Friday, November 26, 2010

On 'Weeds' Race Problem

I recently watched the first ten episodes of "Weeds," the Showtime comedy that everyone loves. Like most members of disenfranchised and discriminated groups, I have a really high tolerance for offensive material, so I loved the show, even though I found it to be heinously racist and classist. Most of the race-based comedy stems from a 1970's-esque idea that the viewers will be white and wealthy and find the idea of blacks spitting out profanity-laced racial slurs amusing.

I don't find the show funny (entertaining, but not a knee-slapper) and I'm increasingly annoyed by the idea that the main character, recently widowed housewife cum drug dealer Nancy Botwin, is supposed to be a "good" person. I searched the Interweb for critiques about the show's racism, but came up short. I did find these great comments on a Racialicious post about drug decriminalization and racial inequality in pop culture.

"I’m reminded of the tv show ‘Weeds’ in which a white wealthy suburbanite mother’s zany adventures with the drug world rely on exploitative portrayals of the ever-dangerous POC she encounters as a dealer. Her white privilege consistently saves her from prosecution while the people of color are either monsters or simply willing to put up with her shit for reasons I can’t fathom." -- jvansteppes
"@jvansteppes: God, I hate 'Weeds'. I’d heard it was a good show, watched the first couple episodes, and got slammed with practically non-stop stupid racism. A lot of the humor seemed to come from making observations like “Look at the black guy shopping for rims on eBay, it’s funny because that’s exactly what black guys do! And the Asian woman is a slutty slutty slut and the nice white lady is a nice white lady hahahaha yay stereotypes!”
I watched two episodes, years ago, and I’m still angry about the time I wasted on them." -- atlasien
I was also really disturbed by the intersection of sexual politics and race in the series. Nancy, played by the pale and frail-looking Marie Louise Parker, is of that perpetually confused strain of white women on television that seem to float through the world blindly, inflicting pain, humiliation, alienation and whatever else on others, but never forced to take responsibility for anything. She's a horrible, unattentive and lazy mother and, although she likes to refer to her black supplier family as "friends," she adds no value to their lives. Instead, she prefers to use their everyday conversations as comedic relief (black folks are so delightful!) and effectively meddles in their lives until a rift forms between two of the family members.

Nancy's overly flirtatious with all of the men in the series (including her best friend's husband, often choosing to sit on his lap rather than a chair). The men of color on the show are all after Nancy. They're big, they're bad, they're posturing and they lust after a woman devoid of redeeming qualities, seemingly because she's white and exotic.

But what really saddens me about the show is that talented and charismatic actors like Romany Malco, who plays Nancy's supplier's flunky Conrad, spend their entire careers playing oversexed, shuffling Negro criminals. (Check Malco's resume. He played an embarrassingly n*ggery character in The 40 Year Old Virgin and a ghetto doorman in Baby Mama.) I'm guessing that the same is true for Vincent Laresca, who plays the violent Latino drug dealer who has sex with Nancy on the hood of his car after threatening her, and Maulik Pancholy, a nerdy Indian named Sanjay, a character that perpetually loses out on Nancy's affection to other characters.

The women of color on the show are of a similar mold. Asian women are oversexed sluts who whore themselves out at massage parlors or bed married white men. Black women are overweight, loud lip-smackers in need of charity (despite lucrative careers as weed dealers). Latina women can't speak English or drive, and exist only to simultaneously serve and irritate the white characters.

As much as I love some of the smart writing, I absolutely hate every single scene involving a POC. It's been years since this season aired, but I find myself wishing someone at Showtime had've given creator and writer Jenji Kohan a memo: Just write about white people and we'll all be a lot happier. Kohan probably doesn't realize it, but it's absolutely, f*cking horrifying to see people of color through her charactered, racist worldview.

1 comment:

  1. This is spot on! Watching this show makes me feel so desensitized to unjust portrayals of POC. I don't know why I keep watching.