Gender Roles – Women
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Gender Roles - Women: 4 Stars
Gabriella is a smart girl who is more interested in academics than keeping up with what’s fashionable or chasing around boys. Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem to take much pride in her intelligence. To the contrary, she hides her accomplishments from the rest of the kids at school because she feels that it makes her look geeky and weird. She isn’t even interested in participating in the scholastic decathlon. In fact, once she finds that she has a talent for singing, she seems interested in little else. So although it’s encouraging to see a teen drama focused on a young high school student who is studious and brilliant with math and science, the film more or less ignores this element of Gabriella’s character in favor of a more conventional storyline.
High School Musical also contains a few other impressive young women. Gabriella’s friend Taylor is another smart young woman who encourages Gabriella to embrace her academic talents and to participate in the scholastic decathlon. And Kelsi Nielson is the young composer who wrote the very musical that is the cause of all the disruption at East High. While these are both supporting characters with little screen time, their presence is still a welcome addition to the High School Musical cast.
Love: 4 Stars
Gabriella and Troy have enough personal moments between them to make their relationship sweet and memorable. Most of their conversations consist of some sort of difficult revelation about who they are and who they’d like to be, and about the pressures of high school friendships and parents’ expectations. As a result, their romance seems a bit more heartfelt and true than that in most teenage love stories. Their friends do come between them for a short while. Troy says some hurtful things and Gabriella has to re-build her trust in him. But in the end, Troy is willing to risk embarrassment and disappointing his friends and father for her. The whole experience only helps to bring them closer together.
Gender Roles - Men: 2.5 Stars (Spoilers)
Unlike Gabriella, Troy Bolton is already admired and popular throughout the school. He’s tall, athletic and good looking - all of the traits that typically make a young man a leader among his peers. Troy has to struggle with the fallout among his friends and his father for stepping out of this masculine role and venturing into something that is a bit more sensitive. Though it takes awhile, Troy does find the strength to follow his heart and not his friends. However, the film also sets up a rather idealistic happy ending in which Troy is able to pursue and excel at both dreams. His missed practices and time spent rehearsing with Gabriella doesn’t interfere with his ability to pull off the winning shot and easily play the hero on the basketball court as well as the stage.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 2.5 Stars
Gabriella has a surprisingly low self-esteem for such a pretty and talented young girl. It’s a bit disappointing that High School Musical chooses to perpetuate this idea that girls should be humble about their talents and accomplishments. And that they should wait patiently for others to recognize their gifts and beg them to share them with the world. In real life the competition for the spotlight can be fierce and girls will rarely be begged to participate in events or activities. They have to showcase themselves if they want to be noticed. Rarely is a woman simply plucked up out of obscurity.
The film does include some variety in its cast of female characters. From Taylor, a smart and dedicated African American woman, to Kelsi, a shy girl with glasses and an odd fashion sense. The film also gives a short moment to an overweight girl who secretly wants to pursue her love of Hip Hop. The diversity isn’t stark or surprising, but at the very least, the girls are all accepted in their various circles of friends, whatever their appearance or body types. The only thing High School Musical seems to leave out are the cheerleaders.
Plot: 2.5 Stars (Spoilers)
Although High School Musical appears to be about both Troy and Gabriella’s struggles to branch away from their defined social roles, the film certainly puts a larger emphasis on Troy. Since Gabriella is new to the school, she has a lot more freedom to choose her friends and her role at East High. Taylor and the rest of the academics are new friends, without a lot of loyalty or expectations. They don’t try to talk her out of participating in the musical, so much as from dating Troy, whom they think of as little more than a Neanderthal. As a result, Gabriella’s personal struggle isn’t so much about career choices or friends, but whether or not Troy is the right guy for her. Towards the end of the film, she does participate in the scholastic decathlon and performs beautifully before the entire high school during her and Troy’s audition. But there is very little emphasis placed on her success at the decathlon. Troy gets to make the winning basket in front of a crowd of cheering fans, making his teammates and his father proud. But no one is there to cheer Gabriella on when her and her team earn their academic achievements. Her final triumph takes place off-screen, and she simply reports back to Troy that she won. In the end, Gabriella isn’t incredibly heroic or empowered by her experiences, even though she ends up getting everything she wants.
Character Development: 3 Stars
Gabriella is a simple, stereotypical teenage girl. She has a tendency to go with the flow and doesn’t have many interesting interactions with the people around her. She never gets an opportunity to confront Sharpay or Ryan for trying to keep her out of the musical. She doesn’t get angry with Taylor or her other friends for trying to break up her and Troy. She doesn’t even have any conversations with her mother or teachers that would reveal something deep or unexpected about her character. She does, however, have a few heartfelt conversations with Troy that give her a bit more energy and substance. But those moments are fairly few and far between.
Family: 1 Star
Troy has a stereotypical father who wants his son to be a game-winning athlete. He’s uninterested in his son’s talent for singing and doesn’t even want to meet his son’s girlfriend out of fear that these distractions will keep Troy from being the all-star he’s always wanted him to be. Although Troy’s father eventually comes around and gives Troy a convincing speech about “having fun” versus simply winning the game. He never really congratulates Troy for his talents on stage or encourages him to be more than just another basketball player.
Friendship: 1.5 Stars
The friendships in High School Musical are fairly stock and uninspiring. Troy and Chad have a bond that doesn’t seem to extend beyond the basketball court. They never even have a real conversation about Troy’s feelings for Gabriella. Although Chad eventually learns to support Troy’s new passion for singing, he is far more of an obstacle than a support system.
Gabriella’s friendship with Taylor is similarly superficial. Taylor befriends Gabriella to have a better shot at winning the decathlon, but never has a conversation with her about the difficult move to a new school. At the very least, the two girls aren’t bonding over a fashion show or something similarly trite and petty, but just the same, they scarcely come across as real friends.