Andi Mack, Disney Channel, and LGBT Representation

Hello! My semester has ended and I wanted to publish my essay I wrote on Cyrus from Andi Mack and LGBT+ representation for my Gender, Sexuality and the Media class! Enjoy 💗

If you grew up LGBT, finding your own representation in the media was like scraping the bottom of the barrel. Vito Russo explored this in, The Celluloid Closet (1995) where many out Hollywood actors and influencers talk about their experiences growing up watching television and movies. “The hunger I felt as a kid looking for gay images was not to be alone” spoke Harvey Fierstein. Every kid has struggles to finding out who they are, and not seeing yourself on screen has a big impact. Representation shows that you matter, and in terms of sexuality, what you are feeling is normal. When you are young, it is a formative time to figure out who you are and Wendy Hilton-Morrow and Kathleen Battles explore this in Sexul Identites in The Media. They write, “Media representation is often a vital source for self-recognition and identity formation” (2014, 77)

The Disney Channel giving their show Andi Mack the power to not only show an LGBT storyline but have a crush on another main character is incredible. It would have been so easy for the writers to have their character Cyrus get a crush on an easy write-off character, but them choosing to make it become a show central theme along speaks volumes. In this essay, I explore the inner workings of Andi Mack by analyzing the episodes “Hey, Who Wants Pizza?” and “”Cyrus’ Bash-Mitzvah!.” I argue that the show challenges the dominant discourse of sexuality while also displaying Chinese culture and exploring mental health issues.

On October 27, 2017, the Disney Channel made history when it aired their first depiction of a coming out story on their popular tween series, Andi Mack’s, second season premiere. Andi Mack (2017-) follows Andi, a 13-year-old Chinese-American girl, going through the trials and tribulations of seventh grade with her two best friends, Buffy and Cyrus, on her side. Andi Mack’s central theme is self-discovery, as the premise is Andi finding out that her sister, Bex, is actually her mother. Andi’s relationship with her family and her connection to their culture, while she goes through the motions of middle school, gives kids a glimpse of the real world to see what kids their age go through. Andi falls for eighth grader, Jonah, and a will they-won’t they TV trope is a heavy theme for their relationship. Andi Mack breaks incredible ground in their second season, as Cyrus discovers he also has a crush on Jonah, sparking a journey of self-acceptance and discovery. The show has done very well for the network with loyal viewers, a surge since the coming out storyline, which got the show a GLAAD Media Award and an award from the Television Academy Honors. Andi Mack featuring the LGBT community and showing children who have little to no representation in their media, to accept themselves for who they are is a huge stride of progress for the LGBT movement. “GLBTQ visibility is significant because, for many people, such representations are the point of first contact with GLBTQ identities” (Hilton-Morrow & Battles, 2014, 78).

Andi and Jonah grew close playing on the school’s ultimate frisbee team where Jonah is the team captain. Cyrus also was a team player, acting as almost “the mom of the team”, making sure kids wore sunscreen, were hydrated, etc. Through this act, Jonah and Cyrus became good friends and sparked Cyrus’s pathway to self discovery. During season 1, Cyrus gets his first girlfriend, Iris, who is still a major character in his coming out story. In the season 2 premiere, “Hey, Who Wants Pizza?”, the episode picks up where the finale left off, with the audience wondering where Andi and Jonah’s relationship stands. The basis of the episode is mainly focused on Andi and Jonah making up while Cyrus’ storyline is the B plot. The episode had a wide audience of 2.1 million total viewers in live-plus-three viewing and was seen by 1.1 million people aged 6-14 (The Wrap).

The episode starts out for Cyrus at his friends’ favorite hangout spot, The Spoon and Iris joins Andi, Buffy and Cyrus. Cyrus starts to walk Iris home where they share a first quick kiss. The next day, Cyrus shares the big news with Andi and Buffy. Cyrus immediately runs to Jonah afterwards all excited and tells him this monumental moment to which Jonah invites them to the team’s end of the season pizza party and exclaims, “You have to be there Cyrus, you’re the reason we won any of our games!” (Minsky). During this interaction, the scene cuts back and forth to Jonah and Cyrus, where we see Cyrus gazing into Jonah’s eyes with a wide smile. Cyrus gets really nervous and blushy when Jonah compliments him, and his mood drops when Jonah then walks over to talk to Andi.

We next see Cyrus at the banquet, where Jonah makes a speech for the MVP award and Buffy and Cyrus say they totally think Andi will win it, and to our surprise, Cyrus gets the award! Jonah gives Cyrus an honorary jersey and the two share an intimate hug on stage, where Cyrus can’t stop smiling. In the next scene, Cyrus asks Jonah if there is an after party and Jonah says he wants to talk to Andi alone, which makes Cyrus’s face fall once again. Buffy and Cyrus wait outside sneakily watching as Jonah and Andi get back together, and Cyrus is jealous.

Lastly, we see Cyrus and Buffy at The Spoon where Cyrus tells Buffy, “last night when we were watching Andi and Jonah, you asked if I was happy for Andi… but I am also not really happy” (Minsky). Buffy asks if he likes Andi and she quickly realizes that is not the case. “Buffy, I feel weird. Different.” and Buffy grabs Cyrus’s hands and tells him, “Cyrus you’ve always been weird. But you’re no different” (Minsky).

This tiny interaction is so important. Buffy not judging Cyrus and making him feel invalid shows Andi Mack’s young impressionable audience that it is okay to explore your feelings and confide in your friends. Buffy then promises everything will be okay and that his secret is safe with her. Being in the closet can be a harboring experience for anyone, but seeing a journey on kids’ television is extremely rare. Terri Minsky, the show’s creator, spoke about the storyline to Variety, “Our teen girl characters, Andi and Buffy, are on a journey to figuring out who they are, and I decided that Cyrus should go on that kind of journey also.” Minsky points out that that there are people who love Cyrus before he loves himself. Minsky knows, “there’s a lot of kids out there who think they are weird and different for similar reasons, and I want Buffy to say it to all of them. I want them all to see they are loved and affirmed” (Palmer, Television Academy).

Other than being a good moment for the LGBT community, this interaction shows viewers how to be a supportive friend in such a titular moment. “Coming out storylines are confessional in nature, presenting coming out as an issue of honesty and a linear process that largely assumes a happy ending” (Hilton-Morrow & Battles, 2014, 168).

In the mid-season 2 finale, “Cyrus’ Bash-Mitzvah”, Cyrus has his Bar Mitzvah that has been a central storyline throughout the show thus far. Cyrus finally comes out to Andi about his crush on Jonah, and in this point in the season, Andi and Jonah have put their relationship on hold again. Andi is frustrated about Jonah because she doesn’t know what he is thinking and Cyrus exclaims, “You’re wondering if he even knows you’re there or cares. I know how you feel….Andi you’re not the only one who likes Jonah. I like him, too” (Minsky). Cyrus’s statement makes Andi quiet for a second and once she connects the dots she says, “Cyrus! Buffy, did you know? He’s so frustrating, isn’t he?” Cyrus responds, “I spend way too much time trying to deconstruct his facial expressions” and they round it out with a group hug. Andi Mack choosing the causal approach to acceptance is amazing. I like how the show gives little lines of affirmation, instead of making Cyrus coming out a dramatic occurrence, which many shows do. It shows audiences that seeking acceptance from your friends is not a huge deal and that it does not have to be a scary act.

Another avenue that Andi Mack explores is mental health representation. During the same episode, Jonah is shown having a panic attack, which becomes a bigger theme in later episodes. The episode fixates the camera on Jonah, who is heavily breathing and the scene makes your heart race. Jonah then talks to Cyrus’s stepdad, a therapist, and is terrified to tell his friends because of what they will think of him. Jonah has always been “the human sunbeam” with a ton of friends while being the team captain, he suffers from anxiety. Over the years, mental health has become more of a spoken about topic and Andi Mack normalizing mental illness gives viewers more representation. Andi Mack not only showed it, but hosted a PSA after the episode, discussing how to help someone having a panic attack and provided resources for the audience.

As mentioned before, the premise of the show is based on Andi discovering that her mother, Bex, has been pretending to be her sister. Bex had Andi as a teenager and due to Bex’s mother Celia, they pretended Bex was her sister because teenage pregnancy is not accepted in Chinese culture. Disney Channel showcasing a family that is “outside of the norm” is fantastic for viewers who don’t have families that check the “perfect family” box. Andi Mack is all about representation and diversity, as there are two episodes dedicated to Andi and her family celebrating Chinese New Year. These two episodes teach the viewers what the holiday represents, how they celebrate and gives Chinese viewers a chance to be represented on American Television.

Disney Channel providing representation for LGBT exploring, Chinese, and Jewish individuals gives viewers insight on cultures and ideas they may not understand and those who do not normally see themselves on screen. “People use generalized conceptual categories to ‘place’ new people into a category that helps them move through the world without having to size up every situation and person as radically new and particular” (Hilton-Morrow & Battles, 2014, 80).

Scholars in the critical/cultural approach work with a model of communication that considers language and practices as flexible and open to interpretation (Hilton-Morrow & Battles, 2014, 28). For the Disney Channel to change wavelengths of showing representation of all different types of kids is incredible. Giving a platform for kids that relate to Cyrus with exploring his sexuality and coming from a Jewish background, like Andi with her Chinese culture and typical middle school problems or are for kids like Jonah, the kid who has it all but is hiding his anxiety for everyone. Representation and stories matter and lack of representation can make an individual, especially kids, feel invalid and that they do not matter. Every kid deserves to see themselves on screen, and Andi Mack is making it possible for everyone.

References

Gajewski, R. (2017, November 02). ‘Andi Mack’ Season 2 Premiere Tops Previous Launch’s
Viewers as Gay Character Debuts. Retrieved from
https://www.thewrap.com/andi-mack-season-2-premiere-ratings-gay/

Hilton-Morrow, W., & Battles, K. (2015). Sexual identities and the media: An introduction. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Minsky, T. (Writer). (2017, October 27). Hey, Who Wants Pizza? [Television series episode]. In
Andi Mack. Disney Channel.

“—”. (Writer). (2018, February 23). Cyrus’ Bash-Mitzvah! [Television series episode]. In Andi
Mack. Disney Channel.

Palmer, I. (2018, Spring). An Historic Coming Out. Retrieved from
https://www.emmys.com/awards/honors/eleventh/honoree2

Russo, V. (Director). (1995). The Celluloid Closet [Video file]. Sony pictures home
entertainment.