A Lesson on Diversity in ‘High School Musical’

Black Actors Help to Erase Stereotypes

Howard University News Service

From the small screen to the silver screen, the actors in Disney’s “High School Musical” series have seen their work expand into lucrative careers since its television premiere almost three years ago.

For actors Monique Coleman and Corbin Bleu, the two African-American leads in the series, “High School Musical” has allowed them the opportunity to keep diversity at center stage in movie theaters worldwide.

Coleman plays Taylor McKessie, the student body president and yearbook editor at East High School. Bleu is Chad Danforth, a dedicated athlete who is a member of the school’s basketball and track teams.

Neither Coleman nor Bleu originally had a leading role at the beginning of the popular musical’s production.

“To be honest, the first concept of ‘High School Musical’ was solely based around Troy and Gabriella, the main characters,” Bleu said. “It wasn’t until after seeing the work and contributions of the work done by Sharpay, Ryan, Chad and Taylor that the movie became six, and we became the two African Americans who are representing that leading role in the film. We’re very proud to hold that position.”

Because of the film’s huge popularity worldwide, Coleman said the roles she and Bleu play have expanded the perception among younger audiences of the roles for African Americans in movies.

“We’re the best friends of the lead characters,” Coleman said. “For kids to see that and to not think that’s different and the possibility that we’re planting that seed for kids 5, 6 and 7 years old is amazing.

“I feel that it’s important that we do expand the roles people see as appropriate for African Americans,”

“High School Musical” blends racial lines, and it helps erase social stigmas and stereotypes, the actors said.

“It represents something that I didn’t get when I was younger,” Coleman said. “For me growing up, [there was] a stigma about being smart and the association with that of being white. That’s not a thought that you even have with Taylor McKessie.”

Bleu said that doesn’t happen with their characters.

“If there are any stereotypes, it has nothing to do with race,” he said. “It’s just with who the characters are.”

Their big challenge these days, the actors said, is handling the film’s enormous success.

“No one actually came into this movie expecting that it was going to be something as successful as it was on the channel and then make that transition to the big screen,” Coleman said.

The first major film in the series “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” was released Oct. 24 and has grossed more than $186 million worldwide, according to the Web site Box Office Mojo.

“Every once in a while, you have to pinch yourself,” Bleu said. “It’s been three years of this whole phenomenon.”

Despite the success of the “High School Musical” series, the world tours, screaming fans and busy schedules, the actors have found ways to keep their feet on the ground.

“I don’t try to wrap my brain around it too much, because it’s just too much,” Bleu said.

Coleman described the experience as “like standing in the middle of a storm, but having the groundedness of wonderful family and a wonderful team to hold you accountable for your behavior and any diva moment.”