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Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies Inserts Modern Feminism into a Classic Story

Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies adds modern twists to the original movie.

Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies premiered on Paramount+ on April 6th. The series serves as a prequel, taking place four years before the events of the 1978 film, Grease, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.

A new group of sex-crazed and status-obsessed Rydell students is introduced; Shanel Bailey as Hazel, Marisa Davila as Jane, Cheyenne Isabel Wells as Olivia, Ari Notartomaso as Cynthia, Tricia Fukuhara as Nancy, Madison Thompson as Susan, Johnathan Nieves as Richie, Jason Schmidt as Buddy, Maxwell Whittington-Cooper as Wally.

Davila, Wells, Notartomaso, and Fukuhara star as the titular Pink Ladies, using their status as social outcasts to form their own group to rival the jocks, cheerleaders, and T-birds. Sticking to its play and cinematic roots, the ten-episode season is a musical with a reported ten new songs and timeless classics like Grease is the Word. Hopefully, this new soundtrack will garner new classics that may go TikTok viral, like Hopelessly Devoted.

This iteration of Rydell High brings some new facts and modern twists to the world of Grease. Because the original was made in the 70s, the commentary of the 50s was reflective of that time, and the same can be said about this version. It’s a 2023 commentary on the early 50s, taking a new look at some parts of the original that didn’t age well.

The diverse cast also gives a new look to the leather jacket, slick-haired greasers, and their rebellious girl gang counterparts. Fukuhara represents the Asian community. Siblings Richie (Nieves) and Olivia (Wells) are Puerto Rican, speaking Spanish to each other with English translations appearing on screen. Jane (Davila) is half Italian and half Puerto Rican. It’s also revealed that Jane has a younger sister nicknamed Frenchy by her unruly friend, Betty Rizzo, both beloved characters from the original movie.

Despite some modern changes, the show stays faithful to its core material. From the very first scene, audiences are returned to the colorful theatrics of Grease. We’re gifted with scenes at the drive-in movie theatre, the diner, and the body shop. There are dream–like sequences with sleep-overs and teen-movie must-haves like split-screen gossip-filled phone calls or a slow-motion walk of triumph down the hall as envious onlookers stare.

Regardless of its tropes, Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies shows how modern feminism came to be. The unladylike girl gang may not have the modern language we do to voice our opinions, but they are fighting the same fight. They highlight how inappropriate it is to spike the punch, be the subject of “locker room talk,” or for their reputation to depend on their romantic and sexual endeavors. The pink ladies are 50s-style feminists, and that’s where their rebellious nature derives from.

With only two episodes released so far, I’m entirely captivated and looking forward to watching every last episode. When I was singing and dancing in my living room to You’re The One That I Want, or singing We Go Together in my elementary school choir, or cleaning the kitchen with my mom’s Grease CD playing Hand Jive in the background, I never thought I would still be swooned by new Grease characters so many years later. All the critiques that Grease is inherently sexist because Sandy changes everything about herself for Danny completely changes with this series. Telling the story of the Pink Ladies shows that Sandy became something a girl like her might’ve never dreamed of at the time – a feminist outcast.

Watch Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies on Peacock+.

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