When “High School Musical” was released in 2006, it became a benchmark moment for both the Disney Channel and for teen programming at large. But at least one principal cast member thinks the film’s lineup might look a bit different if it were made today.
Last week, “High School Musical” director Kenny Ortega confirmed in a Variety interview that he always saw the character of Ryan Evans (Lucas Grabeel) as gay, even though the teen’s sexuality was never addressed.
Grabeel opened up about his “High School Musical” days to TMZ over the weekend, explaining that he made subtle references to Ryan’s sexuality in his portrayal of the character.
“I came up to Kenny one day,” Grabeel recalled, “and was like: ‘Can we talk about the character for a second? Ryan’s gay, right?’”
Ortega, the actor said, “absolutely” agreed the character should be portrayed as gay, but stressed that it was a “touchy subject” that he wasn’t sure Disney was “ready” for just yet.
“At that time, it was either extremely flamboyant or very closeted and kind of shut off,” Grabeel added.
“High School Musical” went on to become a smash, spawning two sequels and putting many of its young actors, including Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, on the Hollywood map.
Now 35, Grabeel went on to star on ABC Family’s “Switched at Birth” and currently voices the title character on Netflix’s “Pinky Malinky.” But he’s not sure he’d take on the role of Ryan ― or any other gay character ― if it was offered to him in 2020.
“There [are] so many amazingly talented gay actors that could do it as well,” he told TMZ. “The last thing that I want to do is take an opportunity away from other people. As a straight white man, I know that, even without trying, I’ve taken opportunities away from people.”
As a franchise, “High School Musical” got a bit more inclusive last year. A Disney Plus series reboot, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” features a gay teen choreographer, Carlos. He’s played by Frankie A. Rodriguez, who is gay in real life.
Though he didn’t mention the reboot, Grabeel stressed that “it will fall into the hands of people like Disney” to create more diverse programming for young audiences.
“We in the film industry have a duty and a responsibility to educate as well as entertain,” he added.
Watch Grabeel’s TMZ interview below.