It was 2006. Britney finally dumped K-Fed, George Clooney was People’s Sexiest Man Alive, and Instagram did not exist. It was a wonderful year, and IMO, the absolute best part was the release of She’s the Man, starring the hilarious Amanda Bynes. The cinematic masterpiece is based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and Bynes plays the main character, Viola, who decides to impersonate her twin brother in order to join a rival high school’s boys’ soccer team after the girls’ team at her school is shut down. The gender-swapping, slapstick comedy is silly, sure, but it also broke down everyday sexism in a way that deserved far more than the 6.4/10 rating it received on IMDB.
About a year after the release of She’s the Man, reports began surfacing that suggested Bynes might be struggling with mental health and addiction issues—and she was, as recently chronicled by Paper’s annual “Break the Internet” feature, with Bynes as this year’s “breaker.” It’s a revealing interview full of raw honesty from Bynes, now a fashion student, about her past mistakes, her current state of mind and how she connected the dots between the two. But what it also revealed is something that has changed the way a diehard She’s the Man fan like me feels about the movie.
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#BreaktheInternet: Amanda Bynes. Having spent years out of the spotlight, Bynes steps back in and opens up about her tumultuous — and remarkable — journey. #linkinbio Story by @abbyschreiber28 Photos by @daniellelevitt Art Direction by @dwndwntwn Styling by @neverhavetotweet Hair by @samiknighthair Makeup by @edwardcruzmakeup Set Design by @_coopervasquez_ Fashion Direction: @miaasolkin
For context, I truly, truly love She’s the Man. I first saw it as a high school senior, and it brought out the feminist in me—it’s the reason I started noticing more examples of insidious sexism in my life, like the way the girls in my school were put through much more rigorous uniform scrutiny than the boys, and how my girlfriends who excelled on their sports teams received a whole lot less praise than their male counterparts. These same double standards were seen in She’s the Man, such as when the soccer coach at Viola’s school declares that boys are better players than girls. This infuriated me, and in the film, it prompts Viola to join a boys’ team, beat another boys’ team, and prove him wrong. Yes, Viola is rough around the edges—especially compared to her fellow debutantes—but she stands out as a confident, determined young woman who will do whatever it takes to play the sport she loves. (Even if she has to wear fake sideburns to pull it off.)
Up until the Paper interview, I had always considered She’s the Man to ultimately be a triumphant movie, but it turns out that Bynes doesn’t feel the same. “When the movie came out and I saw it, I went into a deep depression for 4-6 months because I didn’t like how I looked when I was a boy,” Bynes told Paper. From there, she talks about also hating the way she looked in other movies like Easy A and Hall Pass (Bynes told Paper she pulled out of the latter for this reason, and that her perception of her performance was influenced by her drug use). But the reality that so much insecurity came from playing a beloved character like Viola is definitely a sad reveal.
Sure, She’s the Man doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test (Channing Tatum plays Viola’s often shirtless love interest, though, so I was fine with that), and its Rotten Tomatoes rating is a dismal 44%. But it’s still a special movie that had more heart and feminism than any other teen flick I’d seen that year—including John Tucker Must Die, in which the titular character’s workout supplements are spiked with estrogen, causing him to question whether his thighs look fat.
However, knowing that the role potentially contributed to Bynes’s mental health struggle will forever change the way I watch it. The next time I’m sucked in by Viola’s becoming-a-boy montage, I’ll think about how those scenes chipped away at Bynes’s self esteem.
Her interview is yet another reminder that just because someone is hilarious and bright on screen, it doesn’t mean something darker isn’t going on underneath. I appreciate that the actor is opening up about her mental health—and also for the fact that she seems to have emerged, stronger than ever, on the other side.
And here’s more good news: at the end of the Paper interview, Bynes alludes to an acting comeback. Fingers crossed that this time around she finds a role that’s truly as empowering for her as it is for her fans.