The Good Feminist

The Good Wife officially transitioned into its post-Will state on Sunday, and followed through on the showrunners’ promise that the next few episodes would not be “all tears—there’s comedy too.” The show is adept at balancing drama and comedy in the same episode, and though it continues to deal with Alicia, Kalinda and Diane’s grief in the aftermath of Will’s murder, “A Material World” has some humorous scenes. Alicia and Diane’s drunken get-together was funny, but the most chuckle-worthy part of the episode comes during Alicia’s lowest moment. Bedridden and in mourning, Alicia watches a detective show that seems awfully familiar.

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Alicia drowns her sorrows in TV.

In it, a couple of detectives run their flashlights over a dead body, while one of the detectives goes on a philosophical rant. “People just think there are black hats and white hats,” the detective drawls. “But there are black hats with white lining, and white hats with black lining. There are hats that change back and forth between white and black.”

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A deep-thinking detective on The Good Wife.

The pontificating detective is a great parody of myriad talky TV investigators, whether it be CSI Miami’s Horatio Caine (never without a pun) or True Detective’s Rust Cohle. The parody further mirrors True Detective through its imagery, the sadly familiar portrait of a brutalized woman strung up to a tree or a fence, on display for the male detectives—or saviors. Image

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Dead bodies on The Good Wife (top) and True Detective (bottom).

Much was made of True Detective’s women, whose frequently naked bodies—dead and alive—were ogled by the camera. The women of True Detective were there to illuminate the male leads: Marty’s mistress was valuable because she proved that Marty was out of control; Dora Lange (above) mattered to the audience not because she was a human being, but because her death offered a doorway into the way Rust Cohle’s mind worked. The Good Wife’s parody is comic relief, sure, but it also places the show’s complex female leads in contrast to True Detective’s flat women. Later in the episode, Alicia Florrick, who throughout the last two seasons has become more and more commanding, finally takes a long-awaited step toward her liberation from the shackles of the Tammy Wynette role: she breaks up with Peter, the husband who forced her to play the titular good wife.

No matter what you think of Alicia lately—the show certainly hasn’t privileged her likability—the character is not stagnant. The recent episode “A Few Words” reminded us of Alicia’s earlier iteration, all bad hair, dowdy suits, pursed lips and wide, nervous eyes. She has turned into a power player, at times a ruthless one. (“Don’t worry, I’m not going to divorce you,” she assures her jilted husband. “You’re too valuable to me professionally, just like I am to you.”)

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Alicia just after the Peter cheating scandal (L) and Alicia in season 5, now a name partner and founder of Florrick/Agos (R).

True Detective rankled some critics, but it was also one of the buzziest television events of recent years. Divergent schools of thought helped drive that buzz—some saw the show as simply a well-executed detective series, using all of the tropes associated with the genre but with snazzier directing and acting. Others praised True Detective for subverting the trappings of genre and offering something deeper. For all that talk, though, The Good Wife is doing something even more revolutionary: working within the confines of a network series, twenty-two episodes and all, and managing to tell a woman’s story subtly and artfully. True Detective created something television viewers love to indulge in: fervor. But The Good Wife creates something much more important: feminist television.

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Why I Think “The Good Wife” Made the Right Call

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“I want to be with you and only you. Forever.”

The Kings have always said in interviews that Will and Alicia’s doomed romance was about bad timing. Alicia’s responsibilities at home got in the way. Her relationship with Peter got in the way. Voicemails were deleted. True feelings were suppressed. Will once likened the relationship to a merry-go-round, but on the show its symbol was an elevator. There are myriad examples: Alicia’s hurried escape into the Lockhart/Gardner elevator after their first kiss; their rekindled flame on the way up to the hotel suite in the season two finale; Will’s longing question, after the romance had ended: “Do you think it was a mistake?”; perhaps most definitively in hindsight, Will’s hand blocking the closing elevator doors in “A Few Words”—an almost-miss. Continue reading

About That True Detective Sex Scene

Early in True Detective’s run, some were rankled by the sex scene in episode two between Hart and his mistress, in which the camera luxuriated in and leered at actress Alexandra Daddario’s naked body. I wasn’t bothered by the scene because, indulgent as the focus on Ms. Daddario’s assets might have seemed, it effectively replicated Marty Hart’s gaze and thus felt understandable. But it’s true, as Emily Nussbaum wrote in The New Yorker after last Sunday’s episode, that as the show has gone on, its women have not been shaded in much. True Detective’s world is populated by, per Nussbaum, “slack-jawed teen prostitutes,” “strippers gyrating in the background of police work,” “the designated put-upon wifely character” and “the occasional cameo hussy.” These women seem to exist in the show’s world simply to deepen our understanding of the two main characters, which is what made the most recent episode so strange for me.

SPOILERS. In episode six, Maggie Hart (Michelle Monaghan) finds out her husband is, once again, cheating on her. In an effort to enrage Marty and send him out of the house, Maggie seduces his partner, Rust, then tells Rust what her plan was and later tells Marty what she has done, effectively blowing up both their home life and Marty and Rust’s professional relationship.

Due to the show’s framing device, viewers knew that Rust and Hart would split as partners in 2002, and to the observant viewer the reason for the impending split was easy to predict (the show’s first five episodes were peppered with Maggie/Rust scenes that crackled with chemistry), so I was not the least bit surprised when Maggie knocked on Rust’s door in the last episode.

The plot wasn’t what threw me; it was the perspective. The sex scene, as Willa Paskin notes in her Slate piece, positions Maggie as the one with agency. “Rust and Marty both became, however briefly, pawns in her story,” Paskin writes. Indeed, just before Maggie arrives Rust is in his desolate apartment trying to puzzle together the Yellow King mystery. He hears a knock at the door, and rather than track Rust as he finds out who it is, the camera cuts outside so that the viewer sees Maggie looking distressed in front of Rust’s apartment.

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By cutting to Maggie before Rust opens the door, the show is placing us outside of his point of view and sending us a message: Rust is not the protagonist in this scene. Next, Maggie initiates contact.
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And then we get a unique shot of the couple framed through the cabinets and counter in Rust’s kitchen. Rust is still hesitant, and in this shot we can only see Maggie’s face as she tries to get him to capitulate. The shot further emphasizes Maggie’s place in the scene’s power dynamic.

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After Rust is finished, the camera lingers on Maggie’s face, asking the viewer to contemplate these events from her point of view.

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And in a particularly great shot, we cut to a close-up of Maggie’s hand delicately pushing Rust away so that she can put her panties back on.

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From start to finish, Maggie is in control. The scene’s writing and direction emphasize her experience of the event at hand, an extreme change of perspective since until now the entire show has been filtered through Rust and Hart’s points of view. The change doesn’t last long, though. A beat later, we fully shift to Rust’s reaction to Maggie’s betrayal. The scene ends with a shot of Rust alone in his apartment, stricken and solitary.

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Suddenly, the scene seems meant to illuminate Rust for the audience. His reaction to Maggie’s behavior—it is presented as Maggie’s behavior—shows him to be a “good man,” a principled man who has had a lapse in judgement because he is incredibly lonely and vulnerable. Similarly, the next 2002 scene is Maggie’s confession. She tells Hart what she has done, and the moment is meant to further clarify that Hart is a hothead with anger and control issues.

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In the end, Hart and Rust brawl in the police station parking lot and ultimately break up. The story is emphatically not of Maggie’s liberation from her marriage, and I don’t think it should be. But why frame the sex scene from Maggie’s perspective instead of Rust’s, when True Detective hasn’t made any other attempts to consider its female characters’ inner lives?

Rust has increasingly been positioned as the hero of True Detective. He may be deeply flawed, but he is also the only character who seems to really want to solve the Yellow King mystery and save the women and children the killer is terrorizing. The show asks us to root for Rust, particularly in the last episode, which featured Rust in multiple face-offs—with our presumed Bad Guy, the hot mess that is Marty Hart, and The Man in the form of his lazy or willfully ignorant superiors at the police station—in which he was in the right. So is it a coincidence that we switch perspectives right when Rust could, by sleeping with his partner’s wife, become the bad guy? By placing Maggie as agent, the viewer is allowed to let Rust off the hook and blame Maggie, who is once again reduced to a stereotype: the sexually manipulative woman.

House of Cards Questions (No Spoilers)

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On kind of a theoretical level, not a plot level.

First, please take this survey:

1. Is one of the following shows the best drama of all time? 

The Wire

The Sopranos

Breaking Bad

Mad Men

a. Yes

b. No

2. Totally love…

a. Hannibal

b. The Following

3. Currently watching True Detective (or waiting to binge it)?

a. Yes

b. No

4. “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”

a. Can’t lose…what? I don’t get it.

b. GO PANTHERS (OR LIONS)!

If your results were a, a, a, and b, we, as television viewers, are on the same page (i.e. we are both probably kind of TV elitists), and so you may be more inclined to agree with me (and many of the critics we probably both read) on some of the things I’m going to basically state as objective truths regarding House of Cards. Like:

  • House of Cards looks great. It does not look “inexpensive” (said in Nina Garcia clipped tone).
  • House of Cards is extremely campy.
  • Many of House of Cards’ happenings defy all logic or reason.
  • Character motivations on House of Cards are often hard to pin down.
  • House of Cards writers do generally frowned upon things like inform the audience that a heretofore major character has been fired in a throwaway line, or baby us through upcoming plot twists through early-episode anecdotes from Freddy the grillmaster that basically scream “PAY ATTENTION THIS IS A METAPHOR PAY ATTENTION VIEWER.”
  • House of Cards is very fun and easy to binge watch.

So, could House of Cards possibly succeed if it were aired week to week? This is a show that pulls you in with a distinct, sleek visual palette, a fun, hammy main character and the promise of plot twists and political machinations. It’s a foregone conclusion that Frank will own everyone (and an all-powerful main character would usually be a problem for a show), so the fun is in watching how he owns everyone and who his casualties are. Sometimes the show is patently ridiculous in a vaguely self-aware way (Frank’s outfit when he SPOILERS SPOILER; the computer hacker with the guinea pig; the shenanigans with the Secret Service agent). Other times, it becomes suddenly self-serious, or maybe self-reflective is a better word (that one Claire scene toward the end of this season).

But these tone inconsistencies never seem like a problem if you digest the whole show in one bite, like an amuse-bouche in television form. When you are clicking through from chapter to chapter, you don’t have the time, or in my case the inclination, to sit down and let the show and its various nonsensical plot mechanics and thin characterizations marinate. It’s an interesting viewing experience in comparison to True Detective, a show that begs to be parsed and re-watched.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the House of Cards brand of entertainment. If anything, I think it’s kind of genius. Here is a show that fuses method of consumption with content, and has gotten awards and buzz out of it. But will this become a trend? As television shows become available via diverse platforms, will the way those shows are constructed change accordingly? Nothing seems to indicate that a Netflix show has to follow the House of Cards mode (I have not watched Orange Is the New Black, but from what I have heard it is better written than HoC), but given its success, I wonder if Netflix will be inclined to greenlight shows that lend themselves to the binging model, even if they aren’t prestige dramas that are going to launch Netflix into the pantheon of greatness alongside HBO and AMC.

And again, it’s kind of fun to imagine how HoC would be different if it were airing weekly. Would it be better? Less addictive? It’s a moot point, I suppose. Frank Underwood once said, “I hate being kept in the dark. Waiting. Speculating.” No such problem for House of Cards fans.

The Double in True Detective

Dr. Jekyll famously posited that “man is not truly one, but two,” a reference to one of the tenets of Gothic fiction: the double. Page through the genre’s staples, and the sets of doubles are as ubiquitous as stormy weather or labyrinthine abodes. Often, Gothic twinning is representative of the duality within man, or simply put, good versus evil, as with the aforementioned Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Other Gothic pairs include Matilda and Isabella in The Castle of Otranto, Jane Eyre and Bertha Mason, and Dr. Frankenstein and the Creature.

The double was passed down to the Gothic novel’s descendant, horror film. Buffy the Vampire Slayer memorably used the double in the episode “Doppelgangland,” wherein Willow’s vampire doppelganger from another dimension takes a trip to Sunnydale and thoroughly confounds the Scooby Gang, who understandably assume that their good friend has been killed.

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Willow encounters her vampy double.

In Buffy, the double is used for comedic effect, allowing for some great mistaken identity gags. But laughs aside, the episode nicely typifies the double’s place in Gothic fiction. In the episode, Willow is questioning her reputation as a reliable, maybe predictable person. She meets her double just as she’s in the process of reevaluating herself. Horror films and novels are often about subverting our constructions of normalcy (that’s why Michael Myers terrorizes an idyllic suburban neighborhood), and what’s more disturbing than being confronted with your own construction of self? In meeting our doubles, we must reflect on the permeability of our identities.

Fitting, then, that HBO’s True Detective, a show that spends a lot of time considering the nature of selfhood, is littered with doubles. The most obvious pairing is Matthew McConaughey’s Detective Rust Cohle and Woody Harrelson’s Detective Marty Hart, a couple of Louisiana cops tasked with solving a gruesome murder. At first the men seem quite different; Cohle lives alone, and is fairly antisocial and prone to philosophizing, while Hart is a family man who seems to enjoy beers with the fellas and a good dirty joke. As the show continues, though, the characters become more and more complex, and more and more similar. “You’re obsessive,” Hart says to his partner in the most recent episode. “You’re obsessive too,” Cohle replies. “Just not about work.” Even without verbalizing their similarities, the show frames the two men as doubles, dressing them in the same palette or shooting them in parallel, as if they’re two sides of the same coin.

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Doubling can also be found in the form of Hart’s daughters, cherubic blondes who are often dressed almost identically and, in a recent scene, were blocked to move in unison.

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See also: the double date between Hart, his wife, Cohle and his setup. Notice that Hart’s wife, played by Michelle Monaghan, also physically resembles Cohle’s date, creating another visual double. During the date, a thematic doubling of sorts arises during the characters’ conversation about synesthesia. Cohle explains his condition as “a type of hypersensitivity. One sense triggers another sense. Like, sometimes I’ll see a color and it’ll put a taste in my mouth; a touch, a texture, a scent may put a note in my head.” Replies his date, “So when something feels good, does that mean it feels twice as good? Like, say, two different ways?”

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Lastly, Cohle and Hart, while doubling each other, are further doubled by the detectives who interview them in the show’s framing device.

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Even the show’s title, True Detective, can connect back to doubling, for in not pluralizing the noun it’s as if the two protagonists we see on-screen are in some ways one and the same. Toward the close of the most recent episode, Hart, somewhat uncharacteristically, asks Cohle a question about selfhood. “Do you wonder, ever, if you’re a bad man?” he asks. “The world needs bad men,” Cohle replies. “We keep the other bad men from the door.” At episode’s end, the bad man is revealed: a naked figure holding a machete and wearing a gas mask stalks across the frame, ostensibly the killer we and the detectives have been searching for. But earlier Cohle and Hart were established as bad men themselves, and so is this not another metaphorical, monstrous double? Already the lines between “good” and “bad” have been muddied in True Detective‘s universe, but often in Gothic fiction one double subsumes the other. In the end, this may be a story of death, but the mutilated bodies we’ve already encountered may not be the only victims.

Is “The Wolf of Wall Street” Sexist?

Margot Robbie in The Wolf Of Wall Street

I just read this piece on Jezebel titled “A Lady’s Defense of The Wolf of Wall Street,” which seeks to defend the Scorsese picture against claims that “the filmmaker was sexist, and the script was sexist, and the portrayal of women was sexist, and this was offensive and bad and we should not give our money to such a heinous endeavor (because, you know, sexist).” Author Sara Benincasa doesn’t really argue whether or not the movie is sexist (although she does helpfully state, “[T]he film is not sexist or misogynist”); rather, her thesis seems to be that the film is drawing the viewers into the hedonistic, misogynistic, sexist, over-the-top world of its characters in order to hold up a mirror to the audience, to prove that we are “desperate, and greedy, and all too willing to be led.”

All this may be true—I have not seen the movie yet, so I can’t say—but I was disappointed that the article’s response to the film’s sexism (or lack thereof) was pretty much summed up thusly: “depiction of bad behavior does not constitute endorsement of said bad behavior.” I emphatically agree, but I don’t think that really answers the question. A piece of art is not sexist because it contains sexism. A piece of art should convey truth, and if sexism is part of that truth (as it was for Belfort and his buddies), then so be it. A piece of art is sexist when its women are not whole.

Case in point: Mad Men. No fan could argue the point that many of the male leads are sexist, but that does not make the show sexist. The show is not sexist—in fact, it’s quite feminist—because its female characters are as well-drawn as its male characters. The women are real people with thought, emotion and depth; they are not the caricatures many men of that era made them out to be.

So, having not yet seen The Wolf of Wall Street, these are my questions: Does it pass the Bechdel test? Is Margot Robbie’s character as human as any man onscreen? DiCaprio’s Belfort may not treat her with respect, but does the camera treat her with respect?

Those questions are not so easy to answer sometimes. If Scorsese is trying to draw us into Belfort’s world, then is it possible to separate Belfort’s gaze and the camera’s gaze? If Belfort sees Robbie’s character as a plaything, then should the film? I would argue no, and Scorsese’s track record gives me some measure of faith. This is a man who loves to explore masculinity on film, but not always at the expense of his female actors (see: Lorraine Bracco in GoodFellas or Cate Blanchett in The Aviator). How much of this is due to the performers, though? Vera Farmiga’s character in The Departed, for example, is paper thin, but Farmiga is skilled enough to create something out of virtually nothing. (Not surprisingly, you can now catch Farmiga acting the hell out of her role on Bates Motel—television seems to be the medium of choice for strong roles for women.)

Speaking of great performances by women this year, I saw American Hustle last night and was blown away by Jennifer Lawrence. I had read the accolades and was skeptical—I sort of assumed that her newfound status as America’s Sweetheart elevated the praise, especially since Amy Adams is the female lead—but boy, were the critics right. Lawrence is hilarious and sad and bawdy, and every other emotional shade in between. Thinking back on this year’s 2013’s films—with Adele and Emma in Blue Is the Warmest Color, Carey Mulligan’s Jean in Inside Llewyn Davis, Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave, Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Enough Said, Oprah in The Butler, Scarlett in Her—it wasn’t a bad year for women in the movies, with or without Scorsese’s help.

“Blue is the Warmest Color”: Food is Where the Heart is

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The best thing about “Blue is the Warmest Color,” for me, was the treatment of food. In most of the scenes centered around socializing, food is an important element: one of our first glimpses of the protagonist is at dinner with her family; Adele’s first date with her high school crush is over gyros; Adele and Emma have an interesting meal with Emma’s mother and stepfather that involves some pointed talk of oysters, countered by a more modest meal at Adele’s family home; Adele cooks for Emma’s friends at their celebration of Emma’s art.

Food represents different character or plot elements in many of these scenes. In the first two scenes listed above, our attention is drawn to the voraciousness with which Adele consumes her food. That voraciousness is a recurring theme in the film and extends to her sex life and the emotional dynamics of her relationship with Emma. The “meeting the parents” dinner scenes highlight class differences: Emma says something like “Simple, but delicious” as she slurps up Adele’s father’s pasta, a hearty, working-class dish that stands in contrast to the expensive shellfish the group consumes at Emma’s family dinner, accompanied by talk of art and wine. In the dinner party scene, Adele makes the aforementioned pasta dish. It’s a hit amongst Emma’s cultured friends; the camera lingers on their enjoyment of the meal, but the scene also establishes the passive, servant-like role Adele has taken on in her relationship with Emma, a role that she relishes but Emma resents.

The food scenes struck me because I think food, and what if signifies, is largely ignored in American film. Certainly, there are memorable food scenes in American films (I always loved the pasta sauce scene in The Godfather), but food is often most prominent in airy montages in Nancy Meyers movies. In those scenes, food is prepared amongst the glistening appliances of sprawling Southern California or Hamptons kitchens, but never consumed. In these rom-coms, the joy is in the preparation, and the food is presented as an indulgence. The chick flick may be the genre most associated with food, but if American audiences equate food with one actor, it has to be Brad Pitt. Many a YouTube montage has been edited to highlight “Brad Pitt eating scenes,” but what is the fascination? The unlikely picture of one of modern cinema’s Adonis figures actually, well, eating onscreen is notable to American audiences because in most of our films, actors shuffle food around on a plate despondently, trying to trick the audience into making it look like they’ve consumed something.

There are obviously cultural differences at work here. “Blue is the Warmest Color” takes place in France, where leisure is valued rather than stigmatized. Indeed, scenes centered around food would seem out of place in certain American milieus; the greatest fantasy in “Sex and the City,” after all, wasn’t Carrie’s wardrobe or Charlotte’s apartment, but the idea that four friends would have time for that many meandering brunches in a city where meals are often seen as a means to an end. But even if American culture deemphasizes downtime to a certain extent, food is still an integral part of our cultural and familial dynamics. It can be a signifier of myriad things, yet it’s often ignored onscreen. Perhaps standards of beauty are partly to blame for the exclusion—do we not want to see our matinee idols stuffing their faces? Do actors and actresses refuse to shoot multiple takes of a dinner scene for fear of loading up on deadly carbs? I don’t know the answers, but I’m certain that for some viewers the most shocking scenes in “Blue is the Warmest Color” won’t be the graphic lesbian sex scenes; they’ll be the scenes of unabashed calorie consumption.

What’s in a Name?

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I saw 12 Years a Slave the other night at BAM. I don’t know that there’s much I can say that hasn’t already been said. Yes, it’s excellent. Yes, the shot of Chiwetel Ejiofor hanging from a tree while slave children play around him is incredible in a horrible way. Yes, Brad Pitt is kind of distracting. Yes, Michael Fassbender is terrifying. Yes, McQueen’s long takes are brutal.

I have had three moviegoing experiences where, when the credits rolled, the audience members stayed in their seats and just cried, or stared forward in stunned silence. Each time, the scene was the same: darkened theater, dead silent but for occasional sniffles. Those three movies were Brokeback Mountain, Beasts of the Southern Wild and, now, 12 Years a Slave. The particularly jarring thing about 12 Years is that, for an American audience, being confronted with our country’s absolutely brutal history is a real challenge. For me the fetishization and commodification of the Black body was particularly disturbing—in one scene, Paul Giamatti has his slaves stand naked around a house as he highlights their various physical attributes to potential buyers—because I think we still see some of that objectification of Black bodies today. In general, you just have to think about how slavery has impacted us today, has shaped our national identity, as you watch the film.

I was also struck by the tension between the horror of Northup’s experiences and the beauty of the composition. McQueen is a smart filmmaker because he seduces you with these breathtaking shots. You want to look away as Northrup hangs from a tree while slave children play behind him, but there is such immense power in the beauty of the composition that you keep watching. Which is also Michael Fassbender’s appeal. McQueen’s camera is addicted to him. Again, Fassbender’s slave owner is so brutal that you don’t want to watch, but McQueen’s camera luxuriates in the actor and the audience does, too.

Fassbender’s performance was not nearly as wrenching as Ejiofor’s, for me, and the part that brought me to tears was right at the end. Once he is sold into slavery, Solomon Northup is told he will be referred to from there on out as “Platt.” At the film’s end (SPOILER ALERT), he returns home after being freed to find that his grandchild has been named after him. His reaction to hearing his real name—after years of being called Platt and trying to resist becoming Platt and letting go of all vestiges of hope—was stirring. There was such power in the idea that despite the efforts of society at large, he had not fully lost himself, or if he had, at least his identity had lived on elsewhere, through his family, and could be reclaimed.

Gender and The Good Wife

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I want to kind of unpack my reaction to this week’s The Good Wife because I’ve noticed sort of a disturbing trend. Those of us who love TV have heard a lot about the era of “difficult men” that The Sopranos ushered in—that is, the largely white, male antiheroes that anchor television’s most acclaimed dramas (Walter White, Don Draper, etc.). I love those characters, particularly Don Draper, which is what led me to question my response to Alicia Florrick’s defection from Lockhart/Gardner on The Good Wife tonight.

By all accounts and purposes, this is a feminist move from Alicia. Even though it wasn’t really acknowledged in this episode, the viewers were led to believe that Alicia was leaving L/G in part because she wanted to get out from under Will (figuratively and kind of literally). She wants to strike out on her own and really fight for the ideals she believes in as a lawyer, because we know that Alicia has often felt ethically compromised at L/G. And her strength as a woman was on display not only through the savvy business moves she made throughout the night’s episode, but also through her sexuality. Sure, she was forced into leaving once Will found out about the new firm, but she was still taking a lot of ownership in tonight’s episode on multiple fronts.

So why, as a regular viewer and as a feminist, did my sympathies lie so squarely with Will? To the point that I was really getting mad at Alicia as I watched, and actively rooting against her and the new firm? I don’t think the show was pushing me that way. This is The Good Wife, after all—it’s her story, so by virtue of that alone, we as viewers should be predisposed to siding with Alicia (which I often do). I don’t think the show was pushing us to take Alicia’s side, but I do think the Kings expect the viewers to celebrate her show of independence.

On the other hand, we also were not pushed to side against Will in this episode. Interestingly, we begin squarely in his head. First we got that long beat where the camera settled on Josh Charles as he let Will absorb the news from Diane, which was a moment that clearly engendered sympathy for the betrayed Will. Then we went right into his head; we literally saw things through Will’s eyes through the point-of-view shot as he approached Alicia. That was an interesting choice, because it put us squarely in Will’s frame of reference. And a great direction note; the POV shot gets the audience right up in a character’s mindset, but it’s also used very effectively in some horror movies, like “Halloween”, to unsettle the audience by placing them in the serial killer’s head as he or she stalks or watches the victim. So in that beginning scene of the episode, we were recognizing Will as a threatening presence to Alicia, but we were also sharing a very intimate moment with him.

Beginning aside, Will and Alicia very much operated in grey areas tonight, so it’s hard to argue that the show took sides. Will’s darkest moment was also literally the darkest moment in the episode, when, barely lit and shrouded in black, he told Kalinda that he would essentially stop at nothing to take the competition down. That was an ominous shot that put him in some shifty territory. But he also had the beats related to Grace’s phone call, which humanized him and gave us a respite from his anger. Alicia also went to some dark places, but she had the wrenching elevator moment. Overall, I thought the show was quite objective, which leaves me questioning my anger toward Alicia. Sure, she did some ethically questionable things while maneuvering out of L/G, but Will has been shady through the show’s entire run. Furthermore, how can I as a viewer not just tolerate but actively root for Don Draper—who is frequently a misogynist pig—and yet actively root against Alicia Florrick as soon as she makes one ethical transgression?

I have to wonder if even I, an avowed feminist, am uncomfortable with the depiction of female power, or of a woman in a morally grey area, a woman willing to make moves for her own benefit. That woman kind of already exists on The Good Wife in the form of Kalinda, but for me I think it’s easy to not react to Kalinda very strongly because 1) she’s such a heightened, over-the-top character anyway and 2) she’s so emotionally opaque that I rarely react to her with any strong emotion, unless it’s related to Alicia or some other character on the show. But Kalinda also doesn’t toggle identities the way Alicia does. Alicia is mother, wife, lawyer, lover, and so on. And maybe part of the discomfort comes in watching a woman really wear all of those different masks; maybe we don’t want to think that a woman has those masks at all. We want to imagine that she is some pure presence—St. Alicia. We can celebrate Will Gardner and Don Draper because despite their transgressions, aren’t these the archetypical American males? Aren’t they—in their well-cut suits, surrounded by  the signifiers of power—filling idealized male roles? And yet when we watch a woman adopt their strategies in order to seize power for herself, there’s a certain discomfort, for me at least. I don’t know exactly what it says about my biases or societal norms, but I am happy there’s a show that’s even challenging me to consider it.

Why Can’t We Be Friends (on TV)?

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My best friend is Black. Her name is Diva, she was born and raised in Brooklyn, and her family is Panamanian. I am White. Not blonde, blue eyes, Blake Lively White—my father is an Arab immigrant, so I have what ineloquent guys at bars call an “exotic look,” but I am still, at the end of the day, White. That’s the box I check on the census form. That’s the color of my skin. Race might be a construct and all that, but my Whiteness and Diva’s Blackness have implications that play out in real-life.

For example, the N-word. I understand that it’s a reclaimed word, that using it is arguably empowering for people of certain races or cultures. I hear it every day, from Diva and our other friends and on the train and on the block and so on. Still, I am not going to use it. I don’t think it’s appropriate for a White person to use it, but I usually don’t flinch when I hear it. It’s as common as “hello”, or something.

Except with the -er. For whatever reason—maybe it’s White guilt, even though I have zero Southern roots; maybe it’s some kind of cultural conditioning; maybe it’s political correctness—but when I hear the N-word with an -er, rather than the more common -a, I flinch. “Nigga,” to me, sounds like “bro” or “bud” or any other friendly colloquialism. “Nigger” sounds pejorative; it’s partly the abrasiveness, the sharpness, of that final -r. Spoken, it sounds like a weapon. Somebody on Urban Dictionary agrees with me because they wrote:

Nigga is a word which evolved from the derogative term “nigger”. Tupac best defined the distinction between the two.

NIGGER- a black man with a slavery chain around his neck.

NIGGA- a black man with a gold chain on his neck.

Diva knows I won’t say “nigga,” and she knows I don’t even like to hear “nigger.” She thinks it’s funny. Sometimes she tries to trick me into saying “nigga”, usually when I am rapping along with Jay Z. Sometimes, when we are out to dinner or on the train and she needs a laugh, she drops “nigger” into her sentence just to watch me cringe a little. This anecdote is not meant to preface some linguistic analysis or argue for or against the use of the N-word; it’s meant to capture the uniqueness of an interracial friendship, to underscore the fact that being a White girl with a Black best friend is not like being a White girl with a White best friend. There are cultural norms, there are social customs, that we contend with. And when we wrestle with them—when Diva makes me confront my race and our country’s ugly history and how far we’ve evolved, all through two seemingly innocuous graphemes—it strengthens us as individuals and as friends.

All this is notable to me because it seems that the reality of our kind of friendship has yet to make it into our media landscape. That’s not to say people of color don’t exist on television. When I run down the laundry list of television shows I regularly watch, there are many main characters of color. They are not always the leads, and they are vastly outnumbered by White characters, but they are there. My issue is less with the lack of color on television than with the lack of context around these characters of color. Think of all of the interracial friendships on TV right now: Bonnie and Elena; Jess and CeCe; Kalinda and Alicia; myriad Glee pairings; Carrie Bradshaw and Jill; Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins; Meredith and Christina; Olivia Pope and Abby. These platonic couples exist, but the realities of what it means to be best friends with someone of another race are rarely acknowledged.

Maybe Diva and I are an exception, but race comes up in some form or another anytime we are together, whether we’re discussing the merits of weave versus wig or she’s arguing that only White people have imaginary friends as children. I am not saying that the minutia of our friendship is interesting enough to be on television, but I know that television writers could mine drama or comedy out of the realities of platonic interracial friendships.

Consider Miley Cyrus, who has been sparking outrage for her blatant appropriation of “ratchet” culture. In response to her infamous VMA performance, some (misogynists) have argued that she’s just “too slutty.” Others have argued that she’s racist for treating Black dancers as props. Miley defended against those allegations in Rolling Stone, saying, “I don’t keep my producers or dancers around ’cause it makes me look cool…Those aren’t my ‘accessories.’ They’re my homies.” I can’t speak to the truth of that, but I do think there’s a connection between Miley Cyrus and, say, that other controversial White Girl, Lena Dunham. On her show Girls, Dunham follows in the footsteps of Sex and the City’s frank quartet of Manhattan mates and draws humor out of the slightly awkward realities of many twenty-something girls’ lives—weird dates, weirder sex, frenemies, text etiquette, body image, and onward. If Dunham were to further widen her scope, to honestly and entertainingly showcase the truths of interracial friendships, perhaps Miley Cyrus’ proclamation that she has Black girlfriends would feel less alien or unlikely to some.

Of course, the onus isn’t only on Dunham, though her show’s tone makes it the perfect vehicle for the discussion I’d love to see onscreen. For too long people have demanded that television be “color-blind.” Kerry Washington said in a recent New York Times interview, “I don’t want to be race blind or gender blind. They matter!” Someone’s race, like their gender or sexual orientation, is often central to who they are; by ignoring that, one is ignoring a part of that individual or deeming that part unworthy of acknowledgment. Television writers and showrunners would do all of us a favor by forgetting about being “race-blind” or “color-blind” and dealing with the beauty and humor in our differences. It’s been done right before; just check out New Girl’s Season 2 episode “Cabin”, wherein Schmidt decides Winston needs more Black friends, to hilarious results. It can be done again. We’ve celebrated Carrie Bradshaw and her gals for openly discussing anal sex; we’ve celebrated Shonda Rhimes for creating a show with a black, female lead; we’ve celebrated Lena Dunham for showcasing a realistic female body. These glass ceilings have been shattered; next, we need a show daring enough to explore the complexities of friendship and race. That would be something to celebrate.