Rise Of The Pink Ladies Director Alethea Jones: “We Are Not Rewriting History”

Rise Of The Pink Ladies Director Alethea Jones: “We Are Not Rewriting History”

Turn on the TV or make a trip to your local cinema and you’ll be unable to move for reboots and remakes or prequels and sequels.

Just this month we’ve had the news that Harry Potter is returning to screens in a live-action remake; next month, The Little Mermaid  (which first premiered in 1990), is going to be hitting the big screen and, in July, everyone’s favourite blonde – Barbie – is making her re-entrance into popular culture. 

In a time of economic uncertainty, movies that revisit a familiar world can offer viewers (and movie makers) a much-needed return to more comfortable times. 

Deja vu? There’s a lot of prequels, sequels and remakes about

This month, viewers were offered to return to the home of the much-loved hit-musical Grease, Ryedale High, in Paramount+’s latest musical Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies. 

Set four years prior to the happenings of Grease, the musical focuses on the friendship formation of the Pink Ladies.

When I asked director Alethea Jones (an Aussie currently living in LA) why the time is ripe to revisit Grease now, she was clear that this is not a retelling but rather, the telling of a story that wasn’t told in the original movie. 

“It’s a new story,” she said. 

It’s one that showrunner Annabel Oakes was keen to tell. When Oakes was initially approached by Paramount+ for a remake of Grease, Jones says, she dismissed the opportunity as a “money grab” and said Grease was perfect as it is. 

A few days later, Jones says “she was driving around and she started to think about the pink ladies”. She did some research and found that the pink ladies really were a group that existed in the 50s. This led to further questions. “How did they start? How did they get together?” 

She went back to Paramount+ and said “Rise of the Pink Ladies – that’s the show”. 

The Pink Ladies In Grease (1978)

Anyone who has watched the show, will be able to see that this visit to Ryedale High shows a wider range of ethnicities than we saw in the movie Grease.  

Predictably, the Daily Mail was quick to highlight this. “Grease goes woke,” it squawked.

However, as Jones points out, this is not a case of changing the past, but rather a more accurate portrayal of what was real before Hollywood stepped in. 

“We were very careful to research,” she said. 

“In terms of diverse and queer representation, we picked the school that Grease actually shot at – John Marshall High.”

“She [Oakes] found a yearbook from 1954. And she did the maths and she counted”. 

A total of “20 per cent of that school was Japanese American, and they had just come out of internment camps. So they were there, these kids were there, they just weren’t showing up in the actual movie”. 

“We’re not rewriting history here,” she said. 

“We took a yearbook. And we looked at the exact number of kids from different ethnicities and backgrounds. And that’s what we reflected in our casting, we had a casting matrix, we had a diversity matrix, and we just reflected it. Everybody thinks our show is forcing diversity and it’s like no -. Hollywood just wasn’t showing them. Let’s show them.”

“So that’s why I think it’s important to tell this story, because we basically picked up the camera, and we went around the corner, and we found the other kids and we gave them songs”.

The Rise Of The PInk Ladies (Paramount+)

When it comes to exploring “new stories” that led up to the movie, Jones says, there’s “incredible value to that”. 

“To dig into a universe and go to a corner of it that hasn’t been explored, interests me, especially in a musical aspect, which we haven’t done much”. 

When I asked what bits of the movie weren’t examined further in Grease, Jones refers to Rizzo’s story.

“Rizzo has a pregnancy scare in the movie, and it’s not fully delved into. No. It’s a side thing. She’s kind of slut shamed. We don’t unpack it from the inside.”

There’s also the language and cultural element. 

“Greasers [the word Grease is based on] was a derogatory term,” Jones explains. They were “Mexican Americans, Italians, Greek, and Latin ex kind of people”. They were put down because they were “greasy”. 

“They were always fixing their cars because they couldn’t afford new cars. And then Hollywood took that and and sort of culturally appropriated it.”

Despite the changes, there’s still plenty of things tat remain universal, Jones said.

“Well, yeah, it’s a new story. I think first and foremost, themes remain universal, the themes of, of sexuality, sexual orientation, female desire, racism, sexism, I think, I think unfortunately, they’re all still relevant and they’re all still worth exploring”. 

 




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