If you ever want to feel old, just sit back and think about how One Tree Hill aired for the first time more than 16 YEARS AGO. We know — where the heck did time go?! But even though the iconic WB/CW television series first came into our lives when many current high schoolers weren't even born, it still remains one of the greatest small-screen creations of all time. Why, you may ask? Because OTH was realistic, relatable, and, most importantly, WAY ahead of its time.
Think about it — if One Tree Hill didn't make such a cultural impact on young people in the early-to-late 2000s, there's no way it would've lasted the nine seasons it did. Sophia Bush, James Lafferty, Chad Michael Murray, Hilarie Burton and Bethany Joy Lenz were able to create characters that resonated so deeply with viewers that it was almost like they really grew up with us. OTH tackled classic high school topics like romance and drama, but also took things a step further and touched on subjects like LGBTQ+ discrimination, mental illness, school violence, and so much more.
Keep reading for 15 examples of how OTH was progressive AF and addressed issues that are still relevant today!
Despite the fact that this One Tree Hill episode titled "Unopened Letter to the World" aired well over a decade ago, Brooke Davis's words still ring insanely true. While women are, without a doubt, some of the most powerful beings on the planet, they still face tons of societal pressure to look and act a certain way, while men can basically do whatever the eff they want with little to no repercussions. We have, thankfully, come a long way since this ep first played on our television screens in February 2005, but there's still a LONG way to go to create a world with equality for ladies everywhere.
The second we saw this iconic image, which featured the Little Mix girls sitting naked with hateful words written all over their bodies in promo for their latest album, LM5, we couldn't help but think of Brooke Davis. Sophia Bush's character stood with similar demeaning words being projected on her body during the OTH episode titled "Pictures Of You," which aired in February 2007. While it's been almost 12 years since we first saw this iconic ep, the message is still incredibly powerful — people, women especially, have to deal with stigmas and hate on a daily basis. Words do hurt, even when you're strong enough to know they're not true.
In 2018 alone, there were 82 school shooting in the United States. The issue of gun violence across the nation, especially in schools, is more relevant than ever. When One Tree Hill's school-shooting episode called "With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept" first aired in early 2006, it was definitely a groundbreaking moment, because while horrifying incidents like Columbine had already occurred, they were not often talked about in mainstream media. Now, we see huge movements like Never Again MSD and March for Our Lives making waves across the country in hopes that no one will have to suffer the tragedy of a school shooting again.
Erasure of the bisexual community is a very real thing in today's society, especially in Hollywood. One Tree Hill was WAY ahead of the game when it introduced viewers to the character of Anna Taggaro, played by Daniella Alonso, during the show's second season. The teenager was brought on as Lucas Scott's love interest, but quickly became so much more.
"There’s still more of a bias towards [bisexual] characters," now-disgraced creator Mark Schwahn told AfterEllen.com back in 2005. "I see support groups for people on both ends of the spectrum, but none for people in the middle. I just felt like this character, seemingly without a country, was a very compelling character. I really felt for her dilemma, and when you connect emotionally to a character, it opens up so many avenues for a writer to write. I was really rooting for Anna and I felt like that was the best way to go."
Before Anna came out as bi, rumors about her sexuality circulated around Tree Hill High School because she was spending a lot of time with Peyton. When Anna's brother, Felix, found out that people were talking, he decided to paint the word 'DYKE' across Peyton's locker in order to get the focus off his sister. Instead of defending herself or letting the slur have power over her, the badass blonde decided to take ownership over the word and make a serious fashion statement while walking through the halls. Principal Turner tells Peyton to go to the office and change, but she refuses. Instead, she strips down to her bra right there in the hallway.
"I'm not gay, Mr. Tuner, but you know what? If I was, I wouldn't let other people tear me down because of it. And I sure as hell wouldn't be looking for answers in one of your pamphlets," she says before ripping off the tee and strutting out of the building.
When you think of single parents on One Tree Hill, your brain probably immediately goes to Karen Roe, who was forced to raise her son, Lucas, by herself after Dan Scott walked out on them to be with Nathan and Deb. But she wasn't the only solo 'rent on the series. A major twist of season one came after it was revealed that Peyton's crush, Jake Jagielski (Bryan Greenberg), was a single dad to his daughter, Jenny. While his ex, Nicki, wanted to be in the baby's life and even once kidnapped her, it was clear that she was in no way fit to be a parent. We often hear the trope of a deadbeat dad walking out on his family, but the issue really does go both ways.
Mental illness is something that affects MILLIONS of people around the world every day, and Haley's battle with depression was so important to see in a teenage drama series. The character, played by Bethany Joy Lenz, slipped into a dark place after her mother died, and despite the efforts of those around her, simply couldn't get out of it. She wasn't eating, wasn't sleeping, and wasn't taking care of her son. Eventually, HJS decided to get professional help and was able to overcome her depression; she even became a crisis counselor to help others in a similar situation!
We know, we know — the idea of best friends realizing they're soulmates is pretty dang cute, but not every friendship turns romantic. Haley and Lucas were besties for years and, despite some fans desperately wanting Laley to become a thing, kept their relationship strictly platonic through and through.
While we're definitely seeing more variety when it comes to platonic AND romantic relationships on the small screen today, the fact that OTH highlighted Lucas and Haley being besties was a pretty big deal when the show premiered in 2003.
If you aren't aware how big an issue sexual assault is today, you've probably been living under a rock for the past year. With movements like #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport taking over Hollywood, people are getting more and more comfortable talking about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault. But when "The Search for Something More" aired in November 2003, the issue of rape - especially on college campuses - wasn't really talked about, let alone depicted on a mainstream teen drama television series.
We're still very much living in a world where being skinny is equated to being beautiful, but there are tons of brands, campaigns, and celebrities doing their part to break the stigma. One Tree Hill contributed to the body-positivity movement with Clothes Over Bros' "Zero is Not a Size" campaign, spearheaded by none other than Millicent Huxtable (Lisa Goldstein).
We'll never forget the moment when Millie strutted her stuff down the runway rockin' a white tank top with the words 'ZERO IS NOT A SIZE' written across the front. While it's pretty clear that zero IS a size and the message could've done better to include ALL body types, the idea of stopping fat-shaming in the modeling industry is pretty dang great.
And speaking of Millicent Huxtable, let's talk about her crazy character development over five seasons of One Tree Hill. The brunette beauty went from being Brooke's nerdy, awkward, shy assistant to legit running Clothes Over Bros and being the face of many of its campaigns, which ultimately took her down a dark path. Millie started partying hard on season seven and eventually became addicted to cocaine. It was an interesting plot twist because the media often portrays addicts as looking or acting a certain way, and she definitely did not fit that mold. But, in reality, addiction can affect anyone, no matter their outward appearance.
Before Joe Manganiello was known for gyrating his way across the big screen in Magic Mike XXL or playing Alcide Herveaux on True Blood, he depicted Owen Morello on One Tree Hill. While Owen was initially just a minor character, he eventually became an integral part of seasons five and six.
Turns out, Owen was way more than just TRIC's bar manager — he was a recovering addict who eventually turned into Brooke's boyfriend, Nathan's Slamball teammate, and Millie's support as she started going to AA meetings.
We know you love Evan Peters thanks to his roles on TV shows like American Horror Story and in movies like X-Men, but OTH fans knew him long before he booked these iconic gigs. The now-31-year-old actor played Jack Daniels on six episodes of the series and, while he wasn't on it for long, became beloved to many fans. Jack was the BFF of Sam Walker (who, BTW, was played by none other than Ashley Rickards) who faced tons of adversity in his life due to his abusive murderer brother, Xavier. Not only did the One Tree Hill introduce us to this iconic actor, but it also shed light on the foster care system, as he left Tree Hill to be with new foster parents out of the state.
Breast cancer awareness is not, by any means, something new or groundbreaking. What IS groundbreaking, however, is the fact that One Tree Hill created an entire episode about Peyton putting on a concert at TRIC to support breast cancer research in honor of her biological mom, Ellie, who died of the disease. Oh, and we have to mention that Pete Wentz and the rest of the Fall Out Boy appeared on the ep in order to boost the movement, which was pretty dang epic, if you ask us.
Naley shippers everywhere will never be able to forget how their hearts dropped when Haley got on that bus to go on tour with Chris Keller and leave Nathan behind — we seriously could vom just thinking about the devastation we felt at the time! But, as we got older, we started to realize that Hale's decision actually wasn't so bad after all.
Hear us out, people. It's so easy to get caught up in a romance, especially one that happens during high school, and lose sight of yourself as a result. Haley knew being a musician was her dream and she did what she had to do to accomplish that, even though it meant breaking her husband's heart. Sometimes, being selfish is necessary and if things are supposed to work out, they will in the end.