Euphoria is nothing if not controversial. Probably the most salient but in addition difficult complaints is that the primary character, Rue (Zendaya), isn’t having an authentically Black expertise.
Since creator Sam Levinson’s present a few group of youngsters coping with heavy points like grief, dependancy, and intimate companion violence premiered, folks on social media have remarked on the shortage of realism. Rue, a 17-year-old biracial lady dwelling in an nearly fully white world, has been battling substance misuse since she was 13. Exacerbated by the loss of life of her father, Rue’s dependancy threatens the whole lot that’s essential to her, together with her relationships and her life. For a lot of, it’s the lack of strict supervision and bodily abuse from Rue’s Black mom, Leslie (Nika King), that makes Euphoria an inauthentic portrayal of Black households coping with adolescent dependancy.
After watching season two, episode 5 — which Zendaya described in an Instagram submit as a part of Rue’s “all-time low” — some had been shocked that Leslie didn’t resort to extra intense violence as her panicked and distressed daughter rampaged all through the home. Leslie had found and disposed of Rue’s suitcase of capsules, not understanding that with out them, Rue could be intercourse trafficked by drug vendor Laurie (Martha Kelly). Confronted with withdrawal signs and the probability of horrific hazard, Rue broke doorways, threatened her sister, Gia (Storm Reid), hit her mom, emotionally abused her girlfriend, Jules (Hunter Schafer), and cursed at all of them. After Rue shoved her sister, Leslie slapped Rue. Rue then broke down in tears, at which level Leslie grew to become loving and desperately tried to take her daughter to rehab.
The minimal violence on this intense episode left many viewers incredulous. One Twitter person wrote, “Rue mother is so weak, any actual black mother would’ve beat the breaks off her ass.” Among the tweets appear to recommend previous ache, like this person who tweeted, “Rue doesn’t act like she has a black mother however a white one .. I breathe in a improper means and it’s over,” occurring to elucidate that if she behaved in the identical means, “I might be lifeless.”
Rue doesn’t act like she has a black mother however a white one .. I breathe in a improper means and it’s over .. this lady is pushing her mother , cussing at her mother , kicking doorways !!!!!!! I might be lifeless
— BoujieB (@Itz___Grace) February 7, 2022
As a Black lady who skilled and witnessed parental abuse in all its types — my mother used to take my door off its hinges if I closed it for privateness, she as soon as kicked me in my cranium for having intercourse at 19 years previous, and he or she allowed the police to take me away after a suicide try — I admit that Rue’s relationship along with her mom doesn’t match a whole lot of the relationships I grew up associating with “Blackness.” However associating abuse with Blackness is inaccurate, even when our personal experiences inform us in another way. Not each household offers with points via bodily abuse, and we must always demand extra from ourselves and the folks in our communities.
There have additionally been feedback pushing again on the concept Rue’s story will not be “Black” sufficient due to the shortage of bodily abuse. After episode 5, one Twitter person wrote, “i want y’all to cease associating endurance and understanding in direction of ur baby as whiteness.”
For Sam Levinson’s many writing missteps, lack of abuse and strict supervision doesn’t render a narrative a few Black household coping with dependancy inauthentic. The response to a sick one that is harming others is to not perpetuate that hurt via hyper-surveillance and bodily abuse. As a substitute of considering that compassion and refraining from hitting a sick baby is “not Black,” this is a chance to discover how we’ve grown accustomed to the demonization of Black folks with dependancy within the media, and why these narratives can and should change. It’s also a possibility to deal with how abuse has been normalized in our communities as a coping mechanism.
For a lot of Black addicts, Rue’s story remains to be genuine, though she is predicated on the “deeply, deeply private” expertise of Levinson — a white man — coping with dependancy in his teen and younger grownup years. On the 2019 premiere, Levinson advised reporters, “I spent nearly all of my teenage years in hospitals, rehabs, and midway homes. I used to be a drug addict, and I’d take something and the whole lot till I couldn’t hear or breathe or really feel.”
Whereas different storylines are nearly comically poorly written and uncared for (no matter occurred to Kat after her secret life as a camgirl?), Levinson’s depiction of dependancy, in addition to emotional and psychological issues, is eerily correct for a lot of viewers who’ve skilled related struggles — together with myself. I used to be recognized with post-traumatic stress dysfunction at 6 years previous and bipolar dysfunction at 18. Whereas I’ve not skilled dependancy, I can relate to a lot of Rue’s emotional ache, as she was additionally recognized with bipolar dysfunction and obsessive-compulsive dysfunction (OCD). Levinson masterfully portrays dependancy and psychological sickness because the disabilities and diseases that they’re, relatively than the ethical and mental flaws that society prefers to see them as.
Ashley J., a author who struggled with substance misuse in her adolescent years, recognized strongly with Rue’s breakdown on this previous episode. “She was in actual hazard however by no means talked about it, even whereas single-handedly destroying her home, everybody she is aware of, and the city,” she tells me. She careworn that generally the assistance members of the family provide in these conditions — like Rue’s mother flushing the contents of the suitcase — can put somebody in additional hazard, however that individuals experiencing this sickness might not be capable to talk this. “I’ve been there. I’ve triggered a scene. I’ve disappeared. I stated horrible issues to individuals who had been attempting to assist me however truly had put me into a troublesome state of affairs,” Ashley continues.
For 32-year-old Denayja Reese, writer of the upcoming memoir Don’t Damage Your self: A Memoir Of Therapeutic By Trauma, Grief & Dependancy, Euphoria’s depiction of grief hits arduous. “I used to be 18 when my mother handed away. Much like Rue shedding her father at 15, that’s what led me right into a spiral of grief, which then led to me coping via drug use and growing dependancy till I used to be 30,” she tells Vox.
And in Rue’s extra violent and manipulative moments — a lot of that are fairly surprising, like wielding a pointy piece of mirror at her mom, emotionally manipulating her little sister, and violently kicking in doorways throughout moments of misery — Levinson deftly navigates the disgrace these with dependancy really feel, whereas consistently reminding the viewers that this can be a illness that causes an individual unimaginable ache. On this, he has drawn on his personal experiences.
On the premiere, Levinson additionally stated that at his lowest factors, he was disturbed at his personal actions and the legacy that he may go away behind if he died of his dependancy. “It actually spooked me in a way that if I had been to die at present, who would I be? I’m a thief. I’m an addict. I’ve been shitty to nearly each particular person in my life that I really like,” he recalled.
Implying that dependancy could be addressed via bodily violence or extra strict parenting, after which equating these parenting techniques with Blackness, erases and demonizes the expertise of Black addicts, who’ve lengthy been disproportionately seen as immoral and poor for his or her struggles with dependancy. As a baby, Julia Craven, well being reporter and creator of the Make It Make Sense publication, witnessed firsthand how dependancy can impression folks we love, and that it’s actually a illness that we’ve minimal management over. For Craven, feedback that state Rue’s dependancy may or ought to be addressed with “Blacker” (i.e., extra abusive and controlling) parenting “ignores that many Black individuals who did expertise ‘Blacker’ parenting have suffered from dependancy, or they nonetheless are.”
She continues: “Dependancy is difficult, and most of us don’t perceive it. But when parenting fashion may remedy dependancy, someone in all probability would have written a guide for that by now.”
It’s additionally dangerous to conflate abuse and management with Black tradition. It has forged a heavy shadow over us, Reese acknowledges, largely due to the generational and ongoing trauma of violence enacted on us by enslavers, racist authority figures, and police.
“A lot of this comes from what we’ve survived. So many issues about our tradition are rooted in trauma and the ways in which we’ve needed to shield ourselves and shield one another,” Reese says, noting that she had a number of members of the family who struggled with dependancy. “Take into consideration what the crack epidemic did to our households. I believe as Black folks, we’ve a lot extra disgrace round drug use than white folks.”
It’s time to flee the bondage of that colonially imposed narrative. And increasingly more of us are doing that work, so it’s comprehensible that as a personality, Leslie could be struggling to father or mother otherwise than what she might have seen rising up. Mary Heglar, a Black author and co-host of the podcast Scorching Take, tells me, “I believe it’s completely plausible that Leslie wouldn’t hit her, or solely accomplish that begrudgingly. She’s in a era the place individuals are attempting to undo household cycles.”
Whereas Levinson nails so many facets of coping with dependancy and psychological sickness, he doesn’t appear to have the vary to precisely painting how this could particularly impression a Black lady. As an illustration, Rue’s interactions with regulation enforcement are by no means lethal, and he or she is rarely warned by her mom or anybody round her in regards to the disproportionate unfavorable penalties of her dependancy compared to her white friends.
Dr. Ayana Jordan, who makes a speciality of dependancy psychiatry and culturally knowledgeable care to racial and ethnic minoritized folks on the NYU Grossman Faculty of Medication, says that that is an space the place Euphoria is deeply missing. “Not simply Black adolescents, however Black folks basically usually tend to have unfavorable interactions with police, together with violence and as we’ve seen fairly publicly even loss of life,” she explains. Jordan, who has printed analysis on the criminalization of Black addicts, continues: “Black folks, together with adolescents and rising adults as much as 25 years previous, usually tend to be accused of criminality, referred to jail/jail due to drug use, and fewer more likely to be referred to therapy due to their substance.”
I’m not making a case to see Rue face legal penalties or for her to be harmed by the police. However to not have the concern floor throughout interactions with the Black individuals who take care of her feels inauthentic. Throughout episode 5, at one level, Leslie threatened to name the police on her daughter. That is surprising given all we all know in regards to the danger Black folks with psychological sickness face of being killed by police when they’re performing erratically. It appears a wild factor for somebody’s Black mom to threaten.
However it nonetheless doesn’t make it inauthentically Black. Moms of all races do name the police on their mentally sick youngsters. My mom has threatened the identical, once I posed a hazard to nobody. My mom, nonetheless, has a background and beliefs that make her resolution to do this clear to me and anybody who is aware of her. Levinson, in his shortsighted writing, has failed to provide us any type of perception into Leslie that will assist us perceive her motives.
Heglar agrees. “Because of this Leslie wants a backstory,” she says. “We have to see how she received to the purpose of threatening to name the police.” Of all of the criticism of Levinson’s writing, this seems to be probably the most urgent. Storylines which can be begging for nuance, backstories, extra dialogue, and emotional funding are sometimes deserted in favor of glitzy pictures and an odd hyperfocus on the white — and eerily dysfunctional and abusive — Jacobs household, which options pedophile and intercourse offender father Cal and home abuser Nate. Viewers — particularly Black ones, judging by social media — are hungry for extra context into Rue and her household.
D.A.R.E. launched an announcement criticizing Euphoria for its option to “misguidedly glorify and erroneously depict highschool scholar drug use.” Whereas there are lots of legitimate criticisms of the present, this isn’t certainly one of them. In truth, many scenes appeared pulled straight from D.A.R.E. commercials I noticed in my youth, designed to frighten us into by no means selecting up a lot as a Tylenol. Euphoria doesn’t glorify drug use, however it additionally doesn’t demonize drug use or drug customers, and that’s what makes folks so uncomfortable. We’re used to narratives that painting Black addicts as irredeemable, morally bereft, accountable for their very own demise, and missing qualities like humor and coronary heart. In distinction, Rue is a personality who reveals us the entire scary facets of her illness, however as an viewers, we’re pushed to have empathy for her anyway.
That is what Zendaya expressed in her aforementioned Instagram submit forward of episode 5. “It’s my hope for folks watching that they nonetheless see her as an individual worthy of their love. And worthy of their time, and that she has a redemptive high quality nonetheless, and that we nonetheless see the nice in her even when she will’t see it in herself,” she wrote. “Keep in mind that we aren’t the worst mistake we’ve ever made. And that redemption is feasible,” Zendaya concluded.
As a society, we should study to extend our empathy towards Black people who find themselves battling dependancy — not simply fictional younger girls in status dramas, but in addition Black people who find themselves dark-skinned, trans, queer, low-income, intercourse employees. Euphoria has taken an enormous step in that route by portraying a Black lady character who, regardless of her sickness, stays somebody we root for. Watching her mom beat her wouldn’t add to the story — it might probably solely reinforce the dangerous narratives which have surrounded our communities for therefore lengthy.