Television

‘Killing Eve’ and the Centering of Whiteness

There is no doubt that representation in media has grown significantly in the past couple years if not the past year alone. We had Black Panther in early 2018 where almost everyone was a person of color (I’m comfortable saying 90% including extras) and Crazy Rich Asians coming out in August 2018. Though we have yet to see how many people of color are in Crazy Rich Asians, I can assume it will be significant judging by the trailer.

While I am excited about this shift in movies, I am a TV girl. Thankfully we are also seeing growth in television with shows like Black Lightning and One Day at a Time. We’re slowly creating a collection of shows that will allow us to choose more carefully what we consume instead of being stuck with the same shows representing for everybody (not sure how many times I’ve watched Merlin).

So when I saw the previews for Killing Eve, I thought heck yeah. An Asian lead, majority female cast, a black female character, everything was there to make this a show with good representation. And then we met Eve’s husband who is white. And her former boss BIll (who’s married to an Asian woman) is white. And the love interest for Elena is a white man. And Villanelle’s handler is white. That’s when I realized that every significant man in the show was white and the only men of color we’ve met so far were basically perverts and both of them were Chinese. One of the men was into BDSM (which does not make one a pervert but is often shown in that light) and the other wouldn’t take Eve’s No for what it was and instead demanded she go on a date with him if she wanted to learn any information.

Warning: Spoilers up to Episode 4

Villanelle (Jodie Comer) and Eve (Sandra Oh)  Courtesy of BBC America

This is as of episode 4 which does not make me hopeful for the rest of the series. Now besides showing the only men of color so far in a bad light, all of the women of color we meet are in interracial relationships (IRs) with white men and although IRs are on the rise, the statistics for white people engaging in these are significantly lower than media will make us think.

According to NPR, Asian and Latinos are more likely to marry outside of their race than blacks or whites. While the IR rate for Asians is 46% and Latinos is 39%, it’s only 18% for blacks and 11% for whites. But based on TV and movies, it would seem that in an IR couple one of the people is always white. Even looking at current Marvel movies (excluding Black Panther), every person of color is paired off with a white person. Gamora and Quill, Thor and Valkyrie, Peter and Liz (ignoring the argument that the representation in Marvel is abysmal).

Coming back to Killing Eve, I don’t think that the IRs detract from the show, but they definitely don’t bring anything to it. There is something that could’ve made this show even better which brings me to my second point which is that Eve seems disconnected from her culture. Now I can’t speak for the Asian community at all, but I know that in the black community, there are certain cultural signifiers that almost all of us do and its apparent if a show does or does not have black writers or people aware of this.

One of the biggest complaints about Iris West in The Flash is that she doesn’t seem black. Her hair is the same every episode (black women change theirs up constantly) and she has never mentioned anything about being black. Compared to a show like Black Lightning (which is on the same channel and has black writers), it’s obvious that the things that signify black culture is missing.

When I watch Killing Eve, I am again reminded of the lack of culture in the show Stuck in the Middle. Again I am not Latinx, but I’m from Southern California and from the episodes I’ve seen, it seems to me as if they wrote a white family, added more kids, and put Latinx in the roles (the creator of the show is white). Maybe I am way off and Asians don’t feel the same way, but I have a feeling I’m correct about cultural signifiers being missing from the show.

As I write this ramble, I realize that the largest problem specifically in Killing Eve is the centering of whiteness. Not only do we have IRs with only white people and a sense of missing culture from Eve, but we also have Villanelle. Lovely, deadly Villanelle who has learned how to harness her White Womanhood magnificently. She knows how to act when she’s around her handler which varies from being childlike and ignorant to being flirty and ditzy. Villanelle herself didn’t use this act on Bill, but the prevailing racism and sexism that white women are fragile beings made it so that she tricked him into thinking she was harmless until it was too late.

Now I don’t think the writers are aware of any of these issues and that is a HUGE issue and why it is not only necessary to have women in the writing room (and in all levels of production), but also women of color and specifically women of that specific race or ethnicity.

Do I think this problem is going to go away anytime soon? No. Especially when white men are in the majority of production and have insert fantasies on their writing and cast. This is why I’m writing scripts that only have POC in relationships with each other because as we have learned time and time and time again, we got to look out for ourselves cause nobody else will. I hope we will start to see differences in IRs, proper cultural signifiers, and intentional use of weaponized white womanhood (which would be such a good area to explore and use) and for my own sake, I have to believe.

2 comments

  1. “Villanelle herself didn’t use this act on Bill, but the prevailing racism and sexism that white women are fragile beings made it so that she tricked him into thinking she was harmless until it was too late.” and “Weaponized white womanhood.”

    That’s an interesting element I haven’t really thought about before. I’ve noticed it, and it’s not truly a surprise when I see it on screen, but hadn’t put it into those words. I’ll be interested to see more exploration of this area.

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  2. the absence of black men has been subliminal for some time . awhile back there was a soda commercial with 2 white couples and one black girl without a date all in the back of a limousine WTF was up with that . I don’t mind slave movies because at least actors of color are working

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