After lending her voice to Disney's Moana, Auli'i Cravalho is making her television debut. Deadline reported that the 16-year-old actress will star in the NBC pilot Drama High, which is inspired by the book of the same name written by Michael Sokolove. The hour-long series tells the real life story of a Pennsylvania high school drama teacher Lou Volpe, who taught a working-class town to love theater. The New York Times went as far to call Volpe's drama program "the real-life Glee." Sokolove was one of Volpe's students, and Cravalho will play Lilette, one of the high schoolers who was inspired by the teacher's passion for the arts.
The series is from Jason Katims, who was the executive producer and showrunner of Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, and Jeffrey Seller, who is a producer of Hamilton. That means that both of Cravalho's acting credits have a connection to Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the music for Moana. What's more exciting, though, is that her casting is a step in the right direction when it comes to diversity.
When Cravalho was cast in Moana, she was just a Hawaiian girl whose audition tape for another event landed in the right hands. While that movie, which focused on an adventurous girl who is setting sail to restore the heart of a god with a demigod by her side, featured its fair share of Asian and Pacific Islanders, television still has some work to do when it comes to representation.
In 2014, GLAAD's annual Where We Are On TV Report reported that in the 2013-2014 television season, six percent of broadcast series regular characters were Asian-Pacific Islander, but, the following year, only four percent of characters would be Asian. It was the only ethnic group to see a decrease in diversity from the previous year. According to USC Annenberg's 2016 study, Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative, only 5.1 percent of characters on TV in 2014-2015 were Asian. The study found that half of the 400 films and TV shows they analyzed had no Asian speaking characters.
In 2017, GLAAD's Where We Are On TV Report found that the percentage of Asian-Pacific Islander characters on broadcast, cable, and streaming remains at 6 percent, which is the highest percentage GLAAD has ever found in the 12 years since they expanded the report to include series regular characters across all forms of television. The report found that there were 151 female series regulars on TV in 2016-2017, 27 are Asian Pacific-Islander women. Cravalho will now increase that number for the next study.
What we learned was that these reports don't often tell the whole story. While the number of character were down, critics have pointed out that the characters that are on TV are far more complex. In 2015, Deadline reported that Asian actors were seeing a change in the kinds of television roles available. From Fresh Off The Boat, the first family sitcom with an Asian cast on American television, to Master Of None, whose creator and star Aziz Ansari made history for being the first Indian-American actor to land a lead comedy-acting Emmy nomination, Asian actors were being cast in roles that let them tell their stories. And this is something Cravalo will also be able to do with her upcoming TV debut.
Knowing that she wants to keep the same spirit she discovered while playing Moana, it's likely she will do just that. Last year, Cravalho told Harper's Bazaar, "I suppose my dream role would be anything that continues in that direction of either self discovery or just having a strong, kick butt-girl." In her short time in Hollywood, the actress has shown that she is up to that task. We saw that from her impressive Oscars performance of Moana's "How Far I'll Go" alone, which showed that this young girl will not let anything stop her from keeping her cool — not a rogue flag and definitely not TV's diversity problem.