High school is hard, no matter who you are. There’s no arguing with that fact. But when you’re Lucy Ching (Vicky Li), the prom committee member at the center of the new web series Gay Mean Girls, life is even harder. Based on the breakout short film of the same name that went viral on YouTube in 2015, Gay Mean Girls follows Lucy as she seeks to understand her sexuality, charm her best friend Miranda, and fit in with the gay community. All episodes are now available for streaming on YouTube.
Not only does Gay Mean Girls present a story many viewers can relate to, trying to find your way through high school while being into your best friend, but it also comes from a very personal place for creator and director Heyishi Zhang. Zhang recently connected with The TV Junkies about the process of extending the short film into a full digital series, working with a cast of younger actors and the importance of having queer POC voices present in the film and entertainment world. To learn more about Gay Mean Girls read on below!
The TV Junkies: What’s the concept behind Gay Mean Girls? What is the series about?
Heyishi Zhang: The series follows Lucy Ching, prom committee member as she seeks to establish Gay Prom Royalty in an attempt to charm her best friend Miranda, an out lesbian YouTuber. The concept came from my personal experiences questioning my sexual identity in high school and discovering of how race plays into this struggle as I tried to fit into the gay community.
TTVJ: This project began as a short film for you. How did it evolve to a full series and what was the process to make that happen?
HZ: Having the short film go viral helped a lot in getting the funds for a full series. We received funding from Telefilm’s Talent to Watch program and the Bell Fund. The scripts were written in a writer’s room, and our shoot was 15 days long. This is my first feature length project, and I would compare it to running a marathon vs. short films which is more of a sprint. I couldn’t survive on adrenaline like I did before! This project has made me appreciate the athleticism that goes into making a career out of your art.
TTVJ: Can you share a little about your main cast and the characters that we’ll see in the series?
HZ: Most of our cast is relatively new to acting on screen. Our main character this season (Lucy) is played by Vicky Li (she/her), who was 15 at the time of filming. This is her on screen debut. She has a crush on her white best friend Miranda, played by Hannah Raine (she/her). Anita is played by Sarah Webber (she/her), who is no stranger to the screen, and her best friend Jamie is played by Jordan Li (they/them) who is also making their acting debut! They are deeply supportive bros who have a podcast together. Jensen Porter (she/her) plays Clara, who is our discount Blair Waldorf. Most of our cast is in their teens.
TTVJ: At the heart of the story is this friendship between Lucy and Miranda. What is that relationship like and what sort of ups and downs can we expect to see out of those two?
HZ: Their friendship is toxic and their power dynamic is informed by race. For Lucy, having a queer friend when you first discover your own queerness is very exciting, but it’s also very easy to be taken advantage of when your identity is going through upheaval. Miranda’s own self perception is skewed by her own internalized homophobia, and that affects how she treats the other characters within the story. The arc of the first season takes the audience through this journey of self discovery, codependency, and learning how to set boundaries.
TTVJ: Thanks to streaming platforms we’re starting to see more and more queer stories being told, yet stories about queer POC are still very rare and sorely needed. Did you face any opposition along the way in wanting to tell this story and this viewpoint?
HZ: I did not face any opposition from funders, but I learned a lot about the impact that each writer contributes to the writer’s room and how deeply they can shape your story. The story skews more into romantic territory than I’d like, as I believe it sanitizes the political underpinnings within the world of story. Celebrating queer romantic relationships has an important place in media, but that has never been what Gay Mean Girls is about. To me, being queer has less to do with attraction, as much as it is about being able to imagine/create spaces beyond male control. The struggle comes when you see how people who have made this realization are treated, and the unknown depths in which you can question yourself and the world beyond you once you are liberated. This in-between space of questioning your identity has always been fascinating to me.
However, not everyone was able to see eye to eye on these issues, and that affected where the story went, especially in the later episodes. I enjoyed the writer’s room immensely, but I now understand how important it is that everyone is able to understand and empathize with the nuances of marginalized experiences. Moving forward, I hope I am able to better protect my vision and story.
TTVJ: Since there are so few stories, how did you ensure that you were giving good representation on screen for a community that is still so underrepresented?
HZ: We tried to tell these stories from an honest place and we tried our best to be aware of the stereotypes we were working against. I also wanted to prioritize the voices of writers who were most marginalized, as they were the ones who understood the subtleties of what the characters were going through. That being said, I don’t think the representation is perfect, or that the show is able to encompass all perspectives of QTBIPOC, which is something marginalized creators are often expected to do. If anything, I hope that this project is able to inspire other queer/trans BIPOC to share their own truths. There is, or should be, enough room for all of us.
TTVJ: Something I really enjoyed about the series, was the open and frank talk about queer topics, such as binders. Since you had the platform of this series, how did you decide what topics to address?
HZ: These issues came up organically. Regarding binders, we worked with a wonderful non-binary story consultant who spoke about their experiences of “gender euphoria” which they characterize as the opposite of gender dysphoria. We felt like it was something enby viewers would benefit from seeing and decided to include that in the show. Lots of moments within the series were based on these conversations we had in the writer’s room where we shared what it was to be queer (cis) women of colour trying to navigate the world.
Excited to check out Gay Mean Girls? Sound off below!
Gay Mean Girls is available for streaming on YouTube now.
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.