"Hairspray": A Discussion Guide for Educators and Students

It’s been nearly three decades since John Waters brought us his film, Hairspray, in 1988. From there, the story of Tracy Turnblad and her friends and family has lived on through the original film, the Broadway adaptation in 2002 and subsequent presence in school and community theater productions, the remake of the film in 2007 and NBC’s 2016 Hairspray LIVE.  

Set in racially-segregated 1960s Baltimore, Hairspray remains relevant to today’s audiences as it reflects many current events and issues in U.S. society and can be used to address a variety of themes, including, racism and bias of all kinds, body image, individuality and identity, student activism, community-police interactions and media bias. And, of course, it is a lot of fun.

However you watch Hairspray—live, recorded, on stage or on screen—the story is full of potential inspiration, teachable moments and conversation starters for middle and high school educators and students, alike. Click HERE for suggested discussion questions to use in your school.


EDUCATORS AND COLLEAGUES: Consider discussing Hairspray at a staff meeting, PD session or professional learning community (PLC). Ask educators to watch Hairspray ahead of time or focus on a particular theme or song that you can watch/listen to together. Pick a topic or two that seem particularly relevant to your school community and use the educator questions HERE to guide the conversation.

IN THE CLASSROOM: Bring Hairspray into the classroom through discussions and assignments aligned with your existing curriculum. Possible connections include social movements of the 1960s, identity and bias, music theory, media literacy and current events. Depending on the technology and time available, consider showing clips or listening to a song from the soundtrack in class, followed by a discussion using the student questions HERE to guide the conversation.

STUDENTS AND GSAs: Hairspray, the film, play and soundtrack, can be a great conversation starter for your GSA, Diversity Club, Leadership Class or other student group. Try having a club movie night, afterschool screening or watch/listen to clips or songs during a regularly-scheduled meeting. Consider inviting other student clubs or groups to join you. Pick a theme or two ahead of time that seems most relevant to your school community and use the student discussion questions HERE to guide the conversation.