Seven years after its season finale, Gossip Girl is still wildly popular with fans and is considered a millennial pop culture staple. The series followed a group of privileged teenagers living in Manhattan, their lives fraught with an incredible (and sometimes improbable) mix of sex, drama, and unbelievable wealth. Looking back, however, the series was problematic in more ways than we recognised at the time — specifically when it comes to representation.
The series took place, for the most part, in modern-day New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the country. A walk through the concrete streets, anywhere from the Bronx to Brooklyn, will lead you to people from every walk of life and every corner of the world. Yet, in Gossip Girl, most of the characters are white and straight. As a fan of the series and a current resident of New York City, I think it's fair to say that casting a majority white, majority heterosexual ensemble of actors in this melting pot of a city is not only offensive, it’s inaccurate.
Joshua Safran, the writer and executive producer of Gossip Girl fully agrees. That’s why, under his direction, the revamped series will reflect the current social landscape of the Upper East Side, starting with a cast that won't look anything like Serena Vanderwoodsen and Blair Waldorf's tight circle of friends. The reboot will still take place in the famed Constance Billard School for Girls, and some of the original cast might even make an appearance on the show (Kristen Bell has already signed on to reprise her role as the unseen omniscient narrator). However, most of the similarities end there — the new Gossip Girl will focus on a different group of teenagers.
"This time around the leads are nonwhite," said Safran at Vulture Festival. "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." Safran, who himself was a minority in the original series' team as the sole queer person in the writer's room, understands the value of telling diverse stories.
In addition to highlighting the stories of more marginalised groups, the reboot will also explore the intrinsic role of social media in the lives of its characters. In the early 2000s, we were busy clicking away at our sidekicks and Blackberry phones, utilising our new unlimited text messages and calling each other after 9 p.m. Today, teenagers are connected through the world of social media, and the minds behind Gossip Girl fully intend to lean into that aspect of Generation Z à la HBO's Zendaya-led Euphoria. Sans the explicit sex scenes and drug usage, of course.
So who can we expect to meet in this updated Gossip Girl universe? Safran and his team are still keeping hush-hush on that front. But with its new emphasis on proper representation, the possibilities are limitless. Here are just a few actors who I think would fit in (or stand out) on the Upper East Side:
Abraham Attah: We first met the 18-year-old actor in the 2015 Netflix drama Beasts of No Nation as Agu, a child soldier in a fictional war-torn African country. Attah also had a minor role in Spiderman: Homecoming — how fun would it be to see him switch gears to play the arrogant son of a rich diplomat living in a Hell's Kitchen condo?
Auli'i Cravalho: She sings! She acts! She should be the new queen bee of the Constance Billard School for Girls. Cravalho has a penchant for being the misunderstood heroine with a heart of gold, so it would be very rewarding to see her take a walk on the bad side as Blair 2.0.
Keiynan Lonsdale: I'd love for gender-fluid actor, dancer, and musician Lonsdale to be stuck in the middle of a passionate love triangle with an Upper East Sider and a hottie from the Queens. Call me, Keiynan.
Sydney Park: Park starred on the Freeform reboot of Pretty Little Liars, so she's no stranger to revamped classics. Cast her as the new Lonely Boy — err, Girl. But like, less less lonely. Because bullying is bad.