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Not Too Gay to Function

Queer artists Auli'i Cravalho and Jaquel Spivey bring new life to beloved characters in Mean Girls.

Angourie Rice plays Cady Heron, Bebe Wood plays Gretchen Wieners and Avantika plays Karen Shetty in Mean Girls from Paramount Pictures. (Photo: Jojo Whilden/Paramount © 2023 Paramount Pictures)

Dust off your best pink ensemble (or sweatpants if that’s all that fits you right now), grab a Kälteen Bar, and get ready to take a bus ride back to North Shore High School! Comedic genius and writer Tina Fey brings a new twist to her modern classic, Mean Girls, complete with a selection of hit songs from the Tony Award-nominated musical of the same name. The brand new iteration of the hit film is packed with references from the original 2004 movie, updated scenes and characters to reflect a more progressive and tech-obsessed generation, and even more queer representation.

Stars Auli’i Cravalho (who shot to stardom when she voiced the titular character in the Disney animated film Moana) and Tony Award-nominated performer Jaquel Spivey shine on screen as Janis and Damian, respectively. The “art freak” misfits and allies of transfer student Cady, played by Angourie Rice, collaborate to bring down Queen Bee Regina George, played by queer artist Renee Rapp. The pair put a new, exciting spin on their beloved characters, who act as narrators in this musical film adaptation.

Cravalho and Spivey understand the importance of honoring those who have portrayed their characters in the past, while adding their own flare—and a whole lot of glitter at the same time. “We are such fans of the ’04, O.G. iconic film,” explains Cravalho, “so I definitely had some apprehension about how I would pay homage to Lizzy Caplan, as well as Barrett Weed who played Janis on Broadway. Like, how do I [honor] these beautiful women who gave such life to this character?”

 

Having made a splash on Broadway in A Strange Loop, Spivey portrays Janis’s lovable sidekick. Referring to stepping into Damian’s shoes, Spivey says, “It’s a sacred text and a sacred movie. You don’t touch it, you just let it be what it is.”

In the original film, Damian is played by queer actor Daniel Franzese, and Spivey is thrilled to portray the character that has meant so much to him over the years. “Damian is one of my heroes and he inspired me so much, and to pass that on to someone else is amazing,” he says. “Black queer representation for men is very one way when it comes to film and television, so it’s nice to show that there can be a plus size, queer Black man who’s fabulous, who knows he’s fabulous, and doesn’t ask for permission to exist.”

The 2024 film features Janis as an out lesbian, which is in contrast to the sexually ambiguous character in the original movie, which used the character’s Lebanese background as a way of suggesting the possibility of her queerness. “[The term] lesbian was kind of thrown around in the original and now we’re reclaiming it,” Cravalho, who came out as bisexual in a 2020 TikTok video, says. “It feels great that, in 2024, we are showing what high school looks like today. It is colorful, it is fierce, and there’s a lot more glitter.”

Renee Rapp plays Regina George in Mean Girls from Paramount Pictures. Photo: Jojo Whilden/Paramount © 2023 Paramount Pictures.

When it came to bringing his character to life visually, authenticity was incredibly important to Spivey’s process. “I wanted him to be as comfortable in his body as he could be. There are moments where you might see Damian play with the chest a little bit, play with the belly a little bit. These are things that the world will tell you to hide,” he explains. “There’s a scene where we’re walking down the hallway, and you see the shirt coming up on his belly and I remember having a discussion with costume where I said, ‘That’s okay. It’s probably hard for him to find clothes. It might come up on his belly, he does not care.’”

Spivey’s emphasis on body positivity is indicative of the film’s theme of meandering the world as an outcast trying to find your place. While many may strive for others’ ideas of perfection, Spivey explains that just being who you are is what ultimately makes you brave, “grool,” and yes, even fetch. “Damian is proud of his belly,” he says. “He’s proud that he might have a boob. These are things that make him who he is and he celebrates himself. He has a best friend that celebrates him and that’s all he needs. I want people to understand the crowd may not always scream for you. But if you scream for yourself, that’s enough. That’s all you need and it will take you very far.”


Mean Girls is now playing in theaters nationwide.

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Zach McKenzie

Zachary McKenzie is a marketing professional and freelance writer in Houston, TX. He received his bachelor's degree from The University of Texas at Austin in 2014 and has lived in Houston since. Zachary is a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters and enjoys spending his free time with friends, exploring the richness and diversity of Houston.
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