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I Won’t Be Watching the “Heathers” Remake

Reboots seem to be the hot thing in Hollywood at the moment, whether for good or bad. Everybody seems to want to do a hot, new twist on every old classic, from “Beauty and the Beast” to “The Archie Comics.” When I first heard about the brand new remake of the cult classic film “Heathers”, I felt really excited. As an avid fan of both the original movie and the off-broadway musical (Martha Dunnstock is one of my ultimate dream roles), I couldn’t wait to see to see this new take on this story I knew so well. I was especially excited because I heard there was going to be a diverse cast, and real, good diversity is something Hollywood definitely lacks. I was excited… until the casting details and trailer came out.

All of the Heathers, the villains, are minorities (Heather Chandler is a fat girl, Heather Duke identifies as gender queer, and Heather McNamara is a woman of color) and Veronica and JD the (sadistic) protagonists are white, conventionally attractive, and cisgender/heterosexual. See what’s wrong here? Let’s take a closer look.

For those of you who may not be as familiar with the original story, Heathers is about a small town girl (Veronica) becoming fed up with her high school bullies, and eventually deciding to murder them after some convincing from her sociopathic boyfriend (JD). The original Heathers are your typical high school “it girls”, white, wafer thin, and cishet (you get the picture). In the new version, they’re not. The issue with this isn’t the realistic aspect of it. Life isn’t one giant stereotype; people who don’t quite fit the model of a “classic mean girl” are just as capable of being bullies. The issue is that minority groups are already very underrepresented in mainstream Hollywood, with less than 30% of roles in Hollywood played by people of color, and only a handful of well-rounded, fat characters (where their weight isn’t the butt of every joke). The choice to cast oppressed, minority actors to play the bullies of the majority (who, in reality don’t experience oppression on the same scale) comes across, at best, as playing the victim card. This sort of portrayal demonizes people within these minority categories, stacking even more stigma against them and contributing to the enormous weight the system already places on their shoulders.

One problem that can arise from this sort of representation is that many people who consume this media may get the wrong ideas about people within these minority groups. This will especially be the case for people who have little to no interaction with minorities (people in more rural areas, gentrified communities, etc.). I’m not saying that every minority character has to be a perfect person, but the Heathers (somewhat with the acception of McNamara) are portrayed as purely malevolent, with little to no redeeming qualities. They’re shallow, one dimensional, mean people, and that’s the point. When people who already have negative ideas about these minority groups, it only reinforces their thoughts and feelings. This can give rise to stereotyping, harassment, and even hate crimes.

Another problem with the casting choice is that it depicts the Heathers, who are of minority status, as having too much power, and that there is a need for someone (JD and Veronica, the cis, white people) to strip them of this power. In this case, by means of murder. The only context in which people of minority status hold “too much” power is in the eyes of white supremacists who like to portray the majority as victims. Maybe that wasn’t the original intent of the show, but, to me, this remake is coming across as the alt-right’s wildest fantasy. It is an angsty white boy committing violence against minorities, enacting his innermost thoughts and fantasies. We have enough of this in reality, we don’t need more.

Yes, JD is supposed to be the true villain of the story, but that will not stop alt-right fanboys from gushing over his character, saying they’ve found someone they can relate to (if you’re skeptical about whether or not this would happen, take a look at those who idolize the character of Kylo Ren from the new Star Wars franchise). White supremacy is still very dangerous and prevalent within our society. Hollywood should not be fueling its fire.

Diversity within Hollywood needs to happen, but it can’t just be a few characters thrown in for inclusivity points. Minorities want to see people like them who aren’t giant stereotypes, and who aren’t depicted as scary or threatening. I realize that not everyone agrees with my take on this new reboot, but I am asking those who still choose to watch it to take it with a grain of salt. This show certainly shouldn’t be praised for its diversity, nor used as a shining example for future inclusive media. We need to do better when it comes to diversity, in media and in the real world.

Sophia is a junior theatre major and creative writing minor at Muhlenberg College. She is also very passionate about writing, reading, and politics.
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