You couldn't tell 2006 us that Monique Coleman, a.k.a. High School Musical's Taylor McKessie, didn't have it going on. Coleman's character, the super-smart, super-witty captain of the East High Scholastic Decathlon Team and best friend of Gabriella Montez, was a vision to her young viewers — especially to young Black girls.
As the movie celebrates its 15-year anniversary, Coleman is opening up about the realities she faced as a young Black actress on the set of the Disney franchise, and her experience sounds all too familiar in 2021. In an interview with Insider, the actress revealed that her character's signature headbands — which she frequently wore throughout the films — weren't a style choice so much as a necessity due to a lack of knowledge about styling her hair.
"The truth is, is that they had done my hair, and they had done it very poorly in the front," Coleman told Insider. She explained that she personally suggested incorporating headbands into her character's look when fixing her hair for filming wasn't an option. The hair accessory became "a part of who she is," Coleman said of her HSM character.
The sad part is, fifteen years later, Black actresses are still experiencing the same lack of resources for their hair textures and skin tones on set. Actresses like Gabrielle Union, Taraji P. Henson, Gabourey Sidibe, and more have opened up about having to style their own hair for projects when hired stylists couldn't fulfill the task with knowledge and proper care.
Not even Coleman's success as part of such a popular film series exempted her from having to find a solution to make her feel more comfortable with her look, a position that far too many Black women are put in on big-budget TV and film sets. However, celebrities like Coleman sharing their experiences have created a much-needed conversation about change.
"We've grown a lot in this industry, and we've grown a lot in representation, and we've grown a lot in terms of understanding the needs of an African American actress," the actress acknowledged. While we can't deny that the industry has made significant strides to become more inclusive, there's still a lot of room for improvement — and it shouldn't always fall solely to the hands and ideas of Black talent.