How The White Savior Complex in HBO’s “Divorce” Crosses The Dreaded Boundaries
In the name of diversity
Ever since the Oscar’s and thanks to Best Actress winner — Frances McDormand’s rousing acceptance speech — we now have a trendier way for White people to proudly boast about their efforts when it comes to making their movie sets — less White.
Inclusion rider is the term of the year and while the sentiment behind the initiation is touching — this revolutionary approach towards ensuring that talents of color have the same opportunities as their White counterparts is becoming embarrassingly transparent.
McDormand’s plea to her well-dressed White colleagues — to join the force for good by updating contracts with the stipulation that their future projects will be populated with a “certain level of diversity” — is an awesome way to publicly lend your support and endorse a worthy cause for the sake of warranted progression — except for the fact that it sucks that all this activism is necessary.
And in any case — a lot of the attempts by all-White projects to check out the benefits of initiating diversity seem to be awkwardly staged at best. This might have a lot to do with the confusion of wading into unfamiliar territory after spending a shitload of time in the bubble of Whiteness. Suddenly rebooted shows like Will & Grace not only have to contend with Trump — but they also have to address race since it has finally shaped up into something that is quite unavoidable.
As opposed to back in the good old days — when Friends, Mad About You, and Sex and the City were free to pretend that New York City was an all-White haven.
Speaking of Sex and the City — Carrie Bradshaw — oops! — I mean Sarah Jessica Parker is back at her old stomping ground with a new drama series on HBO — Divorce. Since I don’t have access to regular television — I have designated myself to a revolving door of apps that keep me entertained enough to forget the ugliness of our existence. I gave Divorce a chance because I was curious to watch Parker inhabit a role that was supposedly starkly different from the one that made her a household name.
The show is mildly interesting and basically focuses on the aftermath of a divorce — which means we get to watch Frances (Parker) and Robert (Thomas Hayden Church) — juggle their lifestyles in the midst of raising two teenage kids.
In the second season that just recently wrapped up — we see Frances gaining back her sense of stability as her relationship with Robert begins to settle into a comfortable rhythm — while her dating life gets a bit spicier. Also — the gallery that she runs with with the assistance of her high-energy friend — Diane (Molly Shannon) is starting to respond to all the hard work that was invested in the first season.
And since the gallery is situated in the impeccably all-White hub of Westchester, NY— her clientele obviously inspires whatever is needed to drive in consistent traffic. And that’s when things get very interesting as we watch Frances fall head over heels in love with the artwork of a Black artist — Sylvia — played with gusto by Roslyn Ruff.
Sylvia isn’t at all motivated by the idea of reviving her skills since she’s on an indefinite hiatus — but Frances somehow finds a way to excite her new discovery into a roaring comeback that ends up paying off in more ways than one.
The feud that ensues between Frances and the Black artist that she saves from imminent extinction doesn’t dissolve by the end of the season — but that isn’t really the crux of my interest between these two characters and how they end up intersecting.
My gripe is with the way the show decided to utilize the one and only Black character and how it proves the real struggle White creatives face when it comes to presenting a realistic world — that contains all the elements that shouldn’t be that hard to summon if you’re healthily engaged.
So — it’s either the subject of diversity is completely off the grid or the mandated inclusion of characters of color leads to taking the bait of making sure that their contribution is seeped in the generically indulgent storylines — that are purposely concocted to fulfill the slots of “wokeness.”
The white savior complex is the dull undertone that persists when Frances takes it upon herself to convince an amazingly talented young Black woman to recharge herself enough for the both of them. As a Black woman— who’s taking full advantage of this revamped climate that is gearing itself towards people like me — who are armed and ready to be fully appreciated in ways that were unheard of not too long ago — I can’t imagine why Sylvia would run and hide instead of showcasing her immaculate gifts for all to see.
It’s obvious that since Frances is surrounded by White friends and acquaintances — which is the expected consequences of living and working in a mostly White town — the producers had to come up with a storied encounter between Frances and the only Black person that gains entry into her world.
It’s extremely frustrating to watch these instances play out to the betterment of the privileged White lady — who is willing to be friendly with a Black woman — only if it serves her best interests. Heaven forbid that Frances actually has a college friend who happens to be a Black woman who also lives in the same town. Black people do attend Ivy League schools and end up living in areas that boasts high-income tenants.
Why would such a concept be so far-fetched that it totally escapes the mind of TV writers who perplexing decide that the Black character has to be an artist who is waiting to be rescued from solitude by a White woman — because that’s the only way the “inclusion” clause will make much-needed impact.
Obviously White viewers will be thrilled at the prospect of Frances being passionate enough to revive a dormant artist — but as a Black woman — there’s nothing inspiring about the self-serving motives of a White woman who only steps outside the borders of her “all-White” existence — long enough to get what she needs and then reverts back to her safe bubble — once she’s satisfied.
When it comes to these types of challenges — perhaps the best solution is to stick to what you know. In other words — don’t even bother with the pre-occupation of figuring out how to include characters of color if they aren’t in the “main category” — because you do more harm than good when you subject them to the unnecessarily grueling treatments — that almost always involve politically correct themes that fall flat.
Black talents aren’t props that White creatives need to insert in order to check off the box that was added as the nagging reminder to do what should really be an organic tendency.
Adding one Black actress to an all-White show isn’t a sufficient way of illustrating your stance when it comes to “diversity” — especially when her presence is only meant to boost the best qualities of the White lead character.
The spirit of inclusion should be carried out with the spirit of realism — and thoroughly reflective of a society that is becoming less-White — and if White supremacists are threatened enough to fight against this inevitable shift — then that’s all the evidence you need.
Yes — there are still towns in America that only have White people — but Frances operates in a setting that does accommodate people of color — and if the producers truly wanted a show that veers away from the “all-White” palette — they would’ve made that clear from the jump.
But — that wasn’t on the agenda and in order to save face — they created Sylvia for the glory of a White woman who needs to ride the coattails of a Black woman in order to validate that Black woman’s insertion in an all-White landscape.
Divorce — is a decent show and as far as its grade when it comes to the pursuit of diversity — they get a C-. The only way that grade will improve is if they stick to what they know and leave the complicated stuff to those of us in the real world.
We know it’s not a matter of “addressing race or diversity.” It’s actually living it.