Sophie's Secret LJ

(alias the Roost of the Purple Chicken)

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Dear White People
I like pi!
So, to the extent my opinion on a show explicitly about the Black American experience matters: I liked it!

Here's a review I read by an Actual Black American which criticises it for being designed to make white allies feel good about ourselves. Even I noticed it was way too easy on the Nice White Dude and looking back I guess I assumed an implicit criticism of him that was never actually said, and may have been entirely in my head.

I was a bit put off by the first episode, which strains under the weight of having to summarise the plot of the movie with the same name that it's a sequel to (which I haven't seen, and did feel I got the gist of) Also it felt like it was trying to make sweeping statements about How Racism Works while being limited by the point of view of the main character, a self righteous and committed activist who is also a straight woman. "What about people she has privilege over?" I thought. "What about people who just want to try to survive?"

And then episode two was from the point of a view of a previously minor character, an introverted gay black guy who tries to do the right thing but finds conflict terrifying. And it was amazing, though the character felt so much more true to life that I correctly guessed that the show's creator, Justin Simien, is a gay dude himself.

Further episodes show even more different points of views and experiences on the same overall story. I can't think of a better multifaceted exploration of dealing with institutional prejudice, it's sympathetic to all the characters and shows how every approach, from radical activism to toadying, has costs and benefits. And it's also really funny, and touching, and sweet, with lovable characters and cute little sub stories. I'm not black, but I have dealt with prejudice, and activism, and being The Poor Kid At The Fancy School, and that all rang really true. It's also just a really good multiple POV story.

The show does have some blind spots, it reminded me a lot of the UK Queer As Folk: clever, funny, engaging, thoughtful, but only really good on social issues that directly affect the creator (being a gay man, and, in this case, black) and kind of...middling to terrible on everything else. Which is to say the female characters are mostly ok but the only significant "lesbian" character is cheating with a man, the only visibly bi character is mocked for being in denial about being gay, the only time disability comes up at all is in sometimes ableist jokes, and trans people apparently don't exist. Also the creator seems to have a Joss Whedon-ish "happy relationships are boring and also hard to write" attitude. (The treatment of the few non-black POC seemed ok to me for a show about blackness rather than POC in general, but I'm not in a position to judge)

Looking back after reading that article I linked above, it is surprisingly ambivalent about activism. I am also ambivalent about activism, so it didn't bug me so much at the time, but there is something unfortunate about a story which starts out all RAH RAH ACTIVISM IS GREAT then complicates that with "but is it worth the cost?" and never actually shows the organised activism achieving anything except making people Feel Empowered (there's a really brief mention of charity work but the show clearly doesn't care about it). There's some feel good moments where individual people make individual stands but that's not the same thing.

Overall I still really enjoyed it. "Like Russel T Davies when he was young and vibrant, but with modern sensibilities and black" is not a bad bar to reach. (Ok it doesn't have any speculative aspects, but neither did Queer as Folk, hint hint Justin Simien)

I'm curious to watch the movie now but a bit worried I'll find the plot changes that were apparently made disconcerting. Also afaict it is all from the point of view of Sam from the first episode. But on the other hand it might give me more Sam/Coco shipping fodder.

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