Stacey Dash wants to stay on script. Specifically, her publicist at Mayhem Entertainment Public Relations, a PR firm that mostly represents child stars and is currently suspended from Twitter, wants to stay on script, and the script is Clueless, the 1995 mid-budget teen comedy which turns legal car-renting age this July.
Dash, who is 53, played the clothes horse with a cute sneeze, Dionne Marie Davenport, in director Amy Heckerling’s cult classic. She also spent the past eight years as a conservative commentator, endorsing Mitt Romney’s presidential bid in 2012, and later Donald Trump’s in 2016, before publishing her first book that same year, There Goes My Social Life: From Clueless to Conservative. On a recent Wednesday in Los Angeles, a few weeks before the film’s 25th anniversary, the three of us are on a conference call from our respective quarantines, where Dash’s publicist lays out the parameters.
Staying on script apparently means no questions about Dash’s arrest in Florida last fall on charges of domestic battery against her fourth husband, Jeffrey Marty. It means no questions about her one-month-and-four-day congressional campaign for California’s 44th district in 2018, run on a baffling platform against something that sounded like income inequality, but she called “Plantation Politics.” It means nothing about her brief stint as a Fox News pundit covering “cultural analysis and commentary,” where she said things like “I’m not here to judge” neo-Nazis and “there shouldn’t be a Black History Month” until there is a “White History Month,” and from which she was eventually suspended for saying Barack Obama “didn’t give a shit” about terrorism. “For the politics questions,” Dash’s publicist says, “we just wanted to stick to just Clueless, so if you want to, just revert everything back to the movie.”
There’s a lot to revert back to in Clueless, director Amy Heckerling’s reimagining of Jane Austen’s Emma, which has persisted in the cultural vernacular for a quarter of a century. There’s the roster of catchphrases (“There goes your social life”) or the Mona May wardrobe—itself almost a character in the film (notably, the top keywords on Clueless’ IMDb page are “miniskirt,” “girl wears a miniskirt,” “short skirt,” “virgin,” and “girl wears a short skirt”). There’s also the slyly scathing takes on teen tropes, material culture, and class. When Heckerling was tapped by 20th Century Fox to do a project “about teenagers” and “the in-crowd,” she found the premise boring. “I thought,” Heckerling says in a DVD commentary clip, “I’ll do it if I can make fun of them.”
The result was an homage to Valley Girl femininity and teen-magazine style tips, very much in keeping with Heckerling’s one-word vision of its aesthetic—“happy”—but which needled and mocked its protagonists, even as it made you like them. (“Dionne and I were both named after famous singers of the past,” Cher Horowitz says, as Dionne leaves her massive estate, “who now do infomercials.”) The bubbly, Club Libby Lu happiness of Clueless was always winking, pointing outside itself, highlighting what made its prosperity possible (money). Few would call Clueless especially political (though Wallace Shawn did come out as a socialist last week), but the movie’s portrait of upper-class existence ribbed at the excesses, apathy, and casual racism of Beverly Hills conservatism, not unlike the kind Dash now defends.
It has been several years since Dash last watched Clueless, but she remembers reading the script clearly. “You know, you read so many scripts,” Dash said. “Some of them are really tedious. This one was just—I ripped through it.” She remembers connecting with Dionne instantly. “I knew it was me. I knew I was Dionne,” Dash said. “I thought she was just a spoiled, rich brat but she had a good heart—which is what I loved about her. She was just everything. Great parents. Wealthy. Great friends. Popular. She was everything.”
Anyway, Dash doesn’t want to get into her politics, but she is down to indulge in imagining Dionne’s—painting, over the course of our 40-minute phone call, a conservative Clueless fanfiction of her character’s life, 25 years down the line. Dionne, Dash said, would definitely vote Republican. “She’s way too smart,” she explained. “Too intelligent. She also has very strong opinions. We know that. Dee was very, very, very opinionated. She didn’t stand for much. She wasn’t very tolerant. She didn’t have a high tolerance level.”
She would be a fashion editor at a big magazine in New York, Dash added, who wore thigh-highs and Mary-Janes, and flouted the laws of the lockdown. “She would have everybody still coming to her house and doing things for her. Her hair, her nails, everything. She’d probably even have her personal stylist with clothing coming to her house so she could shop. I’m positive.”
She would also have a gun. “Something small. Something teeny tiny,” Dash said. “Probably a Derringer.”
Dionne would not, Dash went on, care much for feminism. “I think she would be a strong woman, but she was so far from a feminist,” Dash said. “She loved clothes. She loved shopping. She loved having a man. He was her eeverrrything. She couldn’t drive a car. Daddy was her everything. You know, ‘Daddy give me, Daddy give me.’ So you know, she was so far from a feminist, but of course, she’s saying things like, ‘Don’t call me woman’ [referring to a scene where Dionne scolds her boyfriend for calling her ‘woman.’] She probably heard that from her mother.”
“She would have said something like, ‘I’m not a feminist because I want my boyfriend to buy me a diamond ring, I’m not a feminist because I don’t want to have to work. I want to work because I want to work.’ You know what I mean?” Dash said. “I’m not a feminist because I like to get my nails done, and I like to go shopping, and I like to stay at home, and I like to take care of my boyfriend—do what he wants me to do, and take care of him.’ I can’t imagine Dionne going to any rallies or protests. I think there would just be far too many people around her. Dee didn’t want people around her very much. Neither did Cher.”
When the conversation turns to Dash’s stance on Black History Month, the BET Awards, and Image Awards, her publicist cuts in. “Let’s focus on what she’s done since the film came out,” she says. “What’s her hobbies? She’s done many things as far as her family, as far as getting into hobbies like interior designing. Maybe the readers want to know, what has Stacey Dash done since the film came out? What are her passion projects?”
Besides politics, Dash lives near Los Angeles with her daughter, who is poised to turn 17. She sees a lot of her son, who is nearly 30. Dash enjoys being a “loner” in quarantine, taking it as a time to focus on her religion. She has gotten into interior design. “Going to sleep and waking up in the same space every day can be boring, but it doesn’t have to be!” Dash wrote in a recent caption on Instagram, where her politics have been significantly toned down. “By shifting furniture or decor around in your home, or adding new pieces to your collection, you can create a virtually entirely new space!”
She’s trying to figure out whether she still wants to be an actress anymore. She’s done with sexy stuff, Dash said. But there’s certain work she wants to do, like play Dr. Mildred Jefferson, the founder of the National Right to Life Committee, in the Jon Voight-starring anti-abortion fever dream Roe v. Wade, or star in a Western. “I could ride horses and shoot guns—that’s what I like to do, those are my hobbies,” Dash said. “Those are my passions.”