Week 4: Bad Ideas in White Hollywood

There is no such thing as perfect writing. (Except maybe books written by Kali Fajardo-Anstine, but I’m biased because I think I’m a little in love with her. But, honestly, who isn’t?) But there is some terrible writing and even worse plots that even I, a bad writer with no formal writing training and even lesser talent, would never dream of writing down.

I’m going to talk some much-needed shit about shows and movies starring primarily white people, written by mostly white people. This is not an exhaustive list, just some off the top of my brain. Trust me, I could write a whole series about where white Hollywood fucks up and can do better. But I’ll keep it short and start with these more recent titles.

PIVOTING

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Set in Long Island, N.Y., three women — and close-knit childhood friends — cope with the death of the fourth member of their group. When faced with the reality that life is short, these women pivot and alter their current paths through a series of impulsive, ill-advised, and self-indulgent decisions. These pivots strengthen their bond and prove it’s never too late to screw up one’s life in the pursuit of happiness. “Pivoting” takes a real look at three intelligent, empowered, and seemingly enlightened women who decide to hit the reset button. For all three of these women, the untimely and heartbreaking death of their friend was the wake-up call they didn’t know they needed, but it might just be the thing that helps them live their best lives.” – Google

I really wanted to like this show. It seemed like a fun feminist show, but unfortunately, that’s precisely what it was – a show for white and white adjacent women. Maybe younger me wouldn’t have minded watching yet another show about the lives of white women, but current me is struggling to breathe among all this content directed towards and for white women. Frankly, the white women’s privilege in this show is suffocating.

I think Ginnifer Goodwin (Jodie) is so cute,, and I love to watch her on-screen. But I hate the character she plays and how desperate she is to get railed by her trainer because her husband neglects her. It’s a tragic play on the “desperate housewife” stereotype, and it’s sad watching her degrade herself for another man’s attention. The unfortunate part is that the trainer isn’t attracted to her; it’s a one-way street. But I get it; I’ve also been that desperate for someone’s touch before. I wish someone would just shake her and say, “BITCH, YOU DON’T NEED NO MAN!” And if her husband ain’t putting it down, maybe she should slip him a copy of She Comes First by Ian Kerner.

Jodie is used to denying herself joy, not standing up for herself, and lying to coast through this patriarchal society. White women can do that to protect themselves from sexism because they’re not oppressed by their skin color or culture in the U.S. The part where Jodie is white is not upsetting. It’s that she’s so unaware of her privilege in society that she lives in the shell of the person people expect her to be as a wife/mother: subservient, dainty, not sexual, tight-lipped. Jodie, who is “closer” to ‘liberation” than BIPOC women in the U.S. is actually crippled by her oppression of being a woman in a white-male-dominated world. I think I just expected more dimension from that character.

I expected more from the “full-time working mom” trope as well. Amy’s sudden guilt for choosing work over her family had awkward moments. First, her nanny is Black. The first Black character I notice…and she’s a nanny. I expect more by now. I also didn’t see any Latinx characters, but this isn’t about me. This is about this show’s poor execution. Second, Amy kind of treats her kids like an accessory. Having kids was just “something you did,” like going to college and getting a job. I’m 100% for the woman who puts her career first and can have a family, but I cannot believe she relied on her nanny to do everything. Amy’s character reminds me of the rich absentee-Dad trope used in white Hollywood. Just because it’s a woman now doesn’t make it any better.

JUST GO WITH IT

(MORE LIKE, JUST STOP)

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His heart recently broken, plastic surgeon Danny Maccabee (Adam Sandler) pretends to be married so he can enjoy future dates with no strings attached. His web of lies works, but when he meets Palmer (Brooklyn Decker) — the gal of his dreams — she resists involvement. Instead of coming clean, Danny enlists Katherine (Jennifer Aniston), his assistant, to pose as his soon-to-be-ex-wife. Instead of solving Danny’s problems, the lies create more trouble.” – Google

I’m not going hard for this movie, but it was on last night, so it’s still fresh in my mind. The first time I watched it, I laughed so hard – I loved it. It was hilarious. Nick Swardson’s German sheep farmer character will probably always be my favorite Nick Swardson besides Terry Bernadino from Reno 911! However, the last 30 minutes I semi-watched were super cringy. What’s worse is I was remarkably sober. I got to see this poor excuse of a rom-com for what it indeed was: trash. I’ll skip over the details, but here’s a high-level interpretation:

  • normalization of colonization in Hawai’i – First of all, Brown and Black people travel to Hawai’i, too, and stay in fancy resorts. Second, in 2022, white people at a fancy resort in Hawai’i is not only disgusting, it’s heavily discouraged. No one should be traveling to Hawai’i at the moment and looking at how normal it was for white folks to do that in 2011 is embarassing.
  • the stereotype of an older man and a younger “dream girl”– Adam Sandler, get a new trope! This stereotype is so overused and leads to an unrealistic ideal for not so hot older men. Let’s be real, Palmer was a straight up 10 dating a solid 5. Yes, he has plastic surgeon money, meaning he’s probably a smart guy. They wrote Palmer as a naive young woman who can be manipulating into believing anything a man says. It’s a misogynist fantasy and it’s gross.
  • the normalization of men being manipulative to protect their emotions – Why is this Danny guy such a liar? Let’s talk about the deceit. This man has been playing women because he’s too scared to be hurt, so that somehow makes it okay for him to manipulative handfuls of women into dating him. The protrayl of this behavior with no consequences makes folks believe this kind of dating tactic is normal and okay, when in fact it’s not.
  • the Palmer character – She’s smart, she’s cute, she’s young, she’s hot. She’s everything Danny wants, yet somehow she falls for his lies and is okay with him taking his ex-wife on vacation with them. Palmer should have been pissed. And then, why would she agree to marry him and ask his ‘ex-wife’ later if they’re still into each other because you’ve noticed the sexual tension. What? Who wrote this? In what fantasy world is a monogamous couple okay with that. I would have believed it more if Palmer or Danny were openly polyamorous. But that was never implied, so Palmer just willingly agreed to marry an older man who was undeniably in love with another woman. And Palmer was okay with that.

MOXIE

FEMINISM (AND PUNK ROCK) SAVED MY LIFE

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Inspired by a confident new friend and her mother’s rebellious past, a shy teenager publishes an anonymous zine calling out sexism at her school.” – IMDb.com

I’ll start with the most obvious missed point: the story focuses on a white girl’s perspective who builds off the feminist work of an outspoken brown Latinx queer girl. The white girl lives safely under the guise of white supremacy, allowing her to escape racial and queer oppression and see gender oppression as a thing of the past. But when she sees a brown girl standing up against the oppression she is facing, the white girl feels inspired to speak up in her own way – by publishing an anonymous zine. Unfortunately, this story feels all too familiar. While Moxie’s goal was to bring awareness to the power one feels when they discover feminism, they shed light on how white women profit off Black & Brown women’s creative expression or acts of revolution without their consent.

Now let’s dig into the most apparent symbolism for white feminism: the fact that the mom can tuck her little box of feminism away in a closet and live a reasonably normal life. How is she able to put feminism away so quickly like that? Because she’s white and she is protected by white men. Black, Indigenous, and Women of color don’t get that same privilege. Black, Indigenous, and Women of color can’t separate the discrimination of being a non-white person in the U.S. from being a woman in the U.S. So, the mom can easily pack her feminism away and easily survive without it. I, however, cannot do that. I need feminism to survive.

And I’m not talking about this white-washed version of feminism. No, I’m talking about the Cherríe Moraga, bell hooks, Angela Davis, and Audre Lorde kind of feminism. The Latina Rebels kind of feminism. The kind of feminism that brings you out of gender oppression for the first time and wakes you the fuck up. The kind of feminism that includes all women and not just the cisgender white ones. This is where this movie failed: it failed to sincerely acknowledge how feminism is intersectional. Yes, there were diverse characters, but they served as props to move the plot along to support the white girl’s prerogative. I’m simply very tired of this narrative.

There were so many missed opportunities in this movie, but I’ll leave it here with these two main points: white women are still painfully unaware of how they rip off BIWOC, and I wish this movie had more Black & Brown girls perspectives than a white girls’ perspective. But that’s precisely what white feminism does, doesn’t it? It only serves white cisgender women. It’s not always convenient for differently-abled or queer or trans white women, and it hella ain’t convenient for any BIWOC. To sum it up, Moxie was a movie that catered to a white feminist’s perspective. I was largely disappointed by this movie, minus the soundtrack and styling choices. Big win there. Big fail everywhere else. (Maybe not casting; it’s not the actors’ fault.)

Disclaimer: I watched this movie while having alcoholic drinks when it came out in early 2021. I took notes while watching because I had high hopes, but I was immediately let down, as you can see. And no, I will not be re-watching this movie…ever.)


It’s not enough that this content for white people exists and is actually popular; it’s that some of the only good shows with Latinx characters were canceled recently, and that hurts. Unfortunately, that hurt a lot of us consumers of the entertainment arts. Someone on Twitter pointed out how while good Latinx shows are being canceled, shows about narcos are thriving. It reminds me of the low expectations imposed on us by this country. They expect so little from us and continue to take away the things that normalize our humanity, like citizenship documents, the rights to live on this land, or TV shows and movies that represent a real Latinx experience. It’s almost like they want us to feel like we don’t belong here.

Yet, we exist here in many colors, shapes, sizes, y culturas. And we have beautiful movies like Encanto, In the Heights, and Coco streaming on Disney+, which lets me know that at least the younger kids know that we are here and not going anywhere. We are part of this country—hell, we helped build this country! And even though there isn’t much mainstream visibility for Latinx folks, at least we have our indie art scenes.

But that makes me wonder about other people who don’t see themselves represented on TV. Do they feel othered like I did? I’m sure the answer is yes. This is what makes streaming so vital for representation. We get to choose what to watch and when to watch it. We don’t have to wait for a primetime television network to tell us when and what to watch. We get to choose for ourselves. And I like to choose TV and movies to watch with characters that look, feel, and think like me.

Here’s a list of good TV shows starring BIWOC I actually recommend:

Real-life woes with a lot of laughs:

  • Girlfriends
  • Black-ish
  • Grown-ish
  • Insecure
  • On My Block
  • Girlfriends
  • The Sex Lives of College Girls
  • Abbott Elementary
  • Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens

Lots of crying, but also lots of joy:

  • Pose
  • On My Block
  • Gentefied
  • One Day At A Time

A little drama, but excellent writing:

  • Charmed (the new one)
  • She’s Gotta Have It
  • Good Trouble
  • The Fosters
  • Never Have I Ever
  • Station 19
  • How To Get Away With Murder

The pen holds a lot of power, like the keyboard, typewriter, script, camera, and direction. People have a huge responsibility to tell ethical stories – stories that are truthful, uplifting, worthy, and reflective of the human experience. It’s a shame we continue to get these poor excuses of storytelling in Hollywood and in the literary world (think American Dirt). We believe every story matters, but I hate to say that they really don’t, especially not the ones told from a white lens – we have enough of those. These stories have a responsibility to appeal to more than the white gaze.

I had the pleasure of being part of a book club (Fine Ass Book Club) that prioritized reading books written by BIWOC. This was the first time in my life where I felt really seen. And this book club, composed of beautiful BIWOC intellectuals and writers, gave me the space I never knew I needed to fully blossom. This is where Libreria Book Bar was born. I had always wanted to open a cafe or a bar; I lacked the vision and niche. When I started reading these books, I found myself drawn to bars and cafes that had comfortable seating, low lights, and a quiet atmosphere so I could sit quietly and read. It was one of my favorite weekend ventures. And when the book club would look for cute local cafes and spaces to meet, I yearned to build a space that catered to us, Black, Indigenous, and women of color. I dreamt of shelves full of the books we read in our Fine Ass Book Club.

This is how we stand up against white-male supremacy. Call out this bullshit. Build new spaces. Invest in BIWOC stories. Invest in other Black, Indigenous, and people of color. This is how I will make a difference: by building a world where BIPOC perspectives are standard and the most valued.

Thank you for coming to my TEDTalk. See you next week, bitches, and thanks for hanging on this long. You’re appreciated!

xo,
lola

Hand drawn skull and cross bones with heart eyes.

Disclaimer: TV shows and movies I left out that are just as problematic: And Just Like That, The Kissing Booth (1-3), Shameless, Wandavision, and many, many more.


2 responses to “Week 4: Bad Ideas in White Hollywood”

  1. I agree with you. I loved this post! White Hollywood gets the green light on so many absurd projects its crazy honestly. Your writing is really straight forward and to the point.

    Like

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