Warning: Spoilers Ahead
Growing up, the movie Grease became a staple in my childhood and in my life. I remember being seven or younger when I first saw it with my cousin who had a VHS tape of it; We would watch it religiously. I thought Danny Zuko (John Travolta) was the most handsome man I had ever seen and Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) was such a classic beauty. Personally, I loved Sandy’s style transformation from calf-length skirts and white/pastel colors to black, skin-tight leggings and red lipstick. However this movie did not age well. Some critics now call the 1978 film misogynistic and sexist. But in my opinion, it was a movie made at a time where it was revolutionary to have female characters like Rizzo (Stockard Channing) who speak their mind and embrace their sexuality. But beyond the dated dynamics and gender roles, the movie also lacked people of color.
Fast-forward to today and the prequel Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies, on Paramount+, is about not changing but embracing yourself. It transforms the outdated narrative into the message younger generations want to hear. One about empowerment and not necessarily fitting in. The series shows the backstory behind popular jocks and preps and greasers as well as the stigma behind girl and boy gangs. The new pink ladies at Rydell High School are Jane, Nancy, Olivia and Cynthia played by Marisa Davila, Tricia Fukuhara, Cheyenne Isabel Wells and Ari Nortatomaso, respectively. These sophomores are unapologetic, just like Rizzo was but they also learn some hard lessons. Even though Rizzo never showed how she got her famously tough demeanor, these pioneer pink ladies endure bullying and tough situations that make them stronger and tougher — a true Pink Lady.
Now, not every reboot is done right. I actually think it is quite brave to try to revive something so classic and honestly, sacred. To me at least, the original Grease is too iconic to mess with it. The Gossip Girl and Rebelde reboots did not exactly revolutionize as successors. But, the Rise of The Pink Ladies is surprisingly good and honestly, revolutionary as well. One of the reasons I believe this reboot worked is because it is a prequel. We get to learn about how this iconic girl gang got started and we even get to see how beloved characters like Rizzo and Frenchy (Didi Conn in the original film) first met. Though some shows can fall prey to forced inclusivity solely to appease demands, the series does it flawlessly. The diversity among the cast reminds us there is more than just Italian Americans, there are Mexican Americans who are Jewish, Italian/Puerto Rican Americans, Japanese Americans etc. Jane and Frenchy come from an Italian/Puerto Rican household. Nancy is Japanese and there is mention of the discrimination she has experienced because of the war with the U.S. Shy Guy (Maximo Salas) is Mexican and Jewish and Hazel (Shanel Bailey) is Black. Richie (Johnathan Nieves) and Olivia are Mexican. This time around, we get to see what Latinx/BIPOC families in the ’50s might’ve looked like.
The Pink Ladies are known to be fierce, sexy and outspoken in the original movie. They pierce their ears, dye their hair, have sex, smoke and drink. In the prequel, we learn four different underdogs unite after being tired of the popular clique at school. It is quite endearing to see they started out as being bullied and it is because of that, they decide to fight back. Sexual ownership and liberation are themes seen throughout the last ten episodes. Jane Facciano, the main character, is the eldest daughter of Italian-American Vincent Facciano and Puerto Rican Kitty Facciano. In one episode, she is criticized for having sex with boyfriend Buddy but in reality, they have never done it. Jane finds out he told his friends they did it and tells her “That’s how boys talk, this will blow over” to which she replies, “Maybe for you”. This reminds us of how women always get the most harsh criticism when it comes to sex. Often in Latinx households, women are taught to feel ashamed for having sex before marriage or even openly discussing their sexuality. The series also touches on the male gaze, body shaming, and reproductive rights. For example, Olivia Valdovinos (Cheyenne Isabel Wells), another Latina Pink Lady, gets sent to the office for her outfit but another girl with less curves is wearing the same thing.
The series also takes on racism and cultural assimilation. Jane and Frenchy’s (Madison Elizabeth Lagares) mother, Kitty (Vivian Marie Lamolli) is Puerto Rican but prefers to keep that quiet, instead letting people think she’s Italian like her husband. She tells Frenchy she cannot speak Spanish anymore, a sad reality many immigrant parents share because of the fear of being ostracized. Jane’s mom is a reminder of the need many immigrants having of wanting to fit in instead of being othered or discriminated against. She hears others complain about the noise Mexican families make and the way they speak about them. So she wants to be seen as poised instead of a troublemaker like the other Latinxs are made to be. But she doesn’t seem to realize the harm this causes them even as she’s attempting to protect them.
It is so important to speak on these issues because even though this series is set in 1954, BIPOC communities continue to face racism and ignorance. The series emphasizes that you can be more than one thing and you can break stereotypes. You don’t have to choose between being Puerto Rican or Italian, you can be both. You can be a woman who enjoys sex and not sleep around. We contain multitudes and are not the stereotypes.
This show is more than a nostalgic revival, it is also a nod to what being a fearless woman and Latina can be. It takes courage and many failed battles but if you are accompanied by the right support system, a Pink Lady can do anything. In the finale episode, Olivia is about to marry her teacher whom she’d been secretly dating. Even though it’s clearly a very inappropriate relationship, because women and particularly Latinas are always pushed into prioritizing marriage, her parents accept it. It is the Pink Ladies who come through and stop the wedding. These women have multiple love interests but they are mostly comforted by each other. As it usually happens in most friendships but it’s especially powerful to see Latinas helping each other break cycles.
To see Latina representation in a series like this is major not only because of how beloved Grease is but because they are the main characters Latina roles are finally taking up the space they deserve and now in a franchise so beloved and well known. By reminding us you can be proud of your culture, even if you don’t speak the language, this series is showing us what an empowered Latina and a Pink Lady can look like.
Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies is available to stream on Paramount+