valley, Pennsylvania, where the soap opera is set, and is well cared for by her famous mother. During the course of the show, Bianca is shown to suffer from Reye's syndrome in infancy, as well as Anorexia nervosa. The character's sweet nature is often related to her late grandmother, Mona Kane Tyler. Bianca is currently absent from the series, but will reappear on October 17, 2008; she is scripted to have recently attained a new lover.
Outside of the fictional world, the character has emerged as a gay icon within the LGBT community. With newspapers such as The New York Times citing her as "the first lead character on a major daytime drama to be a lesbian", Bianca has gone on to be the subject and study of various academic works, said to have inspired soap opera writers to begin with the scripting of sexual identities of tortured teen characters, and is considered a heroine on the show. Throughout the soap opera medium, as well as outside of it, her popularity has been cited as groundbreaking.
- 1 Background
- 2 Storyline
- 3 Cultural impact
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
- 7 External links
Casting and character creation
As a teenager, Eden Riegel nearly gave up on her dream of wanting success as an actress, stating that she had seen a number of talented people who were struggling, and that she started to doubt whether she would ever have the success that she wanted. She decided that it was time to major in social and political theory, go to law school, and become a lawyer. However, while attending Harvard, she received "a call from a casting director who thought that the five-foot-six beauty should audition to become Erica Kane’s daughter."
Nixon explained the feelings she wanted to demonstrate with the character's mother, Erica Kane, detailing the reality of the thought process and actions most parents have upon finding out that their child is gay: "I think the right word for Erica's reaction is denial," Nixon stated. "I read Family Outing by Chaz Bono. Cher had loads of friends who were gay, but she wasn't able to deal with Chaz's being gay. In this prejudicial society in which we live, the first reaction from a parent usually is, 'What did I do wrong?'"
Nixon, well known for her socially relevant storylines, stated that the makings for the Bianca story began in 1947; a college housemate "came out" to Nixon when Nixon was of the same age as Riegel in 2000. Nixon acknowledged, however, that their original lesbian story in 1983, which lasted two months, did not work out as well as she had hoped; it needed perfecting. Nixon clarified, "Now, in a soap, if you want to do a story about a social issue seriously, the character has to be really well integrated. Bianca's story is the result of that — with growth and maturity."
While Riegel is heterosexual, she has a lesbian sister, Tatiana Riegel ("Tanya" to her friends), who, eighteen years Riegel's senior, Riegel wanted to do right by with Bianca's storyline. With Tatiana living in Los Angeles, where she works as a film editor and Eden having lived on the East Coast most of her early life, the two sisters did not grow up together, but maintained a close relationship. As Bianca was being developed, Riegel, who looks up to her older sister, sought her advice, stating that her sister was one of the people she was most concerned about with Bianca's story.
At the time, there were strict instructions from the show not to reveal Bianca's secret of being gay (as the storyline had not played out on television screens yet). However, Riegel informed Tatiana two months before the storyline finally began. Making for what could easily be evisioned as a storyline on a soap opera, Riegel told Tatiana Bianca's secret on the day of their father's third wedding. Tatiana stated that Riegel was very excited about dishing on Bianca's sexual preference and that she was happy for her sister. "I just thought it was a kick that she would be playing a lesbian — specifically, Erica Kane's daughter!" exclaimed Tatiana.
Tatiana did have her concerns, though. She did not want the show to do a simple gay stereotype. Riegel voiced the same concerns earlier on about the character, clarifying that she asked the show's writers and producers to make the character three-dimensional and not so heavily centered on the character's sexual orientation. Having grown up close to an out sister, who "came out" in her early 20s, Riegel was familiar with how Bianca should be if stereotypes were to be avoided. At the time of Tatiana's "coming-out" process, Riegel and brother Sam were children, and Tatiana elaborated that being gay was not an issue and that she could not remember having had a conversation with them about it at that age. By the time Eden and Sam were old enough to know what being gay meant, they had grown to love Tatiana's girlfriend and the family was even closer. As Riegel acquired the role, she and Tatiana discussed certain specifics of the character. Riegel portraying Bianca also set her into the mindset of what it must have been like for Tatiana to grow up as gay, stating that she had never heard Tatiana's whole coming-out story, that it was nice to talk about.
A year and a half after Bianca's storyline of coming out as a lesbian launched, Riegel and Tatiana felt that the show had done a great job in telling the story of a gay woman and her struggles.
Characterization and story influence
Julie Hanan Carruthers, executive producer of the show, issued her thoughts about the Bianca character in a Variety Magazine interview, giving insight into the heart of the story. Carruthers elaborated, "It was so successful. We did not tell a story about a lesbian. We told a story about a young girl coming out and her life around it. That was a big lesson to all of us here. It's really all about the story. If you can make people care on a human level, it's not sexual preference. It's about the human experience."
The writers characterized Bianca's personality as kind-hearted, but intolerant of nonsense. These traits, she is written to share with her parents and her late grandmother (Mona). Like everyone in Bianca's family, she is detailed as protective of her loved ones. While not always scripted to agree with them, the character is seen as loving them all greatly.
Megan McTavish, the show's head writer at the time, said she was "most astonished that fans elevated Bianca into one of the serial's 'tent poles' — soap parlance for characters who hold enormous sway with viewers". McTavish detailed that if a character is nice to Bianca, the audience tends to like that character, and if he is mean to Bianca, the audience knows he is a bad guy. "It's stunning," she cited. "The lesbian girl became the moral tent pole of our show."
In an interview with TV Guide, new head writers of the series, James Harmon Brown and Barbara Esensten, stated that since Riegel's portrayal, the character is simply too iconic to ever recast.
Following treatment for Anorexia nervosa, teenage Bianca returns home in 2000, stunning her mother, Erica, by confessing that she is in a lesbian relationship with a girl named Sarah. Erica is unable to accept this, but Bianca does find support from Leo du Pres, who often counsels her on life matters. Sarah's family also disapproves, and to appease them she gets engaged to a man, despite still loving Bianca.
Bianca's second girlfriend, Frankie Stone, comes to Pine Valley as part of her aunt Vanessa Cortlandt's ploy to distract Bianca. Frankie develops true feelings for Bianca, but is then murdered by one of Vanessa's henchmen. Soon after, Frankie's identical twin sister, Maggie, arrives and becomes friends with Bianca, often defending her when she is bullied by homophobic classmates. Despite Maggie professing to being heterosexual, she shows a romantic interest in Bianca, which is reciprocated; however, their relationship does not progress past friendship and Bianca begins dating another woman, Polish-born Lena Kundera, whom she works with at Erica's company, "Enchantment Cosmetics". Lena and Bianca fall in love, and they share a chaste screen kiss in 2003, the first lesbian kiss ever featured on an American daytime soap opera. Though the relationship is tested when Bianca discovers Michael Cambias, owner of a rival cosmetics firm, has employed Lena to spy on "Enchantment Cosmetics", they remain together.
Later in 2003, Bianca is raped by Michael. She internalizes her rage and only tells Maggie, but eventually the entire town of Pine Valley learns the truth, which brings Bianca and her estranged mother closer. When Bianca discovers she is pregnant as a result of rape, she opts to keep the baby and is supported by her older sister, Kendall Hart (herself the product of rape), who, until then, had always scorned her. Michael is charged with rape but, to the town's outrage, he is acquitted. Amidst the furor, Kendall announces she has married her sister's rapist, and is pregnant with his baby — a ruse she and Dr. David Hayward planned to stop Erica discovering Bianca is carrying her own rapist's child. The truth eventually comes out in the wake of Michael's murder, and despite Kendall being prime-suspect, Bianca is revealed as the killer; she shot him in self-defense, but the trauma of her rape led to her repressing the memory. No charges are filed against her.
Bianca gives birth to a daughter named Miranda in 2004, during a staged helicopter crash. Babe Carey also gives birth to a son, but during the commotion, Paul Cramer secretly kidnaps Babe's son and gives her Miranda instead, whilst claiming to Bianca that her daughter perished in the crash. Miranda is renamed "Bess". Bianca grieves for her lost child, and even tries to kidnap "Bess", not realizing she is her actual daughter. When Bianca discovers the truth, she attempts to reclaim her daughter, but falls from a balcony during a scuffle with Miranda's acting father, J.R. Chandler, and ends up comatose. Miranda is returned to Bianca, causing her to awake from her coma. Bianca never remembers how she fell, whether or not J.R. pushed her, but she holds him responsible for her fall nonetheless. Nor can Bianca forgive Babe, who had previously discovered Miranda/Bess's true maternity, but could not part with the child.
Bianca's relationship with Lena ends when Lena returns to Poland, and her relationship with Maggie subsequently becomes an issue again, as Bianca realizes that she is still in love with her. Maggie, however, is romantically involved with Jonathan Lavery, but after Bianca helps free Maggie from this abusive relationship, they begin to bond again. Though the nature of Bianca and Maggie's relationship is not specified, they, along with Miranda, relocate to Paris in 2005. While there, Bianca heads up the international division of "Cambias Industries", which "Enchantment" now owns. Bianca and Maggie become lovers offscreen and are happy together, but in 2007, Bianca returns to Pine Valley alone, stating that Maggie has cheated on her with another woman. Maggie follows her, hoping for reconciliation, but despite loving her, Bianca declines.
Family problems resurface due to Bianca's sexuality, but this time from her former stepmother Barbara Montgomery, who denounces her lifestyle, but eventually sees the error of her ways. Bianca rebuilds her friendship with Babe upon finding out that Babe, who was pronounced dead as a result of a serial killer's killing spree, is alive. She then develops a romantic interest in Zarf (later known as Zoe), a transgender lesbian rock star, although Zoe tells her that at this point in her transition process, she is not ready for a relationship and moves to London. Bianca then decides to move to Paris to be closer to Zoe, but returns on December 26 2007 for a brief visit, cheering her family up following their recent traumas. Bianca reveals that she and Zoe drifted apart, but she is determined to provide a stable family unit for Miranda. After bidding farewell, she departs again on December 28 2007. Bianca will be returning to Pine Valley in October 2008, along with her new girlfriend, Reese (portrayed by Tamara Braun).
The Bianca Montgomery character's romantic pairing with Lena Kundera resulted in American daytime's first lesbian kiss. The following year, in 2004, Eden Riegel graced the cover of Girlfriends, North America’s only lesbian monthly magazine, as the content within the piece discussed Riegel's titled breakthrough lesbian role. Bianca's popularity, since Riegel's portrayal, has varied over the years, ranging from mania, to admiration, to viewers displaying an overt mix of overprotectiveness for the character.
Having made a significant impact on daytime television, Bianca is cited as a gay icon by soap opera and gay/lesbian media alike, in that while she is not the world's first lesbian soap opera character, she became the first long-term lesbian character on an American soap opera.
Daytime and visibility
AfterElton.com, a website that focuses on the portrayal of gay men in the media, a counterpart to AfterEllen.com, a reversed version for lesbian and bisexual women, addressed the impact Bianca had on viewers, pointing out that All My Children creator Agnes Nixon told The Advocate in 2000 that out-lesbian Chaz Bono's memoir was the inspiration for the Bianca storyline, and that she hoped that outing an already-established character as gay would make for a more integrated storyline. AfterElton.com noted that the representation of gay and lesbian characters in the media is very important when taking into account that the viewing audience for soap operas is enormous. Noted was The Museum of Broadcast Communications' assertion that soap opera is “the most effective and enduring broadcast advertising vehicle ever devised. It is also the most popular genre of television drama in the world today and probably in the history of world broadcasting: no other form of television fiction has attracted more viewers in more countries over a longer period of time.”
When resident villainess Greenlee Smythe uttered that Bianca is gay, the daughter of Erica Kane, stated author C. Lee Harrington in her book Homosexuality on All My Children: transforming the daytime landscape, "ABC's All My Children entered uncharted territory for daytime television. By revealing that a core character is lesbian."
Jeffrey Epstein, at the time a staff writer for Soap Opera News, was criticized by AfterElton.com for his statement in 1998, where he discouraged the idea that there would be more gay or lesbian representation to come on daytime television due to soap operas being mostly viewed by women and that gay or lesbian romances do not really feed into a lot of women's fantasies. AfterElton.com relayed that the viewing demographic for soap operas continues to grow and diversify, further clarifying, "The popularity of the Bianca storyline on All My Children was proof that audiences were more than ready for a lesbian relationship, and his assessment of women's romantic fantasies in regards to gay male characters may prove to be equally outdated."
Lesbianation.com, self-proclaimed as the leading online community for lesbians, voted Eden Riegel as Number 7 on their top ten list of Women We Love: The Ladies of June '06, stating, "We were swamped with requests to add All My Children hottie Eden Riegel to our list this month — and here she is!"
In addition, Riegel's portrayal of Bianca is favored by viewers for her romantic loves, or what some viewers hope can be her romantic loves, more notably her relationships with Maggie Stone and Babe Carey. The one with Babe Carey was never romantic, seeing as Babe is heterosexual, but that has not stopped fan expression citing speculation that Bianca is secretly in love with Babe, mainly in part due to Bianca never seeming to display much anger towards Babe for any of Babe's harmful antics. Bianca even wanted to forgive Babe after knowing Babe's part in the baby switch of their children. Soon, AfterEllen.com took notice and commented on the matter of the Bianca-and-Babe hopefuls.
In 2001, Riegel was voted Soaps' Hottest Newcomer by Soap Opera Digest and the following year was voted Soaps' Hottest Teen in 2002 by the same magazine. Riegel modestly accepted, "What does that mean, 'hot'? Does that mean I'm hot, like sexy? I feel pretty damn hot. I wish I knew what it meant. No, that's very flattering."
Along with Riegel's acclaim, the Bianca Montgomery character was the winner of the first GLAAD Media Award as Favorite OUT Image of 2003. With her win, GLAAD stated the following:
|“||The winner of the first people's choice award in GLAAD Media Awards history, the Favorite OUT Image of 2003 Award, was also announced Monday. With the help of founding sponsor ABSOLUT VODKA, GLAAD promoted an online poll in which fans voted for their favorite gay character or openly gay personality from the world of entertainment. The winner — Bianca from All My Children — was selected from voters in over 20 countries. Actress Eden Riegel, who plays Bianca Montgomery, accepted the award.||”|
"Give Bianca her baby back"
|“||As Americans were choosing sides over gay marriage and arguing about campaign references to Vice President Dick Cheney's openly gay daughter, there was one concern quietly uniting people across the ideological spectrum: Bianca Montgomery deserved to get her baby back.||”|
In 2004, with Bianca's rape having left her subsequently pregnant with Michael's child, and with a storyline called the baby switch having robbed her of her daughter, viewers were infuriated by all the pain the character faced. The amount of mail sent to the ABC studios requesting and demanding that Bianca's baby be returned to her was cited as astounding for a fictional character, especially one of daytime — and who is also gay: "Bianca's sexuality did not seem to matter to the thousands of fans who wrote letters, e-mail messages and blog entries insisting that the only safe place for the baby was back in the arms of Pine Valley's one known lesbian." After much campaign from viewers, Bianca was eventually reunited with her baby later that year, and everything the character had faced up to that point, plus overcoming this latest obstacle, "transformed Bianca into a courageous soap heroine who had fans rooting for her." Viewers became even more invested in her trials and tribulations and hopeful for the character finding romance. Brian Frons, president of ABC Daytime, stated:
"To have someone like Bianca who is openly gay, a mother, proud of who she is, who has fallen in love with another woman, who is taking heroic action — to have the audience embrace this character fully is pretty incredible. The audience went from 'I don't want to see a lesbian relationship' to saying, 'Bianca should be in love.'"
In 2005, Riegel won a Daytime Emmy Award for the role. When she decided to leave the show that same year, to pursue other acting ventures, it was noted that the gay community would be losing a viable voice.
At first hint that Bianca, the daughter of legendary character Erica Kane, may be gay, many viewers were against the storyline, and did not hold back whatsoever in their discontent.
"Viewers were deeply attached to the character as the 16-year-old daughter of the leading diva of soaps, Erica Kane. ABC held a series of focus groups to gauge audience reaction." Female viewers in Boston and some in Atlanta found the storyline "refreshing and reflective" of what they called the "real world and its diversity". The Atlanta group, however, had a good portion who were concerned about morality and did not want a major character "saddled with a lifelong problem".
While Boston viewers leaned toward the feeling that Bianca's problem was being in the closet, Atlantans voiced that the problem was her sexual preference itself.
There was opposition to all of the increased love for the character. Critics of gay marriage complained about a sympathetic gay heroine, saying that Bianca made daytime television even more licentious.
Another highly debated topic was Bianca's rape, which resulted in a significant outcry from viewers who despised the storyline; some argued that the rape seemed to amount to "punishment" for her sexuality; others felt that it was unnecessary, while there were also the ones who felt that it realistically captured what a significant portion of gay women face from men who want to force themselves on lesbians. When GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) was asked by Metro Weekly why GLAAD sent out an action alert voicing their concern over the rape storyline of Bianca, but two days later sent out another release which seemed to support how the storyline was told, Joan M. Garry, executive director of the organization, responded that they had "some concerns" about (the storyline), and "that the broader context of the (daytime television) genre kind of needs to be taken into account". However, Metro Weekly felt that that this did not answer their question. They wanted to know why there was a sudden reversal in GLAAD's statement, specifically citing that GLAAD's second press release spoke of rape experience for lesbians and how men who rape lesbians not only engage in gender based acts of violence, but in acts of hate violence, and that this release was supportive of how Bianca's rape storyline was told, as opposed to GLAAD's first press release on the matter. Garry simply noted that she felt that their first press release concerning Bianca's rape was premature. Metro Weekly followed that by then asking what is the actual process that GLAAD uses in selecting what to criticize, what raises their organization's red flags. Garry relayed, "There's a whole host of input we receive about things as we hear about them, as we see them in script form, as we see them in pilots. We have a strong team of program folks who represent different regions around the country, different communities. We get an awful lot of stuff that comes across the transom via our website raising concerns. And we did get quite a number of concerns coming over email, particularly about All My Children. So it's basically community feedback, as well as some of our own observations and perceptions. Combine that with conversations that we have with folks that are actually producing the images and we really try to work our way through those different opinions and shape a position we think makes sense."
In an interview with Soap Opera Digest, Riegel detailed what it was like preparing for her character's rape scenes. She explained that it was grueling and that there were only four people in the episode. She found it to be "very work-intensive", emotionally haunting, and voiced that she had trouble sleeping, elaborating that those type of scenes really stay with a person. Riegel and co-star William deVry (Michael Cambias) rehearsed the scenes on their own, which normally would not have been the case. Riegel commented that it definitely required more work than an ordinary episode. Later asked on the matter of if she was scared of deVry during Bianca's rape scenes, she admitted that she really was and that it was a testament to deVry's acting skills. As Soap Opera Digest further queried Riegel on the matter of fear, bringing up the question of whether she was frightened or intimidated by the gravity of the storyline when first told about it, she stated, "Absolutely, I was. To be honest, I didn't know if I could handle it. But I knew it was a very important thing to do and that the show was serious about handling it well. I knew we could reach people, and that it was powerful stuff. I could feel the power of it. And I knew I should put myself through this because ultimately it might help somebody, touch somebody, make people talk about it. And rape is something people should talk about."
Lesbian community angers
Bianca's romantic attraction to transgender rockstar Zarf/Zoe was met with criticism from the gay and lesbian community, and fans in general, all of whom were quick to assert that, as a lesbian, it is illogical for Bianca to be romantically attracted to a transgender woman still of the male form as intensely as she was, and that even more stressing was that the show tried to convey the story as soul-love, that sexual orientation can be negated if you simply love that person's soul. Viewers titled the couple "Barf" (for Bianca and Zarf), and TV Guide, which reported the nickname, named the storyline one of the worst of 2007.
The San Francisco Bay Area Reporter, Inc., a free weekly newspaper serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) communities in their area, were one of the first to comment on their discontent with the matter:
"We have repeatedly voiced our displeasure over the transgender/lesbian storyline between Zarf/Zoe and Bianca. We disagree with the basic premise Zarf/Zoe as a MTF transgendered lesbian. We want Bianca to be with a woman (and she did have a one-night stand with Leslie on New Year’s Eve, which has to be a first for a daytime soap). We don’t want her already messy love life in which she has never been allowed to have a fully realized relationship with another woman (her first lover went crazy and was institutionalized, her next was killed, the next was a corporate thief who then had to return to Poland, the next identical twin of the one who was killed wasn’t sure she was even lesbian and then left her for another woman). We don’t want her life complicated with the complexities of a transgender relationship."
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