As the High School Musical mantra goes, we’re all in this together…unless there’s not enough room on the plane, apparently. On this week’s episode of Vulnerable, the podcast hosted by former Disney Channel star Christy Carlson Romano, Monique Coleman divulged that she and co-star Lucas Grabeel weren’t invited to High School Musical 3: Senior Year’s promotion tour for that very reason. “I feel safe to say this: Disney really broke my heart,” she told Romano.
In the best high school series known to man, Coleman played Taylor McKessie, one of Gabriella’s best friends, East High’s class president and yearbook editor, and Chad’s (Corbin Bleu) love interest. “I was a Black girl playing the smartest girl in school, which was a very big deal at that time,” she said. “And when it came to promoting the third movie, I wasn’t invited on the tour.”
To make matters worse, the excuse for not bringing her along is so unimaginative that I’m confident any middle schooler could come up with a better lie: “They said something about there not being enough room on the plane, and they only invited Zac [Efron], Vanessa [Hudgens], Ashley [Tisdale)], and Corbin, and Lucas and I weren’t included,” Coleman said. Y’all, come on. Even an amateur sleuth like me could dig up the fact that HSM3 had a $11 million budget on its hands, compared to HSM2's $7 million. With those additional millions sloshing around, you think they could’ve shelled out a bit more for a larger plane.
Coleman’s character was a beacon of Black excellence in a TV landscape that had yet to value its Black characters. After the Vulnerable episode dropped, fans pointed out that HSM stylists also didn’t know how to style Coleman’s Black hair, leaving her to wear unflattering headbands throughout the series’ three-film run. The casual discrimination Coleman faced here isn’t exactly subtle: “This is where the intersectionality is key,” one Twitter user said. “people will claim ‘disney isn’t being racist because they took corbin!’ okay, but...they refused to take a Black woman. the misogynoir is blatant.”
Coleman took the experience personally. “That heartbreak really hit me very deeply and did cause a bit of a depression because it helped me to recognize that I was overly identifying with what I was doing and not who I was,” she told Romano, but in the end, she tried to turn it into a point of inspiration. Rather than letting herself be “reduced to Taylor McKessie,” she used her character as an opportunity to “leave a message that lets you know that your dreams are also possible.” “I basically did what I would’ve wanted someone to do for me,” she told Romano.
While the franchise may not have been able to see her value back then, Coleman is set to make a cameo in the High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ fourth season—the spinoff that birthed the most delicious teenybopper drama of the last decade—proving just how important her legacy is. “To be on that set and to kind of be the reason why they are there was just really super super special,” she said.