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How Hairspray Live became an unexpected lesson in diversity & tolerance

Hairspray‘s message was super-impactful in 1988 (when it introduced us to Ricki Lake) and again in 2007 with Nikki Blonsky, but this year, the musical was needed more than ever. It’s one thing to nod along to the show’s message of acceptance, however, and another to apply that message in everyday life.

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It’s no secret that racial division has dominated 2016, with news of discrimination, riots and police shootings running rampant all year long and escalating after the election. In light of all this, it’s fitting that NBC decided to air a live musical all about accepting people for who they are, regardless of the color of their skin or the size of their body.

Hairspray Live
Image: NBC

If, somehow, you’re still unfamiliar with Hairspray, the premise is as follows: A vibrant teenager aims for a spot on a popular television show in the 1960s, but struggles due to her weight. However, through her efforts, she is able to not only change the show’s emphasis on body type, but also break up its stubborn segregation. She delivers a much-needed message of acceptance to a very judgmental and divided community. In short, we could use more Tracy Turnblads today.

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Jennifer Hudson (who as Motormouth Maybelle was clearly the standout star of Hairspray Live) spoke of the musical’s relevance in a notable featurette aired a few days prior to tonight’s production. She didn’t go into details, but she did explain, “The subject of Hairspray is very current to today.”

Maddie Baillio (the new Tracy Turnblad) added, “There are a lot of themes that are just as relevant today as they would have been in the 1960s.” You can say that again!

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America has made a lot of progress since the 1960s, and Hairspray Live is a reflection of this. This holiday season, we have a black president (for a little while longer, at least), Santas of varying ethnicities and increasing diversity on television, in the film industry and on Broadway. Yes, we’ve come a long way, but we also have a long way to go. Hopefully, Hairspray Live has reminded viewers of the progress we’ve made — and why we don’t want to slide back into racism, judgment and division.

What did you think of tonight’s live production of Hairspray? Were you struck by the relevance of the musical’s message? Comment and share your opinion below.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below.

Hairspray cast slideshow
Image: New Line Cinema, NBC

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