What’s your damage, ‘Heathers’: Dark comedy explores horrors of high school

Set to premiere on March 7 is “Heathers,” an anthology television series based on the film of the same name. Originally released in 1989, “Heathers” is a black comedy concerning Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder), her not very nice friends, the Heathers, and her pasty serial killer boyfriend, JD (Christian Slater). It’s a scathing critique of teen culture and an effective social satire in virtually any sense, in addition to being deliciously funny. With a strong sense of aesthetics, the right touch of suburban melodrama and a morally complicated plotline, “Heathers” remains as an iconic and influential film to this day. So this television remake should be something to be excited about, right?

So you’d think, at least. But upon the release of its trailer on Jan. 18, most of the feedback has been overwhelmingly negative, rising primarily out of the decision to cast the role of the Heathers with people who are typically marginalized by society. Heather Chandler, the lead of the Heathers, is portrayed by a fat woman, while Heather McNamara is an East Asian woman, and Heather Duke is a nonbinary genderqueer person. These are lead roles and to have these leads filled by people who are largely underrepresented by media is something that should be really fantastic. But we have to be critical of how people are represented in media, and in this case especially, it’s not very good, especially considering that JD and Veronica are played by two conventionally attractive cisgender white actors.

The issue here is that the role of the protagonists (Veronica and, to an extent, JD), are fulfilled by people who are always seen as the heroes to a narrative, while the people who are regularly painted as deviations from the accepted norm are villainized by the narrative. It implies that in being different, you are somehow also antagonistic, which would be a lot more of a reach if it didn’t already happen so often in media. Villains are often coded as people of color, LGBT+, or disabled or the like. “Heathers” takes this a step further by taking out the coding and just making these people outright villains for the skinny, cis white people to overcome, ultimately establishing Camelot.

Not only is it a poor homage to the original film, but this is especially dangerous in a political environment that is hostile for many marginalized people. Since the 2016 election, people have become more bold with their discrimination of certain groups, be it the issues of bathroom bills, the confidence of white supremacists or the fact that a proponent of electroshock conversion therapy now sits in our White House. Because of this, marginalized people are feeling increasingly unsafe, and to have a television show actively villainize them is pretty tactless.

The original “Heathers” was very much about overcoming oppressive power structures and reestablishing ones that allowed for a variety of people to flourish. Sure, a few people were murdered along the way, but that’s life. The film is complicated and multifaceted, and sure, the meanings aren’t always easy to glean, but for the TV show to so wildly and brazenly fail to replicate the original spirit of the film is just astounding. And not in a good way. Get it together, “Heathers.”