Back in April we devoted a post to a new Disney channel series that caught our attention with its innovative premise. Not only did Andi Mack center on an Asian American heroine (Payton Elizabeth Lee as Andi) and feature a predominantly Asian cast – something Disney had never done before – but it also dared to explore more somber and heavier topics than other kids’ shows. There was a huge family secret that completely changed the protagonist life, a reference to teen pregnancy, and a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship that showed Disney viewers a more somber and less rosy view on life. Now, Andi Mack is pushing boundaries even further by introducing Disney channel’s first ever gay storyline.
The series second season, which premiered less than a fortnight ago, will explore the changing emotional landscape in the life of Andi’s close friend Cyrus (Joshua Rush), as he discovers that he has feelings for a Jonah Beck, a boy in his class. If coming to terms with your sexuality as a teenager is not confusing enough, things are complicated further by the fact that Cyrus has a girlfriend, while Andi is also smitten with Jonah.
Subsequent episodes will reveal how the storyline will unfold for Cyrus and Jonah but for now the show sets a positive tone that underlines the need for acceptance. When Cyrus confesses about his feelings and his fear of being weird and different to Buffy, his and Andi’s best friend, she responds that while he has always been weird he is not different. This deceptively simple reply puts an emphasis on his uniqueness while reassuring him that the attraction he feels is perfectly normal and will not change who he is.
The Disney channel explained that “Andi Mack is a story about ‘tweens’ figuring out who they are. (Creator) Terri Minsky, the cast and everyone involved in the show takes great care in ensuring that it’s appropriate for all audiences and sends a powerful message about inclusion and respect for humanity.”
This has not been met with universal understanding, however. Following the announcement of a gay storyline, Andi Mack was pulled off the air in as many as 50 countries, including Kenya, Tanzania and parts of the Middle East.
Disney issued an official statement saying “While our shows are developed for global audiences we are committed to respecting each market’s cultural sensibilities, compliance rules and regulations. Disney Channel in South Africa serves multiple countries across Africa and the Middle East, each with its own regulations to which we adhere. Accordingly, Andi Mack will not be broadcast through DStv.”
Nevertheless, they did add that they are “exploring alternative ways to make the series available to its fans in South Africa,” so perhaps Andi Mack’s important message about inclusion and acceptance will eventually reach more audiences worldwide.