Do Revenge’s Drea Torres Ditches the Girlboss & Becomes Our Fave High School It Girl

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
When I put on Netflix’s Do Revenge, I expected to watch the usual empty representation teen flick with no depth that is normally available for streaming. You know what I mean: the film or series with a few lead characters of colour whose melanin doesn’t make up for the one-dimensional roles given to them. With some exceptions — Sex Education and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before come to mind — I am generally skeptical about Netflix’s forays in representation, particularly after the corporation’s defence of Dave Chappelle’s transphobic jokes. But Do Revenge quickly revealed itself to be deeper than previous attempts — precisely because the Latina lead challenges so much of what we are taught from teen movies, including the validity of the girlboss.
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Loosely inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, Do Revenge is a teen black comedy that tells the story of Head Bitch in Charge (HBIC) Drea Torres (Brazilian-American Riverdale actor Camila Mendes) and her forays into teenage revenge plots with the new lesbian in town, Eleanor (Maya Hawke). Miami’s Rosehill Country Day High School is populated by rich, snobby, judgmental students who Drea — a scholarship Latina student who desperately wants to ascend in class status by getting into Yale — is eager to impress and fit in with.
By carefully constructing her image as a stylish, acidic popular girl who dates the most popular boy in the school, Drea succeeds in belonging to a group of rich kids for a while, but she soon discovers that she — someone with no influential parents or beneficial political connections — is just as disposable as the people she stepped on to succeed. After her boyfriend Max leaks an explicit, private video she sent him, and she rightfully punches him in the face for the unforgivable violation, Drea is excluded from her group of friends. Despite Drea’s assertions that Max is the only person who could have leaked the video, nobody believes her. After 17 years of performing femininity and desirability to fit in, Drea loses her status in the flash of a righteous punch.

"Like in Drea’s story, women of color are also less likely to be believed when they experience gender violence, as societal beliefs around the promiscuity of non-white women classify them as less credible."

Nicole Froio
Though Drea’s Latine background is understated in the movie — which I honestly appreciate as many productions routinely force the diverse aspects of their racialised characters for diversity points without actually developing deeper characterisations — the fact that she was a victim of sexual violation while her peers delighted in not believing her points to a reality in the lives of girls of color. While there isn’t much research done on the subject of technology-facilitated sexual violence against women and girls of colour specifically, academic research and victimisation surveys reveal that sexual violence disproportionately targets Black and Latina women. Even more, like in Drea’s story, women of colour are also less likely to be believed when they experience gender violence, as societal beliefs around the promiscuity of non-white women classify them as less credible.
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In Drea’s case, her white boyfriend Max is believed by all her friends, and she is not. The movie veers away from misogynistic clichés like “she asked for it” or “she deserved it,” but Drea is effectively cut off from her friends and isolated from any kind of support network, showing that women of colour still lose even in so-called woke environments. The consequences for telling the truth are swift: She spends the summer alone, while her ex-best friend starts a new relationship with Max. Moreover, the white woman who runs the school, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, puts Drea on probation instead of punishing the school’s “golden boy” for the violation. Later, Drea’s future is also threatened by her response to the violence enacted against her: Her dream Ivy League college rejects her application because she punched the boy who hurt her. This also points to the reality of how survivors of gender violence are often punished harshly for reacting to the harm they experienced. For instance, according to the ACLU, as many as 94% of some women’s prison populations have a history of physical or sexual abuse before being incarcerated.

"As a teenage Latina who felt the isolation of being disposable, the loneliness of being less-than, the humiliation of not being believed, she eventually refuses the role of girlboss."

Nicole Froio
This world isn’t kind to marginalised women, so why should women be kind back? For Drea, who has studied and emulated the ways of the rich and cruel for years, the path back to success is to “do revenge” with Eleanor, who also has a grudge to resolve with her ex-girlfriend Carissa. According to Eleanor, Carissa outed her as a lesbian when they were both 13 and had a budding romance in summer camp. Like Strangers on a Train, Drea and Eleanor agree to “do revenge” on each others’ enemies to minimise the consequences for themselves — after all, nobody knows Eleanor and Drea know each other, let alone know the details of their most humiliating moments and their thirst for a comeback. They’re innocent by virtue of their social standing. 
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Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
But things don’t go down as Drea planned. I don’t want to spoil the twist of the movie, because it genuinely caught me off-guard, but the turnabout is what challenges Drea’s constant belief that being a revenge-seeking girlboss and a cut-throat bitch is how she will recover her status. Instead, Drea notices that wanting revenge and responding to harm with more harm can only result in an isolating and painful race to the bottom. 
Drea spent so long meticulously crafting the perfect girlboss image — the clothes, the makeup, the hairstyles, and more importantly, the attitude — to impress her rich, snobby peers, that she didn’t even realise that’s not what would make her happy. She starts to understand, at a much earlier age than I did, that being a girlboss requires the violence of domination, of making someone submit to you as their leader or their superior. As a teenage Latina who felt the isolation of being disposable, the loneliness of being less-than, the humiliation of not being believed, she eventually refuses the role of girlboss and embraces the hope that genuine accountability and community provides. 

"It’s a delight to see a Latina lead a teen movie that challenges the tenets of teenage femininity and the imperative to dominate each other."

Nicole Froio
It’s a delight to see a Latina lead a teen movie that challenges the tenets of teenage femininity and the imperative to dominate each other, and instead, argues for a kinder approach to teenage friendships and questions the overachieving path young people are supposed to take. Don’t get me wrong: Drea is not a perfect character; she messes up many times throughout the movie. But her best moment comes when she admits to those mistakes, apologizes for them, and resolves to not repeat them.
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In some ways, she’s a relatable character. Like her, many first- and second-generation Latines know what it’s like to give your all to make it into spaces that we are told we are supposed to aspire to be in, whether we actually want to or not. When Drea starts being honest with herself, she realises she wasn’t operating to intentionally achieve what she wants; rather, she was trying to achieve what she was taught to want. What society tells you to want and what you actually want are two different things. 
The bad news is that deconstructing the imperative of domination, individuality, and achievement that is currently baked into girlboss ideology can hurt. But the good news is that once we reject this model, our lives can open up to much more than professional achievement. If we reject the domination of one another that we are taught to aspire to, we can build a kinder, softer world for ourselves — a world where there’s space for all of us to thrive, in community with each other. This is the kind of it girl Drea becomes, and the one we all need to see more of in teen films and shows.\
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