Please note: This article contains mild spoilers that happen early in the first episode of the Gossip Girl reboot.
As news was revealed about HBO’s Gossip Girl reboot, we knew to expect scandalous escapades among the gen-Z elite. We were told that the show would continue to be overtly sexual and fashion-focused, this time more diverse both racially and with the inclusion of queer leads. It was a surprise, though, that the heart of the reboot’s storyline lies in the sisterhood of two Black girls.
The ‘Blair and Serena’ of this modern Gossip Girl era are not the long-time best friends as portrayed by Blake Lively and Leighton Meester in the original, but half-sisters who have never met and connected over Instagram DM. We are initially led to believe that Julien (Jordan Alexander) and Zoya (Whitney Peak) are estranged, as they lie to those closest to them, but viewers are quickly let in to the secret that Zoya’s arrival at Constance Billard is all part of their orchestrated plan to meet irl and continue the blossoming friendship they found online.
The moments between these characters, played by Whitney Peak (Molly’s Game, Home Before Dark) and Jordan Alexander (Sacred Lies), share a sparkle in their eyes, a hope that blooms with idea of a future they can share. There’s a surprising comfort that they find in each other, and that we find in the way they do not doubt each other or rush to compete, despite still being newly acquainted. In a world where Black women are regularly and repeatedly pitted against each other, and in a show based entirely on interpersonal drama, it’s a wonderful reprieve to see the support and trust that they’re capable of. The show certainly seems to lean away from the harmful tropes typically enforced on minorities.
From the first episode, it’s clear that what Joshua Safran, showrunner and co-creator of both the original and the reboot, tweeted holds true: “No slut shaming. No catfights. Those are not things I believe need to be in this show for it to be fun. Or any show? GG2 is sex positive and our characters use their brains, not their brawn, to take you out!”
Even when things are turned upside-down and a challenge is sworn, it’s not a true rivalry between the two women – but a commentary on Influencer culture and what it’s done to gen-Z’s perception of themselves, of success, and the implications on all of their relationships. Julien loses the trust and adoration of her sister and her boyfriend, both citing her preoccupation with outsiders’ perspectives as a disappointment and the reason for distancing themselves.
Black women in this show are allowed to be many things not often depicted as possible at once, and certainly not in a nuanced way: vulnerable, ambitious, determined, wealthy, successful, generous, creative, influential, inspiring, kind. Savannah Lee Smith , who plays the villainous Monet, told Essence Magazine that she “considered the angry Black girl trope, but it’s just not there. Monet is a very complex character.” Monet’s schemes are motivated by protecting Julien’s image at all costs, as her own internship (presumably based on the skills running Julien’s social media) are dependent on the reputations and status they currently hold.
In the first episode alone, we see a variety of hairstyles on Black women: Braids on the richest and meanest of the popular crew, Monet; Julien’s shaved head, and Zoya who wears her natural curls. Most powerfully, we see Zoya’s hair in a silk wrap before bed. The significance of this, particularly on such a wildly popular and mainstream show as Gossip Girl, cannot be overstated.
The reboot feels modern and evolved in the ways that the show does not lean into soap opera tropes and easy miscommunications. When Julien’s friends steal Zoya’s phone to impersonate her and airdrop a dick pic to the entire room, it’s easy for the audience to anticipate that this is where the line of trust is drawn between the sisters, but the scene cuts directly to Jordan apologizing for what her friends did. This is a great moment of accountability and clarity between the characters, but it is also a delight as a viewer to be taken seriously enough to skip over all that nonsense. There’s an unexpected optimism that comes with watching a show that is generous with their audience in this way.
The show is also, notably, directed by Karena Evans, the 25-year-old Toronto-born Black woman who directed Drake’s music videos for God’s Plan, In My Feelings and Nice for What. On the diversity in the reboot versus the original Gossip Girl cast, she told Essence: “I didn’t see characters who looked like me on the original show, and I think therein lies the difference between the original and the new Gossip Girl. At its core, it is the Gossip Girl you love. It maintains the essence, but it is fresher, it is inclusive and diverse, and it’s queer. In that, it’s more exciting and authentic as it represents different perspectives and the world that we’re actually in. That in itself is iconic.“
Between the queer-polyamorous relationship being teased and problematic teachers committing crimes against teenagers in a desperate bid for job security, the nine upcoming episodes of this season will certainly be boundary-pushing. From what we’ve seen in this episode alone, the upcoming season will also add some much-needed nuance and well-dressed delight to the landscape of Black women on screen.