The highly-anticipated Gossip Girl reboot just announced a few of the new lead actors and let’s just say, we’re less than impressed.
The show’s writer and Executive Producer Joshua Safran previously promised that the series would be significantly more diverse than the original’s all-white, cisgender, heterosexual cast. He told the crowd at Vulture Festival in November,
“There was not a lot of representation the first time around on the show. I was the only gay writer I think the entire time I was there. Even when I went to private school in New York in the ’90s, the school didn’t necessarily reflect what was on Gossip Girl. So, this time around the leads are nonwhite. There’s a lot of queer content on this show. It is very much dealing with the way the world looks now, where wealth and privilege come from, and how you handle that.”
The focus on a more inclusive cast is all well and good, if a bit idealistic. So many shows have gone down this road before — proclaiming that the new iteration will be more “diverse” and feature more actors of color, before stacking up a cast of sidelined minor characters that are forced to play second fiddle to a white main character (ahem, Riverdale).
And judging from the current casting news, there are reasons to believe this may come to pass.
The most damning evidence is that of the initial lead role. After insisting that the leads would be nonwhite, it was revealed that the first main character would be a blonde, white, cisgender woman. Actor Emily Alyn Lind has been chosen to portray a character named Audrey, who, according to Deadline, “has been in a long term relationship and is beginning to wonder what more could be out there.”
Some headlines have referred to her as the primary lead character, which hasn’t been confirmed, although it wouldn’t be surprising. Lind gives off Serena van der Woodsen vibes with a hint of Jenny Humphrey.
Two other actors who are set to star in the series, Eli Brown and Jay Gotay, look like carbon copies of Dan Humphrey and Chuck Bass, respectively (although neither of their ethnicities has been confirmed).
All in all, it’s not very encouraging. Going off of these initial castings, it feels too reminiscent of the old series. However, there are two fresh additions that still give us a bit of hope.
The first is Whitney Peak, a woman of color who was born in Uganda and is a professional dancer. The second is Johnathan Fernandez, another actor of color, who has an extensive comedic resume. His comedic skills could be a huge asset as long as he isn’t pigeonholed as the funny black friend.
Fernandez is 46 years old, which does raise some questions: is he playing a main character’s father? As an older actor, will he still be a lead character?
There is speculation is that the new series will have a similar character dynamic to the original. Old Gossip Girl did occasionally give the parents their own key storylines that intersected with the teen characters. But they were never promoted as part of the main cast, which makes Fernandez’s current inclusion intriguing. It would be a rare development and a departure to have him as a contrasting viewpoint to the others, particularly for a CW teen drama.
While there are currently two confirmed actors of color in an ensemble cast, there’s no indication of how they’ll be portrayed or what amount of screen time they’ll have. And a lot of that will come down to the writers. There has been much ado about the casting diversity, but no word on if that will be reflected behind the scenes.
The problem with making big, sweeping declarations of diversity is that, even if it is made in good faith, it’s worth nothing if the individuals involved are not able to positively utilize what they have. There could always be an inherent bias against the non-white actors or simply an inability to tell their stories. In which case, the whole point of hiring actors of color will have been for naught.
It’s a common outcome with these kinds of publicity stunts and it’s a shame that they occur. There are so many people in Hollywood scurrying to show they are making strides on the diversity platform without really investing in making real changes on a deeper level.
Hopefully, the creators have invested in a couple of writers that could speak to the particular experiences that people of color like Peak and Fernandez would have in the Upper East Side because we know that they would be distinctly different from that of their white counterparts. The stories of young, rich, people of color are not often told and could really produce some unique storylines. But only if the proper measures are taken.
It remains to be seen if the world actually needs another Gossip Girl series. But the least the creators can do is back up their words — if they’re going to proclaim that the series is more inclusive, then they need to actually make that happen onscreen. Let’s all cross our fingers for a less cringe-worthy outing for this new Gossip Girl, in terms of diversity of characters and plot.