Tag Archives: representation

Bridgerton: Is It Representation or Aesthetics?

Dear readers, now that the latest season has come to a close, it is now time to analyze Bridgerton’s beautiful families beyond Lady Whistledown’s juicy gossip and sordid details. Ultimately, It is up to us to see whether the beloved Netflix show is true as representative as it claims to be. The Sharma family were the talk of the ton (forgive my puns), but they are not the first instance of Shonda Rhimes’ unique incorporation of representation in her period drama; for that, we have to go back to season one.

While the popular rom-com never truly addresses if there was an equitable society in the British Regency era where people of color (POCs) were Lords and Dukes, there is a brief mention of a darker past in the first season. Especially, when Lady Danbury speaks about the King’s love for the Queen, it seemingly ends all the racism and hatred of the past without any consequences. While it is a loose premise to build a fictional world on, one can forgive the show for this as it leads to more diverse casting. But, that brings us to the first issue with Bridgerton—race-baiting.

Race-Baiting

When the first promotional material for the show was released, it heavily emphasized that the show would address racial issues with its unique storytelling. However, aside from the singular conversation mentioned before, the show fails to even mention race let alone incorporate it into its storyline. Some fans of the show claim that it was good that the show was race-blind. Including that giving POC’s different storylines that address their racial heritage or past would negate the message that all races are equal. But, failing to address racial differences is not equal or fair. It is erasing the complexity and nuances of the world we live in, enabling us to tell good stories.

The first season of Bridgerton also failed to include any of its POC cast in important storylines, with the exception of the Duke of Hastings, played by Regé-Jean Page. When POC characters have significant screen times, their stories are often clouded or infiltrated by their low socioeconomic status. For instance, Marina Thompson, played by Ruby Barker, is desperately searching for a husband to cover up her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Colin Bridgerton, played by Luke Newton, eventually falls for her and proposes but on finding out about the truth of her deceptions. Unfortunately, he leaves her high and dry, which brings me to the second issue with the popular Netflix drama, its problematic association of skin color with purity.

Value Calls

If we look at all the POC characters in the show, each of them has either engaged in conversation with a non-POC character where they have played the role of the corrupter or experienced friend. Whether it’s the Duke’s conversation with Daphne about self-pleasure or Marina begrudgingly answering Penelope’s questions about sex, it may seem insignificant. Still, the show’s repeated instances of associating purity of thought and spirit with only their non-POC characters perpetuate negative stereotypes that believe or not exist in society even today and strengthen people’s implicit biases.

A New Era

 Finally, let’s dissect season two. When I heard that season two of Bridgerton would have an Indian female lead, I was definitely wary of the idea, especially given India’s colonial past with the British and the period in which Bridgerton takes place. However, Miss Kate Sharma, played by the brilliant Simone Ashley, captured my heart along with those of audiences around the world. While her accent could do with some work, she could incorporate her Indian identity into her character without making her Indianness all that her character was. Edwina called Kate didi, the Haldi ceremony, and Kate’s snide remarks about British tea (which she is completely right about!) all pay homage to Indian culture without forcefully and awkwardly introducing it into the storyline.

Season two of Bridgerton does make up for some of the issues of the first season, for example, the lower socioeconomic association with POC characters. The Sharma family’s dire socioeconomic situation is unnecessary, and the season once again fails to mention any actual race issues or bring it up at all. That being said it is unnecessary for a show with a multi-racial cast to discuss race, but Bridgerton displays race-baiting because it promises to discuss race but fails to do the same. That being said, season two of this show does paint a more promising picture, and while people have complained that the Sharma’s are not truly Indian, I don’t particularly share their sentiment. The Sharma’s may not display every aspect of their Indian culture. Still, if they did, it would distract from the show’s storyline,  which isn’t really the positive representation anyone needs. Kathani Sharma may be slightly controversial, but her sarcastic, dry humor, wit, competitive spirit, and independence do embody the desi nature that I, as an Indian, am particularly proud of. So for this singular instance of representation, I will begrudgingly give Bridgerton my nod of approval.

Featured Image By Francessca Conde

Is it Good Representation or is it Conventional?: Sex Education Season 3 Review

Welcome back to Moordale Secondary! Back by popular demand, Sex Education Season three has received mixed reviews from both fans and critics alike. Here at UT, fans are split. One group of fans believe that the show has continued to push the boundaries of representation and have succeeded in accurately representing the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community, while the others find themselves disappointed in the show writers and their inability to break away from the mold that dictates LGBTQ+ character arcs and interactions in media. So, the question is: does this season of Sex Education accurately represent the LGBTQ+ community or just follow the conventional arcs for the sake of representation?

This season picks up after the summer of the last season and it’s safe to say a lot of things have changed—Maeve and Otis are no longer friends, Jean is pregnant, Headmaster Griff is no longer Headmaster and Ruby and Otis are now dating? This season introduces a whole host of new characters as well. Hope, playing the cool-teacher-gone-wrong, acts as the villain of the series, but the biggest win in terms of diversity is the introduction of Cal, a new non-binary student. The season takes a dramatic shift from the prior ones as it focuses more on the character arcs of its LGBTQ+ characters, the fan-favorite being Adam Groff.

Image courtesy Netflix; Sex Education Season 3 Episode 8

Adam begins the season in a relationship with the love of his life and ends it single and enrolled in a dog competition. If that didn’t catch you by surprise, nothing will. Adam and Eric are by far the most beloved couple on the show. Their banter is iconic and they complement each other so well. In fact, their chemistry is so strong that it made Eric leave his boyfriend, Rahim, in season two. But this season, despite having overcome a grocery list of obstacles, they break up. I may not be completely unbiased, but I’m not alone when I say this break-up hit deep. Not only did it seem uncharacteristic, but Eric was the one who initiated it after he cheated on Adam. He believed Adam wasn’t in touch with his sexuality enough to fully be in their relationship and to this I say: Are you kidding me? Adam Groff has had the most character growth in the show. He went from the high school bully to a kind and sensitive person who genuinely wanted to improve himself academically, find what he’s passionate about and be there for Eric as a partner. Eric, on the other hand, was undoubtedly the second worst character this season, which is disappointing given how great he was in the previous seasons.

Image courtesy Netflix; Sex Education Season 3 Episode 6

Not only has Eric now cheated on all the boyfriends he’s had, but he’s also done so under the belief that he’s right. This character flaw, unfortunately, perpetuates more than one harmful belief about gay relationships. Eric’s impulsivity when it comes to his relationships is so out-of-character that it paints a picture of gay relationships being inherently temporary and fragile. The writers proceed to almost erase Eric and Otis’ comradery which was what made Eric so lovable in the first place. Their friendship was an excellent representation of male platonic relationships that didn’t shy away from physicality and it was deeply missed this season.

The other prominent LGBTQ+ relationship on the show is the one between Ola and Lily.

Image courtesy Netflix; Sex Education Season 3 Episode 4

Luckily, the writers were able to avoid the stereotypes surrounding LGBTQ+ couples in this relationship. Ola and Lily are both dealing with their own crises this season, with Lily coming to terms with her inability to fit in and Ola severely missing her mother. Their relationship works because they see each other for who they are and overcome issues through communication. Lily and Ola beautifully demonstrate how even though relationships take work, they are more than worth it.

 Image courtesy Netflix; Sex Education Season 3 promo posters

Finally, Cal Bowman marks progress as the first non-binary character on the show. They make an impact by fighting against Hope’s insane rules and standing up for themselves despite being constantly berated for no reason other than their gender. Cal’s struggles not only are representative of some aspects of a non-binary person’s experience but they also evoke empathy in those unfamiliar with non-binary people. Many fans remarked that Cal’s struggles and arc helped them educate themselves and understand gender is a spectrum. Cal’s relationship with Jackson was crucial as it demonstrated how despite one’s best intentions and feelings, sexual orientation and gender are complex identities and not unidimensional. 

Overall, Sex Education is a show that is able to capture the complexities of characters’ personalities along with their identities. While it does have some flaws the show still manages to include diverse perspectives without making them look forced which in turn exposes audiences to new perspectives. Season 3 furthers the show’s narrative, introduces us to a whole host of new characters, covers complex topics of gender and sexual identity, all while keeping its audience entertained and that is a success indeed.

Featured Image Courtesy of Netflix Sex Education Promo Posters

“All Together Now” Review

They sleep in the back of a school bus in a dark parking lot, work for every single dollar, and they are homeless. Yet, Amber Appleton (Auli’i Cravalho) and her mother, Becky (Justina Machado) never seem to lose hope. Every night before falling asleep, the mother-daughter duo gets comfortable on the scrappy bus seats with old blankets and pillows to read Emily Dickinson’s poem “‘Hope’ is a thing with feathers.”

Amber reads, “I’ve heard it in the chilliest land / And on the strangest sea;”

Her mother continues, “Yet, never in extremity / It asked a crumb of me,” finishing the poem.

“All Together Now,” tells the story of a sedulous and optimistic high school senior with gifted musical talent despite the huge secret of her living situation. The Netflix teen drama is directed and co-written by Brett Haley, known for his films “The Hero,” “Hearts Beat Loud,” and “All the Bright Places,” based on the novel Sorta Like A Rockstar by Matthew Quick.

Despite the film’s emotional roller coaster ride to not tackle tragedies and hardships completely on your own because it will only cause more pain, the plot moves too fast to soak up these moments.

The film marks Auli’i Cravalho’s live-action film debut. Before “All Together Now,” Cravalho voiced the title character in Disney’s 2016 animated musical feature film “Moana” and starred in the NBC musical drama series “Rise” (2018) before a quick cancellation due to low ratings. Like her previous works, the film takes the opportunity to showcase the actress’s voice in an original song titled “Feels Like Home,” echoing the main character’s struggles with this line:

“Take me, I’m ready

Go slow, but go steady

To a place that we can call our home

I wanna know what feels like home”

Amber is the type of character you cannot put inside a box. She spends her evenings teaching English as a second language (ESL) classes to older migrant women, who adore her singing voice. After collecting her hard-earned money, she bikes to the donut shop with her tiny emotional chihuahua named Bobby in her backpack to work late hours.

In the mornings, she helps around the local retirement home, where she has created a special bond with a resident named Joan (Carol Burnett). In between it all, she keeps track of every dollar in a notebook before she hides her bike in a bush and walks through the dark parking lot to sleep and wait for her mother to arrive.

Photo: Allyson Riggs / Netflix

It is refreshing to see a friend group consist of neuroatypical people and people of color, creating a diverse and inclusive cast. For instance, one of Amber’s best friends named Ricky (Anthony Jacques) is on the autism spectrum played by an actor on the autism spectrum. Another friend named Chad (Gerald Isaac Waters) uses a wheelchair in the film and real life.

The film embraces a variety of characters by respecting the actors that play them; never once treating one character’s disability as a challenge that needs to be overcome by a non-disabled character. It is also lovely to see the main characters, Amber and Ty (Rhenzy Feliz), as people of color playing characters from different socioeconomic backgrounds yet still able to relate and confide in each other.

However, when it comes to Amber relying on her friends after a domino effect of bad things starts happening, she becomes stubborn and develops resentment toward needing help. After Becky’s employer discovers she has been sleeping on the bus, she is fired and decides to move in with her abusive ex-boyfriend named Oliver. In a heated moment of refusal, Amber runs away and sleeps on a bench for the night; leading to her backpack being stolen and a terrified Bobby. The scene comes off as predictable; the cherry on top for running away.

When Ty offers her a place to stay at his family’s vacation house, she decides to give in and ask for help on her audition for the drama program at Carnegie Mellon University, her deceased father’s alma mater. While this scene between Ty and Amber showcases the close friendship between two characters from different backgrounds able to relate to each other, it is the last sweet moment before Amber’s life takes a major turn for the worse.

Photo: Allyson Riggs / Netflix 

Amber decides to confide in Ricky’s mother, Donna (Judy Reyes) and offers her home as a safe haven. Becky shows up in frustration that her daughter refuses to stay with her, eventually deciding to let her go and drives away and leaves with these last words:

“Life is so much more complicated than you think, baby.”

The following morning Becky and Oliver are killed in a car crash while driving under the influence. While I appreciate the film not explicitly showing her mother’s death, I felt like her death was so sudden and was added only to create more problems for Amber. In one scene, they are arguing about their lack of trust. In the next scene, Amber is called out of class and told by police officers that her mother is dead.

Yet, this is not the end for Amber.

The night before her flight to Pittsburgh for her big audition, Bobby gets sick and needs expensive surgery to survive. To save her dog (basically the last thing she still has) she drops out of school and starts working full-time.

She misses her audition and drifts away from her friends. When Ty confronts her and questions her refusal to accept help, it ends in an argument and the two stop talking.

Amber becomes a stranger to herself, and it is tough to watch. She no longer sings show tunes with the ladies at ESL classes. She stops trying to make her friend Joan at the retirement home laugh with dorky jokes. She loses her active, vibrant personality that was so lovable at the beginning of the film.

In secret, her friends along with her teacher (Fred Armisen) continue to work on the annual variety show and make all the proceeds go towards Bobby’s surgery. Ty takes on the challenge of confronting Amber once again and drags her away from making donuts to attend the show.

The surprise is worth it. Her friends perform skits and dance numbers in her honor, even bringing the ladies from her ESL class to sing a song they learned from Amber.

Photo: Allyson Riggs / Netflix 

Later that night, the fundraiser receives an anonymous donation of $200,000 which is more than enough for Bobby’s surgery. Amber (finally) realizes the amount of love and support on her side. It all becomes more emotional when it is revealed that Joan was the one who made the generous donation, as she considers Amber her family.

The film ends with Amber and Ty sharing a kiss before she leaves for another audition at Carnegie Mellon. Even though it is a cliffhanger with Amber’s future still up in the air, the film delivers the message of not tackling life’s toughest challenges on your own.

When going back to the lyrics of “Feels Like Home,” Amber’s problem was not accepting help from others, but it was adjusting to the thought of needing help not as a sign of weakness but strength.

“All Together Now” is available to stream on Netflix.

Super. Dysfunctional. Representation.: The Women of “The Umbrella Academy”

Why I love “The Umbrella Academy” but not the way it treats women

Illustration by Serena Rodriguez

**WARNING! This post contains spoilers for the first season of Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy.” Reader discretion advised.**

Christ on a cracker! Gerard Way fans rejoice because “The Umbrella Academy” is set to premiere its second season on July 31. The Netflix original show received an outpouring of fan love upon its initial release last February. 

“The Umbrella Academy” is smart, funny and full of action. What it is lacking is positive female representation. All the women in this show are either killed off or their roles are determined by the men around them.

The show follows an adoptive family made up of seven siblings, each equipped with their own unique superpowers. Number One has super strength, Number Two can hold his breath indefinitely and is very skilled in close-quarter combat, Number Three can alter reality with a simple lie, and so on and so forth. At the center of the family is the harsh, foreboding father figure, Sir Reginald Hargreeves. He brought the siblings together and exploited their powers without giving them the love one usually receives from a father. 

Being a single father is no easy task, even for a rich British man. So, Reginald created a mother figure for the seven children: Grace (played by Jordan Claire Robbins). Grace is a smiling, doting robot…literally, she’s a robot. She cooks, cleans and plays the role of “mother” perfectly. A perfect foil for Reginald’s stern demeanor. And the beginning of a very troubling pattern in the “Umbrella Academy” array of characters.

Grace (Jordan Claire Robbins) – Source: IMDb

When Number Seven (her real name is Vanya and she is played by the incredible Ellen Page) was younger, her powers made her completely unmanageable. Reginald tried to introduce her to a multitude of nannies/”mothers” but she destroyed all of them. The only one that stuck? Grace, the blank-staring 50s-style housewife whose only purpose is to listen to her man (her creator, mind you) and take care of her children.

This is not an attack on mothers or wives; I’m addressing a harmful stereotype that has perpetuated for decades. A stereotype that’s troublesome to see in one of the most popular shows released in the past few years. I would hope there would be more dimensional roles for women at this point. 

I would also hope women of color wouldn’t be seen as expendable in this day and age. But writers let me down all the time. Helen Cho (played by Emily Piggford) was the first chair in the orchestra Vanya was auditioning for. She was barely seen in the show before she was killed off and her body was left to rot in an attic. Cho felt like a plot device rather than an actual character. We were briefly introduced to her and then she was used for furthering Vanya’s journey. It makes you wonder why the writers chose to use a woman of color as a character destined for tragedy.

Helen Cho (Emily Piggford) – Source: IMDb

Then there’s Detective Eudora Patch (played by Ashley Madekwe). I really liked her. She was intelligent, independent and she was not afraid to put Diego (Number Two) in his place. It was a bit irritating that one of her main purposes was to be Diego’s love interest but Diego is my favorite Hargreeves so I, personally, was not too bothered by it. I wanted him to be happy. 

Patch was looking into strange murders around town that seemed to be linked to the Hargreeves family. This fateful investigation led to Patch’s untimely death. She was shot after finding the show’s two antagonists in a motel. Patch went from a strong female character to being another woman of color killed off for plot progression.

detective

While the scene where Diego cries over her body serves as a great moment for the audience to sympathize with the second Hargreeves, it is incredibly frustrating that Patch died for seemingly no reason. Patch didn’t have to die but, unfortunately, women of color are apparently still seen as dispensable in media.

As previously mentioned, there were two main antagonists for “The Umbrella Academy”’s first season: Hazel and Cha-Cha. They were assassins sent to kill Number Five, the sassy youngest sibling whose history is too intricate to get into right now. (Just watch the show, they explain it better than I ever will.) Cha-Cha was played by the incomparable Mary J. Blige. She was strong, ruthless and seemingly indestructible. That is until Hazel falls in love with a local waitress. Once Hazel becomes distracted, Cha-Cha becomes enraged. Despite their mission to kill Number Five, she vows to kill the couple, punishing them because Hazel abandoned his job. 

She is focused on getting the job done, which I can respect. What bothers me is that it is heavily implied that Cha-Cha has romantic feelings for Hazel and that’s part of the reason she loses her shit. If Cha-Cha were a real person, not a fictional television character, she would probably ditch her lovey-dovey partner and get the job done herself. But, no. She’s a woman in a television show so her entire persona is dependent on the man she’s with. The man she probably has feelings for. To quote Miranda Priestly: groundbreaking.

Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige) – Source: IMDb

Another, perhaps unsuspecting, antagonist of the show is Vanya. Vanya’s character troubled me in two ways and neither of them had anything to do with the fact that she was a villain. In fact, I think the world needs more female villains. First, Vanya is completely undermined for most of the season. She supposedly “doesn’t have any powers” but it was actually Reginald repressing her powers with medicine since she was a child because she was too strong. (Again…watch the show if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) Anyway, because she has “no powers,” everyone treats her like she doesn’t exist. They speak down to her, think she has no spine and generally gaslight her into silent submission. It is a horrid routine that many women are all too familiar with.

Vanya meets Leonard. Leonard is a dick. He is the second issue I have with Vanya’s characterization. Throughout the season, Vanya doesn’t have the confidence to stand up for herself. Leonard gives her that confidence through his “love” and “support,” which, of course, we find out is all a ploy to weaponize Vanya and get revenge on the Hargreeves for an age-old grudge Leonard has. Men really ain’t shit, huh? (Kidding…sorta.) Anyway, I wanted Vanya to find strength within herself. I always want women to find strength within themselves. I’m tired of men ostensibly handing it to them or helping them achieve it. We are perfectly capable of doing it ourselves and I want to see that reflected in the content we consume.

Vanya Hargreeves (Ellen Page) – Source: IMDb

Finally, we get to the most atrocious act of them all. One of the strongest Hargreeves is Number Three (her real name is Allison and she’s played by Emmy Raver-Lampman), the sibling who can alter reality by saying the words “I heard a rumor…”. Allison also has this weird romance with Number One (whose real name is Luther and whom I have a strong dislike for) but that’s not my biggest grievance, although it is a grievance. Allison was flawed, this is true, but I was also very fond of her. She was a strong leader, a loving sister and someone who had gone a little mad with power. I thought she was a well-rounded character. Which obviously meant to the writers that she had to silenced. Literally. Towards the end of the season, Allison had a falling out with Vanya as she began coming into her powers. In the skirmish, Vanya accidentally slashed Allison’s throat. For a terrifying moment, we were left wondering if Allison was even alive. 

Allison thankfully survived the ordeal but she was left mute. Her vocal cords must have been severed by the blow. (I don’t know how anatomy works or if that’s even possible, but it happened.) The one Hargreeves constantly using her voice to stand up for herself and others was quelled by violence. Not to mention the fact that Allison is yet another woman of color harmed within the show. It’s very upsetting to see but at least she wasn’t killed off, I guess? It sucks that I have to say that.

Allison Hargreeves (Emmy Raver-Lampman) – Source: Netflix

Ellen Page, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Mary J. freaking Blige. The cast was brimming with talented women and they were all let down by poor writing/character development. I’m not the first one to notice the unfortunate trend of female representation in “The Umbrella Academy” and I hope I’m not the last. Here’s to hoping the new season brings positive change.