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‘Mean Girls’ has always been queer, but in its latest incarnation we take center stage

‘Mean Girls’ has always been queer, but in its latest incarnation we take center stage ​

Tina Fey, Angourie Rice, Renee Rapp, Jaquel Spivey, Auli'i Cravalho, Chris Briney
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

PRIDE interviews the stars of the film about how it cleverly tackles inclusivity and modernizes a classic, while still celebrating the subversive pleasure of being a ‘b*tch’.


For 20 years Mean Girls has managed to maintain its cache and relevance across three generations of queer folks. Ask a Gen Xer, a Millenial, and a Gen Zer for their favorite Mean Girls quote and they will have no trouble firing off a memorable phase.

To put it in Mean Girls’ parlance, “the limit does not exist” to how much it remains a potent piece of pop culture, memed, celebrated annually, and, yes, quoted, like a lot.

The film spawned a direct-to-video sequel, but more importantly, a Broadway musical adaptation that, like a cinematic ouroboros, has now been turned into a movie that heads to theaters today.

The question is with a film that’s still so beloved and potent (despite being two whole decades old), how does one even begin to try and recapture that magic?

Tina Fey, who both stars in and wrote the screenplay for both films (Rosalind Wiseman co-wrote the original), says it was all about tapping into the core of what made the first movie so special. As she explains, it’s about that dynamic between Cady and Regina that’s still as powerful today. “It’s about those mistakes that people made and their grievances with each other and keeping those at the center of the story,” Fey tells PRIDE.

Watch PRIDE's full interview with 'Mean Girls' writer and star Tina Fey below.

But that doesn’t mean Fey didn’t have some fears about revisiting Mean Girls. “The anxiety comes from [deciding] what things do you keep, and what things do you change? I’ve sort of learned along the way, it’s become clear to me that jokes only work if they’re surprises,” she explains. “And so you can have little moments of homage. But if you really want something to be a proper joke, it has to be new or it’s not going to surprise anybody.”

Fortunately, there are plenty of surprises, including cameos (we won’t spoil them here), new approaches to telling the story like the inclusion of social media, and, of course, new jokes. One that involves a cover of a beloved Nickelodeon theme song en francés had the audience cackling. But also the choice to make the film with a modern audience in mind, one for whom queerness is in the fabric of their lives. Including, at long last, making Janis ‘Im’ike (formally Janis Ian) both textually queer and a Native Hawaiian, which was very meaningful for actor Auli’i Carvalho who brings Janis to life for a new generation of queer girls.

“It’s a real honor to be playing this character. And I hope that in every way that I represent, in being a person of color, and being Native Hawaiian or indigenous and being a queer person, IRL, I think it translates on screen,” she tells PRIDE. “With as much glitter as we have in this film, like, add more, you know, representation in casting is that extra fine glitter that just makes everything glow brighter.”

Watch PRIDE's full interview with 'Mean Girls' stars Auli'i Cravalho and Jaquel Spivey below.

Janis has long been claimed by the queer community, who just prefer to handwave away the whole getting together with Kevin G at the dance moment. But Fey says that’s kind of missing the point of who Janis has always been.

“My feeling back in the day in the original movie was ... no one gets to tell her what she is, other people saying, you’re this doesn’t define her. Who knows what adult Janis from that movie’s path was?” Fey shares.

In the same way Fey felt that was true to the time in 2004, the Janis of 2024 also is rooted in a current truth. “It’s been kind of gratifying, it just feels like it’s reflecting the time more accurately, that people would be living more out,” explains Fey. “When I grew up, I had a lot of friends who were out within our friend group, but they didn’t like to take dates to spring fling. My hope is — and it’s certainly not true everywhere — but in a lot of places that’s not an issue anymore. If you were showing a school today, of course, people would be with whoever they want to be with at spring fling.”

For Cravalho, her version of Janis is all about taking back her queer power. “You know, the joke in the iconic ‘04 film, the ‘Lebanese lesbian,’ like hilarious, but also lesbian was kind of used as a slur and I’m happy to reclaim that. You can call me a pyro lez. Sure. I’m a fire lesbian. Let’s go!” she says.

For the actor, that punk rock attitude is exactly why Janis continues to resonate with audiences. “I love Janis. And maybe this is also the reason why so many people connected with her was that she would rather just be right beside Damian, not part of any clique, not trying to be a part of The Plastics, she doesn’t want to have to cut off a part of herself in order to fit in with other people,” she says. “I think that that’s a great moral that we all can take into account, like, Who would we be if we didn’t care what people thought about us?”

This is reinforced by the updated and still utterly lovable character of Damian, this time played by Broadway star Jaquel Spivey (A Strange Loop), who imbues the character with loads of sass and queer joy. For Spivey, playing Damian was a full circle moment for the actor who connected with the character at a profound level growing up. “For a long time, he was the only plus-sized queer man that I had on screen in pop culture to look at, to look up to. Yeah, he got a shoe to the face, but he threw that shoe right back. Nobody was slamming him into a locker. Nobody was slapping him in the face like the episode of Glee. He walked around that school with respect for him and his bestie,” Spivey tells PRIDE.

Now he’s so excited to be that kind of representation for a new generation of black, queer, plus-sized kids. “We don’t really have many visuals of plus-sized black queer men on screen who might want to sashay down the hallway, might want to give a little hair toss, we don’t have that. So to be able to give that to someone, I hope that somebody sees this and knows that they have value and they have worth,” he explains. “When all you have is pop culture and media to show you what the world around you looks like, if you’re not in it, you think you’re not supposed to be. So it’s nice to now show somebody who might be similar to me. You have a place. You’re a star. There’s room for you, and we celebrate you in this movie.”

Spivey wasn’t the only star to find an opportunity to add a new level of representation to a character that had long been meaningful. Cuban American actress Bebe Wood, who stars as the always fetch Gretchen Weiners, was delighted and surprised to get to see her culture represented in this new version of the iconic character. “I’ve never been able to play a Cuban American in a movie before. So that was exciting,” Wood tells PRIDE. “I’m obviously a white-passing very, like blanquita Cuban American. So I’ve never been able to represent my home, represent my family on screen.”

Watch PRIDE's full interview 'Mean Girls' stars Avantika and Bebe Wood below.

How it came about was organic, says Wood. “The original line in ‘What’s Wrong with Me’ was, ‘Oh, this is the music box I gave Regina that my grandfather gave me.’ [Arturo Perez Jr.] One of our directors was like you should just say ‘abuelito’ and if people catch it, they’ll catch it,” she recalls.

While this new Mean Girls maintains the original’s biting sense of humor and wicked delight in revenge, there is another way in which the depictions have evolved, and that’s by offering even more nuanced looks at its villains, The Plastics. Avantika, who stars as everyone’s favorite sexy mouse Karen Shetty, credits the film’s musical numbers as offering a new way inside the characters — both good and mean.

“You get exposure to another facet of this character’s internal world, and how they see the world. I think getting a peek into Karen and how bright and colorful and vivid sexy is kind and that shines a more positive light,” Avantika tells PRIDE.

That’s not to say they aren’t still the antagonists of the film, just that they become fuller, more enriched — and thus empathetic characters. “These girls are vicious, and they’re mean, and they are at each other’s throats. But I think they fight for each other too, in unexpected ways. We do showcase that in this film specifically. It encourages us to look a little deeper when we feel like we are at the receiving end of someone’s hatred, but also encourages others to do the same for us,” she adds. “Mean Girls has always been quite timeless because of how prevalent it is amongst women in all industries. And how humanizing it is of the term ‘mean’, of the term ‘bitch.’ It’s revelatory in that way.”

She’s not alone in this opinion. “I love a bitch,” Renée Rapp, who stars as the queen bee Plastic, Regina George, tells PRIDE. “There are so many expectations, labels, limitations, put on women and nonmen in different ways.”

It’s the contraindications and complications that make up Regina’s psyche of absolute confidence and total vulnerability that speak to Rapp. “Yes, it’s a funny and silly movie — and very sweet at the end of the day — and the HBIC is some, like, bitchy white girl — go figure — but she’s [also] a little complicated being, and they all are, which I think is nice,” she says.

Watch PRIDE's full interview 'Mean Girls' stars Reneé Rapp, Angourie Rice, and Chris Briney below.

It’s a dynamic that Rapp values in a character and her life, she adds. “I like to see everybody’s sides. If I’m close to somebody in my life, I would love to see what they would call their bad side just as much as I would love to see their good side. I would love to see them stressed, anxious, happy, elated, successful, failing, whatever. I think it’s important. And it just makes people well-rounded. Even if they act like a total bitch,” she shares.

While the movie certainly carves out its own identity, the sense of nostalgia for a beloved film remains, no doubt because of the stewardship of Fey, but also the love and connection the stars themselves have for the original film. Angourie Rice, who takes up Lindsay Lohan’s mantle of Cady Heron, was a self-professed super fan of the film, watching it over and over growing up, so stepping into the shoes of Cady — high-heeled ones — proved to be especially surreal to the actor. “I think the winter talent show dance was one of those moments because I stepped onto the set. And I was like, ‘Oh my god I’m in a movie that I have seen thousands of times.’ Even though our costumes are a little bit different, and the songs different, and then the choreography is a bit different, it’s still all in that same spirit and just felt so close to how I felt watching that scene for the first time,” she tells PRIDE. “I couldn’t believe that that was my life also because it was so late at night and I was in those heels. We were all on those heels for an ungodly number of hours.”

“My temper is like not cut out to be wearing that,” Rapp chimes in, recalling the late-night filming. “I just remember being like ‘I’m gonna shoot fire out of my nipples right now I’m so angry. We were in those fucking heels for so long,” she recalls.

While Rice agrees with a laugh, she can’t help but to marvel at the wonderful bizarreness of it all. “At that point, you’re sort of like, what’s happening? Where am I? This is amazing, but also so strange. It was very fun.”

That sentiment is not unlike what it feels like to be in the theater revisiting a familiar world but with a brand new twist. Thankfully, the joy, subversive humor, and charming characters remain — but now with catchy theme songs. We dare you not to get “Sexy” or “World Burn” stuck in your head. In other words, Mean Girls is still so very fetch.

‘Mean Girls’ arrives in theaters today. Watch the trailer below.

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Rachel Shatto

EIC of

Rachel Shatto, Editor in Chief of, is an SF Bay Area-based writer, podcaster, and former editor of Curve magazine, where she honed her passion for writing about social justice and sex (and their frequent intersection). Her work has appeared on Elite Daily, Tecca, and Joystiq, and she podcasts regularly about horror on the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network. She can’t live without cats, vintage style, video games, drag queens, or the Oxford comma.

Rachel Shatto, Editor in Chief of, is an SF Bay Area-based writer, podcaster, and former editor of Curve magazine, where she honed her passion for writing about social justice and sex (and their frequent intersection). Her work has appeared on Elite Daily, Tecca, and Joystiq, and she podcasts regularly about horror on the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network. She can’t live without cats, vintage style, video games, drag queens, or the Oxford comma.