Pink and Blue. Sparkly and Strong.

Win together, lose together, teammates. I watched High School Musical back when my parents had flip phones and big box televisions versus the slick back televisions; we now have mounted on walls. High School Musical was the movie that was my literal EVERYTHING. The movie forced me to stay bundled up in my ‘Mickey Mouse’ pajamas and eat a box of popcorn with a cup of Coke on the side. It has been more than 10 years since I watched High School Musical, and my only question is: Will I feel differently about the movie watching it now?

I rewatched it and was mesmerized by Zac Efron’s bright blue eyes and Vanessa Hudgen’s sweet, soft voice. However, it is the other revelation of my teenage life I could see through the reel of the High School Musical.

Growing up watching High School Musical, I envied Troy and Gabriella’s ability to have the best of both worlds; being an “all-star athlete,”  proving to be the “freaky math girl” and representing to be the shiniest penny on the block as the “theatre kid.” I longed for the same talent and effortless style that Troy and Gabriella carried around the halls of East High, but recently I have realized they were struggling to navigate through the multiple identities they formed. They were just like me.

Gabriella was talking to Troy and said, “Do you remember in kindergarten how you met a kid and know nothing about them, then 10 seconds later you’re playing like you are best friends because you did not have to be anything but yourself.” This line defines how my childhood was so carefree while I felt forced to be pre-defined under one category. By constituting Gabriella as the “freaky math girl” and Troy as the “basketball guy,” both individuals confine to this limited scope of freedom which disables them from growing to the best of their ability and following other aspects of their life that they are passionate about. Like their characteristics, I feel like I was labeled as the businesswoman in my family, and no one ever saw me exploring other options like becoming a pilot or a chef. After talking to people from different backgrounds and their unique journeys, I feel so regretful that I could not explore different options and stay on one path that defined “security” for me. I believe that if I were to switch careers or deter from this one “businesswoman” mindset, I would have dug myself into a hole that would simply take away my individuality. As a 20-year-old watching HSM, I can see the strength that Gabriella and Troy hold by acknowledging the backlash they received from their peers while still following their passions.

In “Breaking Free,” Troy and Gabriella are on the stage wearing his basketball outfit and her lab coat with a medal on it. They start off together in a soft and mellow tone almost as if they are confined by the outfits they are wearing and then bam when the chorus hits and they sing the words, Flyin’/There’s not a star in heaven that we can’t reach/ That we can’t reach/If we’re tryin’/Yeah we’re breaking free/Oh we’re breaking free/Can you feel it building, Gabriella removes her white coat almost as if she can feel her breakthrough moment and get rid of the suffocation she feels when she wears that. As soon as the uniform was removed from Gabriella both the passion in their voices changed and you can see how loose they get with each other, especially in their dance moves. Gabriella and Troy are two people against the world and they ‘break free; of everybody’s thoughts and they go against all odds to be together. One thing I did realize was that Troy did not have to remove his basketball clothes to feel free like Gabriella. Regardless of his status as a ‘jock’, he has the confidence to pursue everything he wants. The director of HSM, purposely kept Troy’s clothes on to show that he has more confidence than Gabriella, which is a gender stereotype that can be seen in a universal standing. Men usually use their confidence to mask the internal struggles they are going through. According to the world a real homosexual man is one that does not show emotions, and by staying true to who he is by wearing basketball clothes he stands his ground of continuing to show confidence.

I really loved how they had both the basketball and decathlon teams come out there and support them and showed that they are breaking barriers, that all humans are equal and there are no obstacles standing in the way of that. I honestly felt that same wave of relief and as if a heavy burden was being removed from my shoulders when they sang that. Looking back at my young self, I feel so naïve for just thinking they are breaking free because now I understand that being yourself and showing true authenticity is more important than ever being submissive to the opinions others have for you.  It strikes a bell of childhood memories or simply has a special place in my heart along with that special someone you have. To me, the words themselves are a masterpiece. I used to think they were over-exaggerating when I was smaller, but now I know that words can have a great impact on your confidence. The message in this song is: break free from whatever’s holding you down. Worries, responsibilities, bullies, anything.

Furthermore, Troy Bolton fits the perfect mold of an American teenager: beautiful slick hair, blue eyes, and the star athlete of the Wildcat’s basketball team. Troy would only speak about basketball with his friends and gained attention from many girls at the school. As Troy is surrounded by many cheerleaders and athletes, the song “We’re All in This Together” plays in the background, and his teammate Chad passes him a basketball and says that he will be the leader of the team. Troy is celebrated by the ladies, the school, and his teammates, fitting him in as the perfect mold of a heterosexual male in our society. As Troy speaks to Gabriella in the hallways after their duet at the karaoke lounge, Troy tells Gabriella that he has never revealed his passion for singing to his friends and teammates. Troy gets caught whispering the word “singing” in the hallway as if he is questioning his masculinity by saying that he sings. In my opinion, the perception of the heterosexual male should not be confined to certain qualities and passions. Even though Troy might be represented as a “tough guy” to his friends and teammates, Troy acknowledges that he has a passion for singing and performing duets. As members of this society, we should not conform to specific rules of gender that hold us back and not truly reveal who we are as individuals.

Troy’s best friend, Chad also faces a similar stereotype. He also fits the gender norm of being a heterosexual male who represents an ideal high school athlete. I realize that I have encountered so many people like Chad in my life. Each time I find someone like Chad, I separate myself because I am aware of these types of individuals that hold a false identities. When Troy mentions that “We use to come here as kids, we would be 10 people. We would be spies, superheroes, rock stars. We were whatever we wanted to be, whenever we wanted to be it. It was us, man!” and with that Chad responds “Yeah, we were, like, eight years old”. I see the tunnel vision Chad has and it disturbs me that he is not willing to grow and unleash himself, rejecting the gender norms of typical high school guys. I wish I had the courage like Troy to try different things and not be afraid of the consequences that came with it. However, I was able to see the change in Chad’s mindset as the movie progressed and his understanding of Troy’s passion other than basketball grew. I was happy to see Chad in the theatre cheering for Troy because this shows the younger generation that it truly is okay to be yourself and try new things. Their support was a step closer to breaking the barriers our society has put up.

Watching High School Musical as a young child compared to a 20-year-old completely altered my thoughts. Watching Gabriella and Troy through their beautiful journey of acceptance had a really positive impact on how I thought about my future and how I should never be afraid to pursue my passions because of what other individuals have to say about my choices and actions. It remains important to understand that society will always place its expectations on what certain genders should act like. Thus, breaking such societal barriers is necessary to prompt positive social change and facilitate a healthy environment around us.

Traditions and Thoughts

Gypsy, the musical by Arthur Laurents, provides a core example of the film industry’s use of stereotypes regarding gender and identity. The musical portrays the character Rose, played in the 1992 television film adaptation by Bette Midler as a business-centric, a pushy “stage-mother” who controls her children’s careers. Gypsy establishes a dependency relationship between Rose and her two children–Louise and June–and uses them as pawns to fulfill her desire of always being a star. While watching the musical, I didn’t resonate with many of the characters, but as I was reflecting, I could sense a bit of Louise within me.

Louise, played by Cynthia Gibb, is a shy little girl who her mother casts as is a boy in a vaudeville act with her sister June. Mama Rose doesn’t believe in Louise becoming much of a star and torments Louise for not being as good an actor as June. Yet, as Louise evolves into a young adult, her main goal is to fulfill her mother’s desire of performing on stage. I see a bit of me in Louise when she continuously sides with her mom, even though Rose put so much pressure on her growing up.  I am brought up in a modern South Asian family where my mom did not have as many opportunities growing up, and I would do anything to fulfill her wishes. June pisses me off because she can’t appreciate her mom’s harshness and resilience in getting their act booked, even if it wasn’t June’s passion.

Louise craved the satisfaction of fulfilling her mother’s dreams, and she did just that when she became a stripper. As a young girl, Louise wore cowboy clothes and draped herself in clothes that presented her as a young man. She echoed a shy young actor who didn’t enjoy speaking out because she was hiding her true self. As Louise grew older, she evolved into a stripper, which was such a big change in personality. Instantly having the added title of stripper, wearing lingerie, and dancing for the pleasure of others made her more famous than she would have been on the Vaudeville stage. It amazes me that men always put women on a pedestal when they remove their clothes and dance. Rose forced Louise’s hand into becoming a stripper, and once she did, she was proud of her. It was insane to see how Rose could give up the hope of Louise becoming a star and allow her daughter to become a stripper to progress her career. But in the end, Louise was content. Gypsy promotes the stereotype that being a successful a woman means having to flaunt one’s sexuality.

On the other hand, Rose’s other daughter June (played by Jennifer Rae Beck) shines like a bright star and does not care about Rose’s wishes for her. In “If Momma was Married,” June, sings: “If momma was married, we’d live in a house/ As private as private can be.”  No matter how much Rose works for her daughters, she will always fail in giving her daughters a stable life. Imagining that “if momma was married,” the girls hints that if Rose had a husband, they would be able to fulfill all their desires. This reinforces another stereotype: children must have a dominant male figure in their life to be successful and rich. June and Louise are so young, but they are already dreaming of growing up rich versus poor.

Louise’s eyes twinkle as she fantasizes about her mom being married and her being able to live with various pets, almost as if she yearns for her childhood innocence to come back. When Louise talks about having a family filled with animals, a father, and a mother, the film’s director creates an illusion through Louise’s smile, suggesting that she would be more happy in that life than her current one. Although Louise resents her childhood as a child actor because she was never the one that Rose believed in, she still sided with her mom over June, who only wishes that her mother would leave her alone. The audience can hear the anger building up in June because as her voice rises, almost as if she is passionate to show the world how badly her mother treated her. Though the two sisters have completely different perceptions of their mother, they hold each other’s hands to show agreement in their desire to see Rose to be remarried. While June has a negative reason behind getting her mom married because she wants to get rid of Rose, Louise can’t wait, almost as if she’s a baby getting a brand-new toy.

Women are always portrayed in a harsh light and are expected as pleasers in society. Gypsy proves how they stereotype women and portray them as submissive and willing to stoop to low levels to establish their crediblity. As a woman, especially as a South Asian woman, I find it difficult to locate a middle ground where I am not only fulfilling the wishes of my mom but finding something that I love doing. As women we have expectations from both society and family, we must unite to find a way to break the stereotype and create equality amongst all genders.