I would like to begin this by saying that I’m not a normal media consumer. Ever since my television culture class at Hunter College, I can’t really sit idly by and truly enjoy a piece of media without a little voice in my head telling me all of what’s wrong with it.
In that vein, I check for a few things: POC representation, women portrayal and common tropes that promote stereotypes, discrimination, and oppression. These are more than just lazy, uninformed writing, but to some, it’s all they know about a particular group of people. I’m a believer that media is a great tool that can actually break barriers, rewrite narratives while mirroring our societies. As a media maker I feel responsible for what I put out into the world and though it doesn’t have a big of an impact, it’s still my way of acknowledging my privileges, educating others and bringing people together instead of creating walls.
My Faves are Problematic will address my dilemmas of actually consuming and enjoying television and films while also cringing every so often at various fail attempts at intersectionality and feminism. I will be looking at a few of my favorite shows, including ones I praised in the past. The following does not dimish their great storytelling and values, but it does look at these shows a bit deeper.
Tha Handmaid’s Tale: I’ve written about how this Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1986 novel exposes women to women dynamics in our society. However, in the showrunners attempt at POC visibility (since the original work just pushes them out of society completely), it lacks intersectionality. Oh but Maggi, the show does have POC people…how can it not be intersectional? Yes, we have Moira, Luke and though they are not as obvious, we have Amanda Brugel playing Rita, the Martha in Offred’s house and Max Minghella playing Nick the driver and Offred’s love interest. And yes, we do see other handmaids who resemble WOC. However, race is never discussed or mentioned. Everyone is put under the same umbrella of oppression. This is problematic because that couldn’t possibly be true and it invalidates the point of having POC on the series in order to showcase diversity. As explained by Cate Young on Cosmopolitan, the point of inclusivity and intersectionality is lost when we see race, class, disability and other factors, but we don’t speak about them:
…It’s become clear that the production falls into the familiar trap of so much feminist fiction: It appropriates the struggles of women of color and extrapolates the experiences of white women as representative of the experiences of all women.
Though it’s heartening to see such an attempt made at diversity, the fact that the narrative fails to engage with race has created a deficit.
This sentiment has been echoed by others on Bitch Media:
The problem here is that Samira Wiley who plays Moira and O.T. Fagbenle who plays Luke, are seen at the margin. There are a few Marthas and other handmaids that seem to be of color but no one mentions it so again, the issue is swept under the rug. Though it’s understandable that the priority here is fertility, it dismisses opportunities to point out how these oppressions ( force to breed like cattle, unable to read/write, being named after your owner etc.) were once exclusively experience amongst POC.
This is expressed by Priya Nair on Bitch Media :
…The structures of oppression that Offred, the novel’s narrator, and the other white Handmaids face are taken largely from the experiences of enslaved Black women in America. Being banned from reading, writing, or congregating, the spectacle of public lynchings, and the practice of naming people after their owners….
I’m happy the show is getting a second season, there’s still time to make these POC more dynamic, complex and overall more realistic instead of just staples/tokens. I hope to see more POC actually interacting with one another and add this layer to the complex woman to woman dynamics that the show has already established. There’s still a chance for Moira to tell her story and speak about her way of surviving as both a Black and queer woman. I hope to also see another self-identified Latina (like Zabryna Guevara’s Mrs. Castillo) other than just the Mexican representative.