Netflix is doing a lot of heavy lifting to finally give us a reflection of the world we live in with its recent slate of YA movies. Just this past year we’ve gotten To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, All the Bright Places, The Half of It, Work It, and heck, even The Old Guard gave us characters we rarely see. The latest to join the ranks is All Together Now, based on the book Sorta Like A Rockstar. It follows the story of Amber (Auli’i Cravalho) who is just barely getting by and trying to keep her struggles a secret from everyone. But even though the hardships, she’s keeping a smile on her face. While the movie certainly tells a heartwarming story (that may or may not make you cry), where it really shines is its casting.
"I think diversity and inclusion in casting is really important, so I’m proud that my cast consists of differently-abled and non-neurotypical and people of color,” Cravalho recently explained in an interview with Refinery29. “Even Ty, who’s played by Rhenzy Feliz, he’s from a different economic level than Amber is, which is also kind of rare to see in film."
You might recognize Feliz from his time on Hulu’s Runaways and in All Together Now he plays a friend of Amber’s who helps her clear her head when she needs it most — by heading off to his family’s cabin in the woods, a stark reminder for Amber that she’s been sleeping on a bus for the past few months. Her mother, Becky (Justina Machado), works as a bus driver, and living on the bus is the only option for these two right now.
Machado herself is no stranger to difficult storylines, playing the matriarch on the beloved Netflix-turned-POP series One Day At A Time. She has been vocal about representation in the past, telling People in 2018, “We have to stop thinking that diversity is just black and white. There is a whole lot in between. We have to start telling these stories the way these stories are really told.”
All Together Now does think of diversity differently, as Amber’s best friend is on the autism spectrum, and played by Anthony Jacques who is on the spectrum himself (and also stars in Netflix’s Atypical). Gerald Isaac Waters plays Chad, and uses a wheelchair on screen and in real life for mobility. These disabilities aren’t treated as challenges that need to be overcome for the characters, but are simply facts of these characters' lives. Ty even has a wheelchair accessible car the group uses for transportation, and it’s not used as a set piece or a source of plot — the kids need a car, so they use a car!
There’s also Taylor Richardson (who starred on Broadway as Annie and has since gone on to also become a filmmaker) who plays Jordan in the group’s friend circle, and Judy Reyes steps in as a maternal figure for Amber. It also wouldn’t be a Netflix movie without one living screen legend, as Carol Burnett plays Joan, Amber’s friend from the nursing home. Fred Armisen also pops up as a school advisor, but unfortunately does not spend any time making jokes or doing impressions, but rather working as a guiding force when the kids need help.
The cast of All Together Now genuinely reflects the real world we live in, and even though that kind of diversity should be more commonplace, it continues to be notable because it's still rare.
"I do notice the difference," Cravalho continues in her interview. "And I think it’s really beautiful that we see that on screen, because it’s about damn time."