“Stop everything,” I messaged one of my best friends. “Have you seen the news about the Gossip Girl reboot?”

“OMG I HAVE,” she responded with the same enthusiasm we’ve always had over this TV series.

Seven years ago, my best friend and I met in a high school summer program, bonding over our love of the CW series, Gossip Girl, which ended our sophomore year. Compared to a lot of our other Gossip Girl-watching friends, the two of us wholeheartedly agreed on a few things: 1. Chuck Bass was the worst. 2. the first two seasons were *chef’s kiss* fantastic, and 3. we’d definitely watch a reboot. 

The original TV series had ended in 2012 with the implication that there would be a revival. But for many years, there was not a chirp. A few years back, I settled with the idea that You, which also featured Penn Badgley as a romantic-hipster-hiding-an-insidious-secret, was the closest that I’d get to a revival of Gossip Girl. So lo and behold, almost 10 years after that dramatic finale, and what do have on our laps but a reboot of Gossip Girl, sitting pretty on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum.

The new reboot is expected to premiere later this year, but already there is a noticeable change. In the past decade, the faces of Manhattan’s Upper East Side have become far more diverse, and the actors themselves have spoken about the importance of this. 

 

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The cast includes Jordan Alexander, Whitney Peak, Johnathan Fernandez, Jason Gotay, Zión Moreno, Evan Mock, and Savannah Smith just to name a few. But this change of face is no surprise. Gossip Girl’s executive producer, Joshua Safran, has said in the past that he regretted not having more people of color and different sexualities represented on the original show. 

Whitney, one of the new cast members, talked about how the new seasons will fix this in a recent interview with Dazed.“There’s a lot of representation, which I can’t say we saw a lot of in the first one. It’s dope being able to see people who look like you and who are interested in the same things, and who happen to be in entertainment because it’s so influential and obviously reflective of the times,”

So with this new cast and the promise of more representation, already, this series is leaps and bounds more diverse. 

Looking back, the original TV series cast Blake Lively, Leighton Meester, Chase Crawford, Ed Westwick, and Badgley in the main roles. Biracial actress, Jessica Szohr, was the only regular actress of color on the show, playing the “alternative” hipster. On one end, it wasn’t surprising given the lack of diversity in many TV series of the early 2000s. On the other, the producers were going by the book—quite literally. Gossip Girl, the TV series, is based on the young adults series of the same name by Cecily von Ziegesar.

Von Ziegesar wrote the series about privileged socialites in the Upper East Side, based on her own experiences at Nightingale-Bamford, a Manhattan private school. Despite the multicultural background of New York, areas like the Upper East Side and its top private schools have traditionally been echelons of wealth and elitism, without much diversity in their own spheres.

The original cast of Gossip Girl in 2007.
[Image description: The original cast of Gossip Girl, featuring actors and actresses (left to right) Leighton Meester, Penn Badgley, Blake Lively, Kelly Rutherford, Chase Crawford, Ed Westwick, Taylor Momsen, and Matthew Settle.] Via Entertainment Weekly.
Seeing it on screen cemented that idea. In its TV incarnation, Gossip Girl became a storyline about white privilege and the ridiculous amount of leeway given to those with wealth and power. Even its morally righteous and “grounded” character at the start of the series, Dan Humphrey, succumbs to the enticing glamor of the Upper East Side and reveals himself (spoiler) to have been the biggest snake of all snakes: Gossip Girl, herself. So much for “class differences,” when he’s just another white man living in a very expensive Brooklyn loft, feeding cycles of power and gossip.

So I was very intrigued when I saw the new cast. In a franchise that has primarily revolved around the glamorization of whiteness and wealth, what does this say for the new series?

My hope is that the answer lies in the roots of Gossip Girl’s story. Looking back, it’s clear to see that there was a distinct difference in the first two seasons of Gossip Girl. In part, this is because von Ziegesar’s book series ends after those two years. But this is also where my best friend and I both noticed a shift in tone and storyline that changed our perspectives of the show. We loved those first two seasons because, not only did it hold snark, drama, and cutting dialogue, but it also had some semblance of a heart. It showed hope that the characters were striving to be better people despite their history (albeit through absurd and often ridiculous means). Moreover, those early seasons prioritized female friendship between the main characters, despite the ways they were often pitted against each other. 

But after those two seasons, there was a noticeable change. By season 3, the main female protagonists’ friendship was shoved aside for their romantic relationships with men. Those romantic relationships were often toxic and sometimes veered on abusive. The series’ idea of persevering friendship despite a cut-throat world became more about a small group protecting their own, defined by wealth and white privilege.




So perhaps this new, diverse cast is a sign that this Gossip Girl reboot isn’t just exploring new storylines, but new themes of power. 

“Gender roles will be talked about and dissected,” Emily has revealed, referring to the reboot. “A lot of the women in our show are very powerful, but I think they were in the original as well. We’ll be exploring what it means to be a woman in this generation, and in general, exploring ideas that we didn’t before.”

Maybe this is a sign that Gossip Girl is attempting to return to the spirit of those first two seasons—the idea that people can grow and create connections across the pitfalls of wealth and power. Maybe this is exactly what Gossip Girl and the Upper East Side truly need. 

 

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  • Helena Ong

    Helena Ong is a freelance writer and journalist from San Francisco, California. In the past, she's worked at San Francisco Public Press, World Policy Journal, and NBC4 Los Angeles. She graduated from Pomona College, where she served as Production Editor for her college newspaper, The Student Life.


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