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OPINION: Why I probably won’t watch the new ‘Mean Girls’

Conflicting views from different communities shape my choice

A hot pink Burn Book. In “Mean Girls,” the Burn Book is where popular girls diss people they don’t like. // Photo by Cordelia Longo

I was scrolling through TikTok when I noticed people drumming up excitement for the new “Mean Girls” movie.

My mutual friends were busy making edits to a new song from the movie by Reneé Rapp, who plays the character Regina George. I knew how big of a deal it was for Rapp to argue that Regina George was a lesbian, since there are so few lesbian main characters in films today. I was also aware of the harmful stereotypes against Asian Americans that Tina Fey, the writer, had perpetuated decades earlier in “Mean Girls (2004),” as well as in her other projects like 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

As a queer Asian American person, I felt torn about watching the new movie. 

The original Mean Girls movie inspired a 2017 Broadway musical, which led to this film adaptation, “Mean Girls (2024).” It stars Angourie Rice as Cady, the main character who transitions from homeschooled life into a traditional American high school. Rapp was a natural choice for Regina George in this adaptation because she played the same role in the Broadway production.

During one scene in “Mean Girls (2004),” Janice introduces Cady to the school cafeteria seating arrangement. The jocks sit at one table, the Asian nerds at another (they have glasses and are playing a card game) and the cool Asians at a third (they’re the ones who wear more revealing clothing and have piercings). Later, two angry Vietnamese women fight over how many guys they can get together with. 

You can see why I’m hesitant to watch “Mean Girls (2024).” 

Still, I was curious to see if the representation of Asian Americans in the new version was better than the original. I talked to Beau Hopkins, a second-year at Western Washington University, who is of half Filipino descent and has seen both movies. 

Hopkins said that, while “Mean Girls (2004)” is not a profound watch, they see it as iconic. The movie made an imprint on our generation and does a good job of calling out the weirdness of high school cliques. 

But regarding the racist stereotypes, I found that we had slightly different views. 

“I mean, it was the 2000s, so obviously there was some misrepresentation there. But I guess I sort of let it slide a little bit because it was the 2000s,” Hopkins said. 

I understand this viewpoint and see the validity of a movie being a product of its time, but plenty of other films from this time did not include stereotypical depictions of non-white people. Take “Napoleon Dynamite,” for example, which came out in 2004 and did not portray the non-white characters as one-dimensional stereotypes. 

Hopkins found “Mean Girls (2024)” a lot less problematic than the original. However, while they appreciate the Asian representation that Avantika Vandanapu brings to the character Karen, Hopkins said they do not think the new musical reached the “iconicness” of the original movie.  

I talked to another Asian American person about the racism in “Mean Girls (2004).” Caitlin Sylvester goes to the University of Colorado Boulder and is of Korean and white descent. We focused on the lunch table scene with the “cool Asians” and “popular Asians”. 

“Even though it was shocking to hear that, I guess the more you look at your own school demographic, the more truth you can see from that,” she said. 

I was surprised to hear this, but I also grew up in majority-white towns and never really interacted with other Asian people my age. 

“You do have to realize the movie is highly dramatized for entertainment factors, so there’s some truth in it, and in other factors, there’s not,” Sylvester said. 

Despite the cafeteria scene being relatable for some people, I feel that stereotypes of Asian people coming from white people are never okay. It is one thing for an Asian person to tell the story of the “nerdy” and “cool” Asians, but it is certainly not the story for white people to tell. 

Jennifer Leo, a former editor of two Spielberg films, as well as Pixar and Disney movies, spoke to me about her current role as a screenwriter. 

She just finished co-writing “The Silent Mission,” whose main character is Black. We talked about representation and how she navigates writing non-white characters as a white woman. She turns to coworkers and friends for guidance when tasked with writing them. 

“I am not going to be able to know everything because I can only write from my experience. Any writer can only write from their experience,” Leo said. 

When we discussed “Mean Girls (2004),” I brought up the racist cafeteria scene. Leo acknowledged the racist elements and had some additional thoughts.

“‘Mean Girls,’ written by Tina Fey, was groundbreaking in a lot of other ways,” Leo said. “When you look at it from the standpoint of feminism, the crew was mostly female.” 

I can acknowledge the waves Fey’s team made for women at the time, but I also feel that, unless feminism includes women of all races, it is not true feminism. 

I was interested to hear about the history of Asian stereotypes.

Felicia Cosey is a Western professor who teaches film and media studies in the English department. She studies representation in film and said anti-Asian racism goes a long way back. Movies in the ‘80s carried a slough of racism because of the success in the Japanese automobile industry – white people were afraid of Asian people taking over the world. 

Blade Runner,” she said, is one example of this. It takes place in the future, where English is replaced with a language that sounds like Chinese mixed with English. This mix of language gave validity to nativist sentiments and racism. 

“In the ‘80s, ‘90s, into the early aughts, I do think it was problematic. I think things are getting better now and I think it is because marginalized communities are saying, ‘We have a voice. We don’t like the stereotypes,’” Cosey said.

With “Mean Girls (2004),” Cosey said the stereotypical depiction of Asian women as cold and calculating most likely bounces off of the trope of the “tiger mom.” The “tiger mom” portrays Asian parents, specifically mothers, as expecting their children to meet impossible standards. These mothers are seen as hostile and hard-hearted.  

“When you decenter the Asian character and you’re doing it from the perspective of somebody who’s not Asian, you’re not going to give a fair depiction of that character,” Cosey said. 

In the end, true representation is about who is involved in the filmmaking process. 

“It’s going to take representation not only in front of the camera, but also behind the camera,” Cosey said.

Cordelia Longo

Cordelia Longo (they/them) is a senior at Western majoring in political science. In their free time, you can find them listening to Taylor Swift and asking to pet strangers' dogs. 

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