This March will see the debut of NBC’s Rise. It’s a musical drama about a high school teacher in a largely blue-collar town who revitalizes the school’s theater program, puts on a production of Spring Awakening, and inspires the whole town or something. It stars Auli’i Cravalho of Moana fame and Rosie Perez of Rosie Perez Fame, and is inspired by the true story of a teacher in Levittown, PA, named Lou Volpe. There’s just one thing: The real Lou Volpe was a closeted gay man—he came out later on in life—but his television adaptation, Lou Mazzuchelli (played by Josh Radnor) will not be.
The show is based on a book about Volpe by Michael Sokolove called Drama High. And while adaptations always take a few liberties, series co-creator Jason Katims (who also gave us Friday Night Lights) decided to take a pretty big one. Via IndieWire (emphasis mine):
During the Television Critics Association press tour panel for the show on Tuesday, Katims explained he changed this aspect of his main character to be able to connect with the story, but that he didn’t want to “shy away from issues of sexuality.”
Maybe if you need to change something so crucial like the sexuality of a character in order to “connect with the story,” you need to find someone else to adapt it.
Katims insisted that Rise will explore LGBTQ issues with other characters, including a trans character, and that he has rounded out Lou by giving him a son with a drinking problem. Cute, though what that has to do with turning a gay person straight, I don’t know.
Interestingly enough, the producers also insist that making Lou straight won’t blunt the impact of putting on a production of Spring Awakening, which deals extensively with puberty and adolescent sexuality and also addresses homosexuality.
Volpe may have been closeted at the time of the production, but to delete that aspect of his character is to completely change the story, and essentially doing what Hollywood does best: handing over the accomplishments of marginalized people to straight white men.