I’m a black guy. Definitely not the blackest, but I’m pretty black. My parents were born in Nigeria, a very black place. I went to a black and Latino high school. I went to a predominately white college, but I spent all of my time with black folks. I’ve studied black history since I was 18… I’m pretty black… and a man too. Despite all of this, I enjoy Big Little Lies, a show on HBO about affluent white women dealing with all sorts of drama. On the surface, there’s no entry point for me, but underneath the beautiful homes, beaches and people are challenges that we all face.
Big Little Lies revolves around several women living in Monterey. Jane Chapman, played by Shailene Woodley, is the audience surrogate into this world of wealth many viewers have only seen at a distance. Like all the women on this show, Jane is dealing with emotional baggage that impacts her interactions with all other characters, including her son Ziggy. This show starts at the scene of a murder and backtracks to reveal the small moments that lead to this massive one. Through backtracking and through Chapman’s eyes we meet a host of characters living in this bizarro world held up by passive aggressive interactions and public perception.
Madeline, fantastically portrayed by Reese Witherspoon, is dealing with a passionless marriage, two daughters to0 smart for their own good, an ex-husband and his beautiful new wife (Zoe Kravitz). She’s incredibly driven and determined to get what she wants. She’s loyal to Chapman, but that energy seems to stem from her hatred of Renita (Laura Dern).
All these women do a wonderful job with their performances. Turning what many consider “trivial” problems into real world issues with weight and consequences. None of these women are dealing with systemic oppression in ways I can imagine, or relate too, but their issues are legitimate. That point is driven home by their acting throughout the show’s seven-episode run.
No one does a finer job than Nicole Kidman. Her character Celeste Wright is a fully realized human. She had dreams that are altered after having children. She dealing with that guilt. She’s dealing with an abusive husband she truly loves and believes she can fix. She’s also struggling with the pressure of her public image. At several instances, characters mention how “perfect” her life is when in reality she’s living a nightmare. It’s a performance I kept thinking about after the finale. Her character proves that oppression exists at all levels and take different forms.
The finale ultimately made me love the show even more, which is rare. Everything comes to a head in a really dynamic way and these women remain at the center of everything. Despite this show having nothing to do with my experience, I was able to find commonality with these wealthy white women. As they fought in their luxurious homes overlooking the beach I thought about White Supremacy and how it hurts all parties involved. White people think they’ve created a reality where they can reach full fulfillment, but it’s hollow and insatiable. They aren’t trying to survive day to day like many poor people, but they’re dealing with guilt, PTSD, and death. Their problems are different and unique. All made real by an amazing cast, incredible direction, and spot on acting.