Lifetime has given us an early holiday gift by announcing a movie starring Corbin Bleu and Monique Coleman. If you aren’t familiar with the pair, they were the actors who played probably one of the most influential couples of my generation: Chad and Taylor from the High School Musical franchise. Look at how adorable they were (and are)!
The new movie, titled A Christmas Dance Reunion, will follow Lucy Mortimer played by Monique, and Barrett Brewster played by Corbin, as they relive their childhood Christmas dance memories at a holiday resort. I know some may think it's cheesy for a movie featuring these two to be a look back at the ol’ days, but the cheesiness is what makes a holiday Lifetime movie a holiday Lifetime movie. More importantly, a plot like this will attract fans of the HSM franchise to tune in because not only is it a reunion, but it looks like this movie might be able to stand as fan fiction of what might’ve been after high school for Chad and Taylor. Obviously the characters aren’t the same, but the dance numbers and music make it close enough. I’m ready to see the side-by-side comparison of the big dance number in HSM and the one I’m certain will be near the end of the holiday movie.
I also have another personal connection to these characters from childhood as a Black drama kid. Whether it was dancing, singing, or acting, I was that kid who was always trying to find a stage. Growing up I remember watching so much media that showed me what I loved, but didn’t show me people who looked like me doing what I loved. When the plots of Disney shows are the only things you think about at eight years old, they tend to become your world. If your world doesn’t have people who look like you in it, it makes you feel like you aren’t deserving, talented, or seen. So when High School Musical came around, it was cool to see a character like Taylor who was intelligent, talented, funny, and being pursued by a really cute boy named Chad who was also intelligent, talented, and funny (he was also my first crush). Not only is Monique a Black woman, but she was also a dark-skinned woman, and dark-skinned women are even less represented. As talented as they are, Zendaya and Amandla Stenberg shouldn’t be the constant go-to when it comes to finding Black representation. Seeing Monique as a confident, happy, and well-liked character really boosted my self-image and understanding of how success can look like for Black women, especially in a world oversaturated with characters based on harmful racial stereotypes.
When I saw the photo from the Lifetime movie, I also looked at the difference in her hair. The reason is because she isn’t wearing a headband like how Monique used to. It may seem miniscule to some, but in reality, it is a huge puzzle to a messed up story the industry ignored for too long. Monique revealed to Insider that crew members didn’t know how to do her hair well in the front, which led to her own suggestions that headbands become incorporated into her character. I can only imagine how frustrating it would be for Monique, the talent, to be the one who came up with a plan for her hair instead of the people who were hired to work on hair. Even though it was awesome to feel included while watching Monique’s character, it makes me just as upset to hear a report like this from her treatment on set. Similar things have happened quite recently to other Black women in the industry, as has been pointed out by Yvette Nicole Brown, Melinda Doolitte, and more. Not only does this HSM production debacle show the lack of representation in the industry, but it also shows the production’s inability (or hesitancy) to understand that all they’d have to do is hire someone who knows how to do Black hair. It’s that simple, but for some reason or another, production decided to make headbands a part of her character. Knowing that makes the headbands not as cute and quirky as it used to be for the character. To me, it’s a constant reminder of what it’s like to be “othered” and put on the sidelines. What was it like for Monique to see her co-stars get pampered over their hair while she had to slap on a headband to hide her edges? Suddenly a character that I look at as an example of me deserving a spot now has a symbol associated with her that makes her different than, and not in a good, unique way.
Seeing her hair for this new movie in all its laid-edged glory gives me hope for the future of the industry. After Monique spoke out about the treatment she experienced over her hair on the HSM cast, I hope production for her, as well as many other Black professionals in the industry are given the proper resources. It’s simply a matter of equality, and the reason why the conversation around representation doesn’t just stop at visible inclusion. It’s about representation in production teams as well. Black talent backstage matters just as much.