The Disney Channel’s made-in-Utah series “Andi Mack” is tackling what could be a controversial subject, and it’s difficult to believe anyone could do it better.
Andi’s 13-year-old friend Cyrus (Joshua Rush) has a crush on another boy in the series, which is aimed at young teen and preteen viewers. It’s the first time a Disney Channel series has featured a gay character in the regular cast.
The series, which centers on Andi (Peyton Elizabeth Lee) and her middle-school friends, began by going where the Disney Channel had not gone before. When it premiered in March, Andi learned that her older sister, Bex (Lilan Bowden), is actually her mother — that she gave birth as an unwed teen and moved away, leaving Andi to be raised by her grandparents.
On TV • New episodes of “Andi Mack” premiere Fridays on the Disney Channel — 6 p.m. on DirecTV and Dish; 9 p.m. on Comcast.
Creator/executive producer Terri Minsky (“Lizzie McGuire”) told The Tribune that Disney Channel execs were looking for “something edgier,” so she pitched the show “not thinking they would actually go for it.” But they did.
And they went for more than just that storyline. Andi’s grandparents (Lauren Tom and Stoney Westmoreland) are an interracial couple; Bex and Andi are biracial; it’s never been an issue on the show.
How cool is that?
And Cyrus being gay had been building since Episode 1. Rush acknowledged as much in an interview with The Tribune in June, describing Cyrus as someone who is “a little different than all the other kids.”
In the first of two episodes that aired last week, Cyrus told his friend Buffy (Sofia Wylie) that he has feelings for Jonah (Asher Angel).
“Buffy, I feel weird,” Cyrus said. “Different.”
“Cyrus, you’ve always been weird. But you’re no different,” Buffy said as she reached across the table and took his hand.
It was sweet. Charming. A model of what a friend should do. It was by no means exploitative. This is about innocent first love.
“I feel honored to be able to represent such an important and exciting character,” Rush said in an on-air interview. “So I hope I can be a good enough role model.”
That’s something else “Andi Mack” has been doing all along — providing role models. Any parent of a 13-year-old daughter would be happy to have her be like Andi.
And the gay storyline is not something they’re treating lightly. Disney and Minsky consulted with child-development experts. In a nonpreachy way, they’re addressing a serious issue: LGBTQ youth experience bullying and violence and attempt suicide at much higher rates, according to the CDC.
Yes, we live in a world where a certain segment of the population objects to anything that involves members of the LGBTQ community. And those objections get louder when it involves anyone as young as 13.
Predictably, objections are being raised by those who insist Cyrus couldn’t possibly know he’s attracted to other boys at his age. Of course, those same people have no objection to a 13-year-old character who knows he’s attracted to girls.
This is not about sex, it’s about learning to accept yourself and others. It’s about learning to be a good friend and a good person.
It’s a process. Cyrus still has a long way to go. So do Andi and Buffy — even in this idealized, fictional world where a middle-schooler feels comfortable coming out to a friend.
Maybe kids who watch this show can make the real world more like “Andi Mack.”
Shows like this are helping to raise a generation that understands what a better world looks like. The Disney Channel, Minsky and everyone associated with the made-in-Utah series deserve our thanks.