In some ways, it is unsurprising that High School Musical would feature LGBTQ characters. As the series’ director and the one that helped in so many ways to shape the franchise, Kenny Ortega is openly gay himself.
Now you will notice that I am looking at multiple characters including Ryan from the original HSM trilogy, well there is a reason for that. Sometime last year, Ortega confirmed that Ryan is indeed gay.
In a TeenVogue piece, it is explained why he wasn’t openly gay though. In the story, he explains that he believes that Ryan would come out in college and I could see that. Him getting with Kelsi in the third movie.
However, there is a real-world explanation and it’s one I look at and just go yeah, I get it.
Kenny also revealed why he did not feel a version of the series with an “openly gay” Ryan would have been possible when trilogy kicked off in 2006. “Disney is the most progressive group of people I’ve ever worked with [but] I was concerned because it was family and kids, that Disney might not be ready to cross that line and move into that territory yet,” he explained. “So, I just took it upon myself to make choices that I felt that those who were watching would grab. They would see it, they would feel it, they would know it and they would identify with it. And that is what happened.”
I love Disney and I’ve made that no secret over the years but as Ortega sadly points out, they weren’t ready then and are only now fifteen years later starting to get to an area where they are okay with featuring openly gay characters. This also brings up another interesting point, Ryan’s actor Lucas Grabeel has said he wouldn’t play Ryan if HSM was made in today’s climate.
There’s so many amazingly talented gay actors that could do it as well, so if ‘High School Musical’ was made today, I don’t know if I would play Ryan,” Grabeel told TMZ via video chat.
“I would love to, but the last thing I want to do is take an opportunity away from other people,” he added. “As a straight white man, I know that even without trying, I have taken opportunities away from other people.”
He is right and this is something that we have seen time and again, straight actors playing gay characters. I am rather iffy on, I would prefer to see gay actors tell these stories but I don’t think it’s as severe as hiring a white person to play a character of color. Perhaps I am wrong but this is something that I view. If you’d allow, Disney+ has a show called Encore in which adults come together to put on an encore performance of a show they did in high school. One of the episodes featured classmates coming together to put on a performance of High School Musical.
There was a discussion that was had with the actor that was playing Ryan in this production if he viewed the character as gay considering that he himself was gay. I understand the question and it was a bit oddly worded but I do feel there is merit in asking such a question. Still, I would be interested in seeing where a local stage production of HSM could take the character of Ryan today if he were allowed to be played as openly gay. Which this brings us to our next part of this series when Disney+ launched in 2019, one of the series on there was High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Which I’ll refer to as HSM: The Series for brevity from here on out. The idea of HSM: The Series is that it takes place in the real world and the HSM movies are just movies. There is a lot of fun to be mined from that. And also as it came out in 2019 and is set in the real world, it was able to more reflect the different types of relationships and that includes LGTBQ relationships as in the first episode, we are introduced to the character of Nini and see that she has two moms.
However, they are rather recurring and mostly help to set up what Nini’s home life is like although, Carol here is played by the voice of Shego, Nicole Sullivan.
While these characters are nice and great, the important same-sex couple in this show is Carlos and Seb.
Now I am mostly focusing on the episode, Homecoming where their relationship starts. It’s really sweet as it starts by watching the two practice “Bop to the Top” as you see Seb will go onto play Sharpay. Oh, and we have a video here of Carlos asking Seb out.
This is a sweet moment and at the dance and at first, it seems like Seb isn’t going to show but it turns out that a cow on his family’s barn died. And we do get to see them dance together, which made the episode all the better. Now in the season finale, Act Two, Seb suddenly has a bout of stagefright that with encouragement from Carlos is able to overcome it.
Carlos kisses Seb on the cheek when encouraging him to overcome a sudden burst of stage fright
The couple was last seen in a Christmas preview for season two and it is so sweet.
There are so many great moments with this couple seeing them holding hands and during the Act Two moment, Carlos kissing Seb on the cheek. In 2020 because of Carlos and Seb’s relationship, HSM: The Series took home the GLAAD Award for Outstanding Kids and Family Programming. It is so fascinating to look at how far this franchise has come from Kenny Ortega not thinking he could have Ryan be openly gay in the original movie to a spin-off television show taking home a GLAAD Award.
I think this is one of the strongest examples of things becoming more open over time. Join me next time as we look at how PIXAR has worked with its LGTBQ characters in the past up to their first truly openly gay character, Greg from the short Out.