DISCLAIMER: I am, in complete honesty, a heterosexual white woman. I did, however, complete my undergraduate thesis in the oppression of the black female body in Afro-American diasporic literature and I received top marks. I am not an authority, but I am a passionate ally. Let’s begin.
Last night, after binging the new Zac Efron/Ted Bundy Bio-Pic, two friends and I turned on Netflix’s new — for lack of a better word — chick-flick Someone Great starring Gina Rodriguez, Brittany Snow, and DeWanda Wise. On the surface, the core cast was diverse and riveting. Rodriguez played a broken-hearted Latina who had recently landed her dream job at Rolling Stone in San Francisco, ultimately driving her away from New York and her boyfriend of the past nine years. Snow was the uptight WASP who learns to let loose through the course of the film, finding out that not everything has to go according to plan. And finally, Wise is the Black-Lesbian.
I leave that sentence at seven words because there is so much more to unpack there than to sum up in one singular sentence. Through the course of the film, her character Erin has to learn that it’s okay to fall in capital-L Love, even if that means opening herself up to vulnerability of rejection. In a poignant moment with her lover, she reveals that she was in one semi-relationship in college only to be left for a man, leaving her to feel like “an experiment.” But prior to this reveal, Erin is cold romantically, withdrawn when it comes to her romantic partner’s pushes for more intimacy. When pressed by Snow’s character Blair for why she won’t just date someone, Erin tells her to keep her “heteronormative labels in a motherf**king box to the motherf**king left.”
And while it was a laughable line in the way that Wise delivered it, was she right in the fact that Blair was whitewashing the situation? Or was the situation already whitewashed in its very essence?
I couldn’t help but reflect upon the character of Kat Edison on The Bold Type, played by Aisha Dee. While the show actually chronicles her coming out story, it also features her own reluctance to commit to a relationship of any formulation even when heavy romantic feelings are involved. In one altercation between Kat and her love interest Adena, Kat says that she doesn’t “do” relationships — an exact sentiment that could have fallen from the lips of Wise’s character in Someone Great.
And while both romantic scenarios resolve in the happily-ever-after plot, I can’t help but wonder if there’s something incredibly whitewashed and gentrified about the black-lesbian experience in this film and televison show? Are we sterilizing it to make it safe for general audiences? Are we generalizing it to a point that it covers all the bases in order to make it so larger than life that it is no longer gritty and real? What are we supposed to be gaining from these portrayals? One is relatable, and two is celebratory, but if the trend continues in the cookie-cutter format, what cost will it have for our open-heartedness when we face their real-life counterparts, particularly those who don’t fit the mold?