When it first came out in 1978, Grease was an instant success. Over 40 years later, people still enthusiastically sing along whenever one of the musicals’ hits comes on—even people born decades after know at least a few of the dance moves to Grease Lighting. Since the movie aired over the Christmas holidays, many people rewatching it are only just now realizing that the message the film portrays is, well, less than ideal. Now, there is an online debate as to whether we should ban Grease altogether. (1)
To Ban Grease or Not To Ban Grease
Oh, those summer nights – might have been a more misogynistic, sexist, racist, homophobic, and down-right creepy than we remember. Played on Boxing Day in the UK this past December, many viewers were rather put off by the film’s message. (1)
That late December viewing has re-ignited a long-running debate as to whether TV networks should ban Grease. Some people say yes; others say that people need to take it as a product of its time and use it as a conversation starter on these subjects. (2, 3)
The Problem With Grease
If it’s been a while since you watched the film, let me refresh your memory on a few of its, uh… interesting scenes.
1. Those Summer Nights
A classic song, yes. I can’t deny it – I love it too. That being said, there are a couple of lines that might make you cringe a little bit. Namely, the line that goes: “Did she put up a fight?”. It intended to be a song about an innocent summer romance, but the line now comes off as what the internet is calling ‘rapey.’
2. The Rydell Highschool Dance
There are a few problematic moments in this scene. The first is one of the T-birds looking up all the girl’s skirts under the bleachers. The second is when the radio announcer exclaims that same-sex dance partners were not allowed.
3. Sex Shaming
Not a specific scene, necessarily, but many point out how Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) is bullied for being a virgin, while her friend Rizzo (Stockard Channing) is essentially slut-shamed for being sexually active. Then there’s the fact that Danny (John Travolta) is pressured into pretending that he and Sandy had sex so that his friends would think he was cool, which is essentially what the song Grease Lightning is all about.
4. The Final Scene
Of course, you can’t talk about Grease’s poor messaging without talking about the final scene at the fair. This is when Sandy has her big reveal of good-girl-gone-bad, and then she, Danny, and the rest of their friends end the movie with the hit You’re The One That I Want. Great song, a terrible message.
Basically, the film ends by telling girls that they should change every aspect of their looks and personality to attract a man. On the flip side, it teaches boys that they should expect women to morph to their liking.
The reason why Grease is being called out as racist is because of the all-white cast. There are essentially no black people in the movie at all.
All of these reasons are valid and true. Do people actually want to ban Grease entirely, though? Turns out, not completely.
Most Don’t Actually Want to Ban Grease
While yes, people are angry over the messaging, most people on social media are saying they don’t actually want to ban the film outright. Most of the people commenting were making observations about the film they hadn’t noticed when they first watched it 20, 30, or more years prior. (2)
Is the film dated? Yes, 100%. However, the majority says that it doesn’t need to be banned because, when it was made, these messages were actually normal. They say that if you choose to watch it with your children or teens, you need to have an honest and frank conversation afterward (or before, or even during) about the problems presented in the film. (2)
You can also choose not to watch it or not allow your children to watch it. After all, there are plenty of other brilliant musicals out there with more modern storylines to promote.
Finally, if we ban Grease, should we also ban all the rest of the old Hollywood classics? Watch any old film, or to be honest, many films made before 2010, and you will be shocked at what you find (I’m looking at you, Gone With The Wind). And who knows what people will be thinking of our era 50+ years from now.
What do you think? Should we ban Grease, or should it be left as just an old, outdated classic?
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- “Grease viewers cringe over ‘rapey and sexist’ scenes – but slam ban debate.” Mirror. Lewis Knight. January 4, 2021.
- “Grease viewers want film banned over claims it’s inappropriate.” Kidspot. Leah Goulis. January 4, 2021.
- “People are furiously debating whether Grease is actually sexist.” Indy100. Greg Evans. October 28, 2020.