Screencap from Hairspray (2007)

Welcome to the 20s - Why 'Hairspray' is the Perfect Movie to Watch Right Now

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

We’re living through a slew of major historical moments right now, from an international pandemic to an evolution in education to a growing civil rights movement (in which protests are still continuing, despite what the news is telling us), so all in all, it’s a lot to take in. On top of all of that, we’re all probably feeling indescribably disconnected from everyone (and everything). If you’re like me, you’re probably interacting with your friends mainly through Twitter and iMessage group chats, and lacking a lot of face-to-face time with people you care about. 

So how are we supposed to unify each other when we can’t even feel connected to those we hold close? I give you: Hairspray.

 

You may be thinking to yourself, “Uh, what is this movie from 13 years ago gonna do for me now?” But it’s so much more than bright colors and fun songs (though “Good Morning Baltimore” is still on my wake up playlist!). Upbeat music to break up the monotony of quarantine? Check. Lovable characters played by darling actors and actresses? Check. In-depth discussions about racism in the media and how we can work to end it? Check! Characters embracing their fat selves? CHECK! And the movie’s aesthetic is peak sixties aesthetic to boot.

Screencap from Hairspray (2007)
Let me set the scene for you (without any major spoilers, of course). Let's head back to 1962, when young, overweight teenager Tracy Turnblad had dreams of dancing on The Corny Collins Show, a popular dance program for young people in Baltimore. She earns a spot on the show despite the rampant fatphobia from the show's female star and producer, and vies for the title of Miss Teenage Hairspray, a pageant hosted on The Corny Collins Show. This plot is juxtaposed with the racism running rampant through the television station where The Corny Collins Show is filmed, and Tracy soon becomes a part of the civil rights movement within her community. The film comes to a climax when Tracy is almost arrested at a civil rights protest for abuse of a police officer, and must be smuggled into the pageant – but you’ll have to watch to know who wins Miss Teenage Hairspray, if you don't already know.

Throughout the movie, Tracy struggles with fitting in; she feels disconnected from most of her high school because of her weight, but also because she is unapologetically who she is, and she's excluded by much of the Corny Collins cast for the same reasons. But she never wavers from her beliefs or her love of herself, and eventually she's celebrated for this, becoming a local icon. 

The film has constructive depictions of fat characters who learn to love themselves. Tracy knows she’s fat, and she realizes that her fatness isn't a negative. It doesn't make her any less talented. Her mother, Edna, has lost some of that self-love, but in the song “Welcome to the ‘60s,” Tracy teaches her how the world is changing for the better and its learning how to better accept them — even if there’s still a way to go. Motormouth Maybelle meets them at the intersection of racism and fatphobia for the ultimate bop, “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful.” An amazing song celebrating fat women and Black women? Yes, please!

Between the blatant bullying over weight and the civil unrest due to systemic racism, especially as it related to the media at the time, Hairspray opens up a discussion that is somehow just as relevant today. This movie might just be the wakeup call someone people need. It’s a film from 2007, set in the ‘60s, and through songs they explore racial issues that we’re still trying to reform today. I can't put it any better than Queen Latifah so beautifully sings, “There's a dream in the future, there's a struggle that we have yet to win, and there's pride in my heart, 'xause I know where I'm going and I know where I've been.”
 

Screencap of Hairspray (2007)We still have a lot of work to do when it comes to racial equity, but this movie is upbeat and optimistic evidence that we’re not alone in working towards this goal. We certainly aren’t the first, and we definitely aren’t the last. So schedule some time for a movie night and put Hairspray on. The songs will make you smile, and the story will galvanize you to keep fighting (and here are some ways to do that). Because, to put it simply, you can’t stop the beat.