The release of the movie version of the Broadway musical “Mean Girls” should be an exciting and uplifting release — maybe even 2024’s “Barbie” equivalent. The star-studded cast, punchy soundtrack, and iconic plot and characters should be building massive hype around this movie.
However, the anticipation for the movie has been overshadowed by the public’s reaction to Reneé Rapp, the actress playing the role of queen bee Regina George. Rapp starred in the Broadway version of the Mean Girls musical from 2019 to 2020; portrayed Leighton Murray, the snooty-but-secretly-sweet and hilarious lesbian suitemate, in the HBO show “The Sex Lives of College Girls;” and has a rising music career. She also uses her platform to be an outspoken advocate for mental health and the LGBTQ+ community.
As an avid fan of Rapp’s heart-wrenching music, role in “The Sex Lives of College Girls,” and online personality, I’ve been disappointed by backlash to Rapp’s casting, which has been largely centered around her body type. On TikTok and other platforms, people have made comments about how Rapp’s physical form doesn’t match that of Regina George’s from the 2004 movie. This character, portrayed by Rachel McAdams, fits a very narrow beauty standard — blonde, blue-eyed, and skinny — that stereotypically matches the “queen bee” and “mean girl” roles. The protagonists even refer to her and her posse as “the Plastics.” I won’t go into the specific comments I’ve seen about Rapp’s casting; to do so would be to unnecessarily draw attention to messages that do not need amplifying.
Rapp has opened up in the past about her struggle with an eating disorder and said people said “vile” things about her body while she was portraying Regina George on Broadway. In response, many fans and body positivity advocates have been posting in support of Rapp and having valuable conversations about the significance of casting actors who do not necessarily physically match the “original” character. This is an important discussion and reminds me of talk surrounding the musical “Hamilton,” in which many people of color play white historical figures, or the recent live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid,” in which the Black actress Halle Bailey plays Ariel.
I’m deeply saddened that some people feel the need to voice a negative opinion about Rapp’s body — or anyone’s body, for that matter. While I am glad her casting has fueled conversations of body positivity and raised awareness surrounding mental health, I can’t help but wonder why her body needs to be a topic of conversation at all. The characters in Mean Girls are fictional (and thank god for that), and while surface-level beauty is an important theme in the movie, this can be separated from the physical forms of the characters’ bodies.
Instead, I want to see the public focusing on the movie’s substance. Let’s focus on Rapp’s powerful acting abilities. Let’s focus on the fact that she has a beautiful voice and just released an incredible debut album that she’s now touring (if you haven’t listened to “Snow Angel” yet, go do it. Seriously). Let’s focus on the return of the nostalgic film, and the 2000s outfits we can wear when we hit the theaters in January.
The message of Mean Girls, as I see it, is that genuine relationships are far more important than superficial things like popularity and appearances. The new release should be able to reach and help teenage girls just as the original did two decades ago, and I would hate to see it overshadowed by unproductive discussions about the physical form of its talented star.