Portrayed by Ari Notartomaso, Cynthia Znudowski is one of the four main characters of the Paramount+ series ‘Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies.’ Set five years before the events of the ‘Grease’ film, the show depicts how the iconic clique, the Pink Ladies was formed. At the start of the show, Cynthia wants nothing more than to become one of the T-Birds, the car-driving social rebels Danny Zuko (John Travolta) is part of in the 1978 movie. Despite playing a critical role in making T-Birds popular, Cynthia is not made an official member of the group, making her realize that she will never be one of them. This ultimately leads to her becoming one of the founding members of Pink Ladies. If the recent events in ‘Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies’ have made you wonder whether Cynthia is gay, here is what we think. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Is Cynthia Gay?
Yes, there is a high probability that Cynthia is LGBTQ+ in ‘Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies.’ She is introduced as a tomboy in the show and seems to have a potential admirer among the T-Birds. But the narrative of the story takes her in a different direction. Because of the antics of her and her fellow Pink Ladies, they are often at odds with Asst. Principal McGee, who keeps finding innovative ways to punish the girls. McGee eventually sends Cynthia to the theater club, knowing that the young girl dislikes acting and all it entails.
It is in the theater club that Cynthia encounters Lydia (Niamh Wilson). Their relationship is initially antagonistic, as in each other’s eyes, they are the embodiment of the group they are part of. As things stand now, there is still some animosity between them, but given what the two actors behind these characters have shared on social media, it’s safe to presume that the series writers intend for a romance between them.
In real life, Notartomaso identifies as gender nonconforming nonbinary trans and believes that Cynthia is similar. “Queerness, gender nonconformity and transness throughout time hasn’t always been exactly the same,” Notartomaso elaborated in an interview with UPI. “All of us are a product of the culture that we live in, but it is really special to be able to tell that story of what it may have been like in the 1950s.”
While it can be argued that it’s a clichéd approach to storytelling to write the tomboy character as lesbian, what the series writers do well is flesh out Cynthia’s character well before potentially introducing that aspect. “As a young person, I didn’t really have much access to people in the media. It was something… I grew up watching ‘Orange is the New Black,’ which is not the most age-appropriate material for young people to be watching,” Notartomaso stated in an interview with ComicBook. “But there is something really beautiful about being able to play a character that is in an age-appropriate musical. It’s for kids of all ages, well, not all ages, but 14 and up. To be able to be a part of this story, it’s really special. There’s something that’s so healing about it for me as a person, and I really hope that it resonates with young people.”
According to series creator Annabel Oakes, ‘Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies’ is ultimately an exploration of the 1950s and 1970s through the prism of the 2020s. “We love ‘Grease.’ We refer to it as the mothership, and we always go back to it,” Oakes said during a panel discussion at the 2023 Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour. “It was made in a time, and it was commenting on another. So, ‘Grease’ was the ‘70s commenting on the ‘50s. They were telling really subversive, funny songs and stories about the ‘50s from the ‘70s point of view. Now we’re in the 2020s and we get to comment on what they said in the ‘70s and the ‘50s, which is a cool experience.”
So, as a series, ‘Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies’ doesn’t seek to replicate the film or the original stage musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Instead, it gives voices to those characters who would have never come to the forefront of those stories, and that includes Cynthia.
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