When I first saw the trailer for the Netflix film Someone Great, which Gina Rodriguez stars in and co-produced, I felt conflicted. Until recently, I would’ve been ecstatic about a romantic comedy starring her, Lakeith Stanfield and DeWanda Wise, but recent events have left me hesitant. In case you don’t recall, Rodriguez made a number of anti-Black comments over the past year and they left me, and many other Black women I know, feeling unsure about the actor… and, tbh, her work.
Back in November, Rodriguez’s reputation for being a woke POC advocate was tarnished when she made some questionable statements in an interview with Net-a-Porter. Critics were quick to point out that her take on diversity in the entertainment world was not only inaccurate, it also erased the struggles of Black actors. They also had receipts for several other instances where Rodriguez came off as anti-Black, like when she undermined the importance of Black female role models or when she decided that Black Panther’s mostly Black cast was lacking… Latino actors.
When she addressed the anti-Black accusations in January, she didn’t *actually* take responsibility for the things she said, instead offering a tearful tale about her upbringing within the Black community. Before, I’d admired her advocacy and the pride she so clearly felt about being a woman of colour, but her comments—and the way she dealt with criticism—were disappointing. In fact, I felt wary about the way she’d use her platform going forward.
So, can you blame me for not being totally sold on Someone Great when it was announced? I mean, the film is about a Latina woman with a Black best friend and a Black boyfriend—which is just super ironic. But I watched it anyway because the trailer was compelling; and it actually made me feel a teeny bit hopeful.
The tropes are familiar, but the casting is definitely not
For the record, I was impressed.
The film, which was written and directed by first-time director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, follows Jenny Young (Rodriguez), a music journalist who gets her dream job at Rolling Stone. The only catch: She has to move across the country, which means she and her long-term boyfriend, Nate (Stanfield), have to break up. And as we soon learn, it’s not *just* about distance. That’s when her two best friends Erin and Blair (Wise and Brittany Snow, respectively) step in to pick up the pieces of Jenny’s heart, and help her have one last hurrah in New York City before she moves.
Because as much as Someone Great is a rom-com—and yes, it will make you mourn all the good dudes you’ve ever broken up with—it’s also a story about female friendship and empowering each other, no matter who they are or what intersections they meet. And while that’s a common rom-com trope, this time it’s told through the faces and voices we need to hear in 2019.
And the way that this film tackles diversity—by never directly addressing it—is perfect. Because having a group of friends where one of you is Black, one is white and one is Latina is NORMAL. At the same time, this film is deliberately political, whether it’s Jenny rocking a t-shirt that says “Latina AF,” or a Black Lives Matter poster in Erin’s bedroom.
So many things made me want to cheer: Erin, a Black lesbian woman, making out with her South Asian girlfriend; Jenny speaking Spanish to her friends without a subtitle in sight; Blair playing the role of the token white girl, a dynamic we don’t normally see. Women of colour are so often portrayed as the simple, uncomplicated best friend, rarely the complex main character. Seeing that reversed here is a shift in attention that we deserve, tbh.
*This* is the right way to tackle diversity in movies
Someone Great is a model of how the equity we’ve been advocating for could actually look—and it proves the exact point that Rodriguez failed to make in her Net-a-Porter interview. Yes, all women of colour deserve equity, but the reality is, we don’t all face the same struggles. You see that very clearly when it comes to Jenny, a successful Latina woman, versus Erin, a Black lesbian.
The film takes time to explore Jenny’s Latina background, but even more to draw out Erin’s intersectionality. At one point, Erin’s love interest tells her, “You have two straight best friends. I can’t imagine you’re sitting around reading queer theory together,” while Erin struggles to talk about her feelings. This comment takes us out of the film for a second and reminds us that there will always be different levels of privilege among women of colour. And that acknowledging that privilege and using it to help other women of colour succeed is how we all rise.
So maybe Rodriguez missed the point before. But cancel culture is way too widely accepted, and I don’t think we should erase all of her work, past, present and future. Especially if she’s going to use her privilege to help tell nuanced, realistic, inclusive stories. That’s not to say that this movie erases her problematic comments, but it does remind us what better representation can look like. It’s symbolic of what we’re striving for in all industries, not just on screen. And maybe, just maybe, Rodriguez can learn a little something about that from her own flick.
Someone Great comes to Netflix on April 19.
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