by Samantha Walla, Senior Writer
After a year of criticism and defense of fluff pieces, Netflix original “Emily in Paris’’ garnered not one, but two Golden Globe nominations. After its release in October, the comedy-drama created by Darren Star has received an overwhelming amount of criticism while becoming one of the most-watched shows on Netflix.
The series stars Lily Collins as Emily, a young marketing professional who is suddenly transferred from Chicago to Paris. As one can imagine, the show features French stereotypes and language and culture mishaps against a whitewashed and glamorized Paris backdrop. Documenting her escapades through Instagram, the show’s namesake quickly rises in popularity as an influencer, assumingly a comment on the modern social media landscape and its users.
I’m not here to bash a bingeable, feel-good fluff show. I’m all for lighthearted entertainment, especially one that was released during a time of greatly needed, strings-free enjoyment (although comedy and “real” life are not mutually exclusive.)
Criticisms of “Emily in Paris” include its unrealistic portrayal of social media, its whitewashing of one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world and its reliance on stereotypes for most of the identities represented. When watching the show for the first time, I was struck by how dated it seemed. The premise of the show is fun, sure, but what modern audience is truly interested in an attractive young woman who still hashtags her Instagram posts and has only 20 followers to navigate problems that feel as close to real life as fairy tales?
The show’s silliness has earned itself a reputation as a good show for “hate watching,” a term meant to explain a show’s disproportionate popularity and negative reviews. While some enjoyed “Emily in Paris” for being “so bad it’s good” or “loving to hate it,” others feel that the show is a step back for popular media.
I am a part of this camp. In a year of social movements and health crises, political turmoil and the overarching fear for our environment, what does “Emily in Paris” say to its viewers? It gleams at an alternate universe that bears similarity to ours, but that has been stripped of the characters, identities and issues that inform our lives everyday. Television has done this historically, however, television has outgrown it’s rot-your-brain roots and began producing art that comments on society and experiences in real time.
As many are arguing on Twitter, the shows that accomplish this are not among the nominees of the Golden Globes. One of those snubbed in 2021 is HBO Max’s “I May Destroy You,” created, written and co-directed by Michaela Coel. The series is centered around a young London woman repairing her life after an experience of sexual assault. The show, which features a predominantly Black British cast, has been praised by both critics and the public on it’s marriage of comedy and drama, and it’s portrayal of an authentic sexual assault survivor.
Among the stream of outraged tweets and reviews is a public apology by “Emily in Paris” writer, Deborah Copaken. In her article published in The Guardian, Copaken defends some of the plot points of the show with her own experiences as an expatriate, but admits that she “could definitely see how a show about a white American selling luxury whiteness, in a pre-pandemic Paris scrubbed free of its vibrant African and Muslim communities, might rankle.”
Copaken praises “I May Destroy You” as her favorite work of television, claiming to have watched it twice to bask in its brilliance. The article is titled, “I’m a Writer on Emily in Paris. I May Destroy You deserved a Golden Globe nomination.”
This discussion has been going on for years. Why do people get so upset? Why aren’t more creators of color recognized for their work? Why are we still talking about this?
The short answer is that we’re still talking about it because nothing has changed. Works developed by those who do not fit Hollywood’s mold are consistently ignored when it comes time for recognition, regardless of public outrage. This is an uninteresting response to the question. There’s more to this than just a blatant disregard for artists of color.
The Golden Globes is an organization that prides itself on recognizing the best of entertainment. When posed against a show like “I May Destroy You,” the value of “Emily in Paris” is clear. Modern audiences want shows that reflect their lives, that hold humor where their own experiences do not, that continue to speak to them after they have finished watching. More than representation, audiences want television that says something. Not that Paris is beautiful, or that choosing between a hot American and a hot French man is difficult, but that rape does not strip someone of their reliience, their humor or their heart. One of these shows is fun, the other is oscillating: between pain and love, laughter and tears, lighthearted jokes and darkness. Which one of them deserves a Golden Globe?