Growing up, Disney Channel was a place I turned to for insight into the "real world" and a glimpse of what life looked like for other kids my age. Shows including Lizzie McGuire, That's So Raven, and Suite Life of Zack and Cody taught me lessons about friendship, young romance, and family dynamics that I was too shy or uncomfortable speaking to my South Asian parents about. However, as impactful as these shows and movies were, there was always something missing: children that shared my brown skin and South Asian background.
Earlier this month that changed. Disney Channel's new movie Spin, featuring the talented 16-year old actress Avantika, follows the story of an Indian-American teen named Rhea Kumar whose life has been centered around schoolwork, her tight-knit group of friends, and helping her widowed father (played by Bollywood actor Abhay Deol) run their modern fusion family restaurant. Her life changes when her budding friendship and crush on exchange student DJ Max helps her discover her love for DJing and music, and in a way reconnect with her late mother.
It is groundbreaking for children, but especially children of color, when the iconic platform showcases relatable content about finding your identity, navigating sensitive familial structures, and dealing with insecurities.
"Growing up, I watched a lot of old classic Hollywood movies, horror films, and Bollywood. Though I saw myself represented often in Bollywood, when it came to other genres, I just didn't see anyone who really looked like me. Things are slowly, but surely, beginning to change now—and that makes me really excited for the future of the industry. Priyanka Chopra inspired me a lot and showed me the possibility of not only dreaming but making it a reality of being a global actor," says Avantika.
In Spin, Rhea breaks the typical South Asian stereotype that the only feasible careers are doctor, engineer, or lawyer. In fact, Rhea enjoys coding and DJing, proving that you don't have to choose between art and science. It is entirely possible to love and excel in both disciplines.
The lessons of Spin are innumerable—the biggest one being that children should pursue their dreams, no matter how wild or crazy they may be.
"Spin delivers the message of family, love and tries to propagate the idea of believing in one's dreams and taking a leap of faith in order to achieve what one sets their mind to. It channels important messages like 'self discovery,' leaning on family and true friendship for support and encouragement," says Avantika. "I believe it is important for children to understand and value these things in the current time and age. Youth is not a time to put yourself and your potential in a box, but rather a time for experimentation."
Rhea, a strong girl who creates and produces beat-driven music infused with her South Asian heritage (while rocking beautiful Indian clothing), demonstrates that being true to yourself is key to achieving your goals. As the first South Asian to lead a Disney Channel movie, Avantika is no stranger to hard work and perseverance. Her best bit of advice for children who are looking to break into this industry is to never settle.
"It is difficult to cope with the pressure and uncertainty that comes with the entertainment industry, but simultaneously it is also extremely rewarding to the soul. There are wonderful people here who are equally cooperative and creative and will help you step up your game," says Avantika. "So, believe in yourself, work hard, work smart, the rest will follow."
Spin is available to watch on Disney Plus.