Hello friends! Rachell and Nick here! We decided to co-write this article because we felt that we both bring unique viewpoints to the topic, based on our individual experiences and perspectives.
Andi Mack is a fairly new show on Disney Channel that focuses on the home and school life of 13 year old Andi Mack as she navigates the social aspects of middle school. Though not the first of its kind, Andi Mack is special in today’s day and age because the characters are about the age of Disney’s target audience and have the potential to grow up at the same rate as viewers. Andi Mack made quite a splash in headlines a couple weeks ago from people reacting to its Season Two premiere. In the episode, a member of Andi’s gang of friends, Cyrus, tells their other close friend Buffy that he has feelings for a boy named Jonah.
Some praised Disney for its inclusion of representation, while many commended the way Buffy’s reaction was written. While it may sound a bit cliche, the line “you’ve always been weird, but you’re no different” is something that a lot of young questioning kids need to hear. In addition to seeing that they can be accepted by their friends, kids who might be gay are going to benefit from seeing themselves in a character onscreen.
#AndiMack having a tween coming to terms with his sexuality on DISNEY CHANNEL makes me so proud. This is going to save so many lives.
— MERRYshal & BRIGHT (@Marshal_Knight) October 25, 2017
Even for kids who don’t think about that kind of stuff, it’s important for them to see it in media that is made just for them. A lot of times, children don’t even know what being gay is unless the topic is brought up by parents or teachers, and if those adults are teaching them what it means to be gay, they most likely have strong positive or negative feelings about it. Bottom line is, if a kid doesn’t have gay people in their life, they haven’t had a chance to form their own opinions on it, which is why children of gay parents don’t see being gay as good or bad; it’s just a fact.
By having a character that viewers already had an opinion of come out to an accepting friend, kids can see a gay character that hasn’t been fed to them by the people whose opinions they absorb, since most often children watch TV by themselves. The only mainstream examples of young gay people on television have been on shows that are not intended for children. Some examples that come to mind are Jude from The Fosters or Kurt from Glee. Both of these shows were watched by kids but certainly were not aimed towards them. This also brings up the important point of the character’s age; since Cyrus is only thirteen there’s no way for his crush to be misconstrued. It’s an ugly truth, but an argument used by homophobic people to justify their homophobia is that being gay is intrinsically linked with sex. This is why gay media is often labelled as “mature” or “sensitive content” (we’re looking at you, Youtube).
Although it is incredible to see a young gay character onscreen, every silver lining comes with a cloud. Disney’s target audience is mostly female, and even if it isn’t intended, its demographic tends to swing that way. Beggars can’t be choosers, but the vast majority of LGBT+ characters that have been introduced on television have been male, including Cyrus.
As a girl who likes girls, the only time I ever saw myself onscreen was Santana and Brittany from Glee, and I wasn’t like either of them.
Aside from the fact that they were played by actresses in their mid 20’s, the characters had a much longer and bumpier journey to embracing their love for each other than any male gay character on the show. The characters were portrayed in a very sexual way, and that kind of portrayal can be damaging to young girls who are just trying to figure out who they have a crush on.
The show Andi Mack is not only progressive in terms of LGBT+ representation, but also in displaying many real life lessons that Andi battles throughout both seasons. The show covers topics such as teen pregnancy, sexism in school dress codes, interracial couples, and racism, which is demonstrated through Buffy’s struggles against the natural hair prejudices she encounters in her daily life.
The main premise of the show focuses around Andi Mack, a pre-teen who discovers that Bex, the woman she believed to be her sister, was indeed her mother, and her supposed parents were actually her grandparents. The backstory of the protagonist has met backlash, with some saying that the subject matter is too mature for impressionable children. However, I believe that it’s important for young people to see authentic obstacles on television. Andi Mack, unlike many Disney Channel shows before it (Hannah Montana, anyone?), is not a sitcom. Because such a vast variety of characters are presented, the show feeds into the truth that it’s okay to be different.
Andi Mack is not your typical Disney protagonist.
She’s a strong female character who can kick butt at Frisbee, make friendship bracelets out of recycled materials, and find time to hang out with her squad… all while crushing on cute boy Jonah Beck.
She’s quirky and awkward, and these traits make her all the more lovable. Apart from her personality, Andi doesn’t look the part either, donning a crooked smile and a short haircut. Yes, a Disney gal actually has short hair!
In fact, the plan was to ask Peyton Elizabeth Lee to grow her hair out for the role until her agent fought to let her keep her current style. As my brilliant co-author wrote in her article about chopping her hair off, people treat girls differently when they have short hair. I think a possible reason for this phenomenon is that people aren’t used to seeing short-haired gals because they’re not as common in the media. An important message that Andi Mack sends is that a hairstyle doesn’t define what is feminine, and girls with short hair are just as cool.
Andi’s crush likes her back, and this shows little girls that having short hair doesn’t mean that boys won’t like you. In fact they shouldn’t ever assume what’s “appropriate” for a girl. Jonah Beck likes Andi’s caring heart and sparkling creativity, and her haircut isn’t even addressed in the context of the show. I kinda love that Disney didn’t feel the need to draw attention to Andi’s appearance because it’s no different than anything else about her.
Not only is the charming lead paving the way for representation on television, the entire supporting cast is as well. Andi’s best friend on the show, Buffy, is proof of this. Buffy is a strong, confident leader who carries her athletic frame with grace. Also, bonus points to her for rocking her natural hair! By displaying a female character who isn’t afraid to get down and dirty with the boys, Disney is teaching girls to embrace their inner badasses.
This issue is so important because societal normals are ingrained from a young age, and the more that children are exposed to different types of people, the more normal they become.
While it is so progressive, the one thing Andi Mack is lacking is a plus-sized character. Of course, Disney Channel’s new show can’t please everyone, but it is a stepping stone that will hopefully open the doors for the television industry. We want to see people like us on TV! Our race, sexuality, and weight are what make us individuals, and this needs to translate to the screen.
Cover image via Just Jared Jr.