Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies scandalises bigots with ‘woke’ queer characters

Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies cast

Bigots have got chills and they’re multiplying after Grease prequel series Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies dared to have a diverse cast, sparking outrage from right-wingers and news outlets.

In a wholly unexpected turn of events, conservatives have accused the new Paramount+ series – which aired its first two episodes on Thursday (6 April) – of “going woke” and ruining the legacy of the original 1978 musical film starring John Travolta and Oliva Newton-John by including queer and racially diverse characters.

Conveniently forgetting that LGBTQ+ people and people of different racial backgrounds existed in the 1950s, the Daily Mail has dubbed the series a “woke reboot” that tackles “culture war issues”, while LBC claims that fans have been “left shocked” by the high school drama.

What is Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies about?

Created by Annabel Oakes, Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies is set in 1954, four years before the events of the original film, and follows four student misfits who team up to found the ‘Pink Ladies’ clique, which fans of Grease will know would go on to take in Newton-John’s girl-next-door Sandy.

The 10-episode prequel series is airing weekly on Thursdays on Paramount+, offering up an almost entirely new cast of characters from different backgrounds who spread a “moral panic” at Rydell High School, according to the synopsis.

In the original 1978 film, the Pink Ladies consisted of Betty Rizzo (played by Stockard Channing), Frenchy (Didi Conn), Jan (Jamie Donnelly) and Marty Maraschino (Dinah Manoff).

You may like to watch

Grease: Rose of the Pink Ladies introduces four new group members – and actors – in the form of clique founders Jane (played by Marisa Davila), Olivia (Cheyenne Isabel Wells), Cynthia (Ari Notartomaso) and Nancy (Tricia Fukuhara).

The Pink Ladies during the series. (Paramount+)
Left-right: Tricia Fukuhara, Ari Notartomaso, Marisa Davila and Cheyenne Wells in “Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies.” (Paramount+)

Naturally, the characterisation of each of the new Pink Ladies is every bigot’s worst nightmare.

Founder Jane Facciano (Davila) is a half-Latina, half-Italian geeky creator who is bullied by the popular girls and is the sister of original movie character Frenchy. Cynthia, who is played by trans non-binary actor Ari Notartomaso, is a gender non-conforming student who yearns to join the school’s male clique, the T-Birds.

Meanwhile, Mexican-American student Olivia (Wells) is a bookworm whose reputation has been destroyed she hooked up with her English teacher, and Nancy (Fukuhara) is a Japanese-American student and aspiring And Tricia Fukuhara as Japanese American student Nancy is an aspiring fashion designer who gives off major queer vibes.

As the foursome navigate high school, comings across other multicultural groups of students, viewers are treated to a range of classic and original songs, with some touching on topics around gender, sexuality, racism and white supremacy.

What are bigots saying?

Over on social media, one person complained that “another movie classic” had gone “woke”, before claiming it has already “received scathing reviews”.

Another added: “Olivia [Newton John] never said a bad thing to anyone or anything but I can’t imagine she or Travolta would be happy of this new Rydell High hot woke mess.”

Of course, the late Newton-John – who died last year aged 73 following a long battle with breast cancer – was in fact a staunch LGBTQ+ ally in her lifetime, dating back to the Aids epidemic.

Thankfully, there have been plenty of people calling out the pearl-clutching hysteria.

Grease goes woke as follow-up to film where people break into choreographed song and dance all the time and which ends with a car f**king flying suddenly expects us to believe people from different cultures can be friends,” one person hit back.

Another fan commented that the backlash to Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies had arrived “like clockwork”, urging fans to “support and uplift the cast”.

What have cast and crew said?

Ignoring the haters, the cast and crew have been unapologetically proud of their progressive vision for the Grease universe. Speaking to UPI, Notartomaso said: “Queerness, gender nonconformity and trans-ness throughout time hasn’t always been exactly the same.

“All of us are a product of the culture that we live in, but it is really special to be able to tell that story of what it may have been like in the 1950s.”

Meanwhile, casting director Conrad Woolfe told Variety, that diversity “was everything” when it came to making the show, and that producers went “back through yearbooks from Southern California in the 1950s to really get a sense of what demographics were like”.

The Pink Ladies strutting through school.
The Pink Ladies strutting through school. (Eduardo Araquel/Paramount+)

Showrunner Oakes even obtained a 1954 yearbook from a school where the original Grease was filmed, saying: “It was a very diverse school. It was integrated. There were a lot of Japanese-American kids, a lot of Latinx kids, there were Black kids and there were white kids. I wanted to tell the story that we haven’t seen about the 1950s.”

Original music for Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies has been produced by queer songwriter Justin Tranter, who has previously written tracks for pop legends including Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez.

Tranter, who worked on 30 songs for the series, told Them that Grease has always been a story for society’s underdogs, including queer people.

“I wish that being queer wasn’t cause for moral panic, but for better or worse, queer teenagers have always created a lot of moral panic. And with Grease being a rock ‘n’ roll musical about teenagers pushing boundaries they’re not supposed to push — I think queer people can relate to that, even though the original Grease has some problematic moments”, he explained.

“But here’s the thing: Everyone can relate to that. Even the most advantaged among us has felt like the underdog at some point. And I think that’s why Grease is so powerful and enduring. It makes the underdogs the cool kids.”

New episodes of Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies stream weekly each Thursday on Paramount+.