The 1999 romantic comedy But I’m a Cheerleader was decidedly ahead of its time. Though a cultural shift toward greater acceptance and tolerance was slowly but surely beginning to take root, the 1990s were not as accepting as one may assume from the film and television projects of the time. LGBT characters became increasingly common in Hollywood, but this representation was not met without a notable degree of backlash. Popular sitcoms and movies incorporated minor gay and lesbian characters into their ensembles, leading the fight to destigmatize gay and lesbian individuals in the media. To release a film such as But I’m a Cheerleader in the late ’90s was an incredibly bold and risky venture. For context, the first male on male kiss to air on primetime television was only a year earlier in an episode of That 70s Show, in which a gay classmate makes an advance at Eric Foreman.
But I’m a Cheerleader remains to this day one of the films with the highest number of LGBT characters, with the entirety of True Direction’s pupils being gay and lesbian youth. Megan Bloomfield is a cheerleader at her local high school, and her boyfriend is of course a popular football player. They are a picturesque American teen couple. Megan does not suspect that she is different from any of her peers. Sure, she daydreams about her fellow cheerleaders when she’s begrudgingly making out with her boyfriend, and her personal spaces are decorated with posters of girls rather than of male teen heartthrobs; but none of these things raise any questions in Megan’s own mind about her sexual identity. Observing this, as well as her preference for a vegetarian diet, Megan’s conservative friends and family suspect that she is a lesbian. They send her off to True Directions, a conversion therapy camp where they hope she will be “cured” from her sexual orientation. The aesthetic of the camp is reminiscent of a gaudy Barbie cosplay, giving the movie a distinctively campy setting that is accentuated by the satirical script and witty performances. Over the course of the movie, Megan learns to accept who she is as she falls in love with another girl at the camp.
Natasha Lyonne stars as naive cheerleader Megan Bloomfield, whose exile to a conversion camp leads to a sexual awakening and coming-of-age story. In 1999, the same year as the release of But I’m a Cheerleader, Lyonne appeared in another and more successful teen comedy, American Pie. The next few years saw Lyonne booked and busy with roles in the Scream franchise, Kate 7 Leopold, and Blade: Trinity. Her most notable and acclaimed role came in 2013 when she starred as Nicky Nichols in Orange Is the New Black. The series followed a group of incarcerated women at a federal prison, and often included lesbian sex-scenes and romances. The series incorporated Lyonne’s actual prominent chest scar into her character’s backstory, a scar that came as a result of an open-heart procedure. Her recent work includes the Netflix series Russian Doll, in which she plays multiple roles.
The Los Angeles-born actress has starred in a number of hit films, including She’s All That, 21 Grams, and Argo. Despite becoming an LGBT cult icon following her role as Graham Eaton, the now openly gay actress was very much closeted while filming But I’m a Cheerleader. Clea DuVall came out in 2016, and is happily married. The actress has expanded into filmmaking, having written, produced, directed, and starred in the 2016 film The Intervention. She later wrote and directed Happiest Season, a film about a closeted young woman who brings her girlfriend home for the holidays, only she pretends this is only a platonic friend.
Cathy Moriarty made her film debut under the direction of none other than Martin Scorsese after being discovered in a New York bar by Joe Pesci. She has shared the screen with names such as Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Billy Crystal, Sharon Stone, and Gerard Butler. Her work has expanded beyond film and into a range of television roles. The actress has three children, and has been married for over two decades to financier Joseph Gentile.
RuPaul may be one of the most iconic personalities in the cast of this 1999 comedy. A king of camp and the queen of drag— as he so declared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon— RuPaul got his start in music. His 1993 track “Supermodel (You Better Work)” rose to the top of UK charts and #45 on the Billboard Hot 100, and is still a popular sound on TikTok. A music career gave way to a modeling contract with MAC cosmetics, his growing popularity paving the way for the development of The RuPaul Show and RuPaul’s Drag Race. Starting in 2015, RuPaul has hosted a drag convention in Los Angeles called RuPaul’s DragCon.
The actress has led a diversified career, publishing newspaper columns and starring in a number of 1960s short films. But I’m a Cheerleader is one of her most notable projects, with Stuck! and All About Evil being her only two subsequent projects. In the latter of these, she once again co-starred with Natasha Lyonne. Mink Stole is also known for performing in a band, and officiates weddings as minister of the Universal Life Church.
The former soap opera actor appears in this film as the very likely gay son of conversion camp director Mary Brown. After But I’m a Cheerleader, Eddie Cibrian went on to star in CSI: Miami and Third Watch, with guest roles on Beverly Hills, 90210, Criminal Minds, and more. Cibrian married former reality star Brandi Glanville, a marriage that was brought to a messy end when his affair with country music star LeAnn Rimes was exposed. Rimes and Cibrian are still married.
Given the actress’ mastery of American regional accents, one would never guess that Melanie Lynskey is actually from New Zealand. Her role in But I’m a Cheerleader is one of the few in which the actress uses her native accent. Her film debut was opposite Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures, with Lynskey’s performance garnering praise from critics. In the 2000s, Lynskey enjoyed a recurring supporting role in Two and Half Men as the obsessive former one-night stand of Charlie Harper. One of her most notable roles was as the sexually abusive aunt of the teenage lead in The perks of Being a Wallflower. Recently, she starred opposite Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence in the satirical doomsday film Don’t Look Up, which tackled the looming climate crisis. Lynskey is close friends with But I’m a Cheerleader co-star Clea Duvall.
Having previously starred in Steven Spielberg’s Hook, But I’m a Cheerleader was one of the last physical acting roles for Dante Basco. He has lent his voice for a number of animated characters in Beloved series such as Avatar: The Last Airbender, Star Wars Rebels, The Proud Family, and The Legend of Korra.
The M*A*S*H star celebrated comedian has appeared in many films, including Harold and Maude, Pollock, The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud. None of these were particularly standout successes for Bud Cort, and the celebrated comedian eventually transitioned into more voice-over and voice acting work.
This bona fide movie star has enjoyed a prestigious career beyond the release of But I’m a Cheerleader. Michelle Williams was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Brokeback Mountain, the set of which she met Heath Ledger, the late actor with whom she had one daughter. She received further acclaim for her roles as a mentally disturbed mother in Shutter Island; a discontent wife in Blue Valentine, and Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. Her recent work includes Manchester by the Sea and The Greatest Showman.