Exclusive | TV & Film
Actor and Broadway performer Jaquel Spivey stars in his first feature film as the bold yet affable Damian Hubbard in "Mean Girls" (2024). As an openly queer outsider, Damian is forced to navigate an intensely heteronormative and homophobic environment within the outskirts of the vicious high school society.
Mean Girls is an on-screen adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name which is based on the original 2004 film.
Adapted from the screenplay created by comedian and writer Tina Fey, this iteration of Mean Girls tells the same classic story with a modern reimagining. These changes apply not only to the film’s tone but to the characters as well, including Damian Hubbard.
In the current version of Mean Girls (2024), Damian Hubbard is a Black, gay man. This recognizable character change strays away from the race of the original white character played by Daniel Franzese.
Gaye Magazine received the opportunity to talk with Jaquel Spivey about the cultural impact of his role in Mean Girls, tokenism, and his experience in high school.
We start with the reception of viewers' changes to the movie compared to the original, one of which is a Black Damian Hubbard. Recently, there has been fairly negative attention focused towards films and TV shows that change traditionally white characters to Black or non-white characters (i.e Little Mermaid, Velma, Last of Us) which could be viewed as pandering.
Furthermore with the history of LGBTQ+ representation in films, especially the coming of age genres, gay characters are often relegated as a side character, comedic relief, or token. However, when adding the element of Blackness on top of a queer character, many films with depictions of Black, queer characters do not have the bandwidth to properly flesh out the dimensions of a Black AND queer character.
Damian Hubbard breaks that mold because although his queerness alienates him, it also serves as his empowerment in both versions of Mean Girls. Spivey gives us insight into his interpretation of Damian which strives away from pigeonholing the character to just a “Blackification” so to speak, but instead delivers the character in his own way.
Viewers may take Damian to be a Black, gay token character in this movie. What would your response be to this perception given the studio’s strive for increased representation?
Also, what were your feelings and goals when delivering the character when first reading the script?
“For those who may think or assume he’s a Black, gay token character I can understand why you think that, because what has the media shown us of Black, queer men on television, on film…what have we seen?”
“...Coming into this project, I am a fan first of Mean Girls. I remember seeing it when I was much younger and seeing a plus sized queer man (Damian Hubbard)…he’s proud…he loves himself and the people around him seem to be okay with just letting him be…”
“The character that I looked to to be representation for me, I now get to do it as a Black man. To have a character who’s 17…he’s still discovering who he is and he’s okay with just being. Yes, he’s loud, yes he’s flamboyant, but it’s not for your entertainment, it's for his enjoyment.”
“For me, I hope people see that he’s not a token, that he’s not the magical Negro character that we’re so used to seeing…he happens to be queer, he happens to be plus sized, he happens to be Black, but he’s not the poster child for all things diversity, equity, and inclusion, because 9/10 it’s not even his mind…he’s just existing.”
With Mean Girls being such a teen cult classic, it was only natural for us to ask Jaquel Spivey about his high school experience.
Mean Girls is notoriously known for involving themes such as revenge, inclusion, and the high school [social] eco system. What was high school like for Jaquel Spivey? Were there any coming out stories? Did you encounter any bullies?
“Honestly, when I was younger I used to want the big coming out story…but for me it was never that..”
“I never had a coming out moment, I was always flamboyant and like Damian I was always around the girls. I grew up in a house full of women. Women have always been my source of joy, of inspiration, of encouragement, of light. That’s what [Cady Heron & Janis ‘Imi’ike] are to Damian.”
“In high school, I was just Jaquel. I don’t have the story of being thrown in lockers. I don’t have the story of a drink being thrown in my face. Not to invalidate people who have been through that, but I think we also have to hear from the side of people that if you swing, I’m swinging back.”
“We have to show the power that can come from loving your queerness and loving your body type and loving all the things that make you different. It’s not rooted in sadness and trauma. Sometimes it’s the source of joy. I love being Black, I love being queer as hell, I love walking around the world with my thick ass!”
“There’s joy from that. I had it in high school, I had it as a kid, and I had it growing up. I’m grateful for it and I know that not everybody gets it. I hope through Damian you can see it's possible to be okay even at a young age with just who you are.”
Despite the changes between the 2004 and 2024 versions of Mean Girls, Jaquel Spivey does justice to his beloved character. From Spivey’s perspective it is apparent he has utilized both his own experiences as a Black, queer man and his love for Mean Girls to properly channel the spirit of the dynamic character that is Damian Hubbard.
Check out our exclusive interview with Jaquel Spivey:
Mean Girls premieres Jan. 12. Be sure to catch the film while in theaters!