This story originally appeared on KCPR.org.
TW: Self-harm, domestic violence and body image issues
Do you often struggle to find shows and just end up watching one of Netflix’s top ten picks? “Ginny and Georgia,” which is about a mother who moves her children to a new location whenever adversity strikes, made the number one spot of list the week of February 24th. This coveted place allowed the show to reach a wide audience, whether or not its content was worthy of that attention.
“Ginny and Georgia” attempted to tackle tough topics such as self-harm, racial issues in America, body image issues and domestic violence; however, the characters’ extravagant behaviors throughout the series overshadow the discussion its creators attempted to stem.
In multiple scenes, Ginny Miller is seen self-harming and is caught in the act by her neighbor, Marcus Baker. Instead of genuinely focusing on that experience and showing how it bonded the two teens, the show acknowledged it for one scene and decided to heavily focus on the storyline of Miller cheating on her boyfriend, Hunter Chen, with Baker instead.
Although Miller’s struggle with self-harm should not have been her story’s centerpiece, it was still insensitive to overshadow this plotline with high school drama. Miller’s infidelity also eclipsed a romanticized relationship. Miller should not have been completely villainized for cheating on Chen. Chen was portrayed as “too good for Miller” when all he really brought to the relationship was grand gestures, such as performing songs for her or tap-dancing in the school hallway for her birthday. In private, he often ignored her and insulted her identity as a biracial woman.
Baker, on the other hand, confided in Miller while giving her a shoulder to cry on. The two characters deeply trusted each other, but this bond was overshadowed by Chen’s larger-than-life, self-serving actions. Due to this, Baker and Miller’s storyline, which gently focused on self-harm and mental health, was overshadowed by an overly-exaggerated character.
Another plot point surrounded Miller and her English teacher named Mr. Gitten, who singled her out when speaking about race and openly doubted her abilities to perform academically. Until the season’s end, Miller was shown defying Gitten’s expectations while, justifiably, calling him out. This was until Miller blackmailed Gitten to receive an academic recommendation.
Miller defying her teacher and excelling is not what bothers me – it’s the way the show characterized Miller as melodramatic. The show portrayed her as a young girl that just wanted to be seen for her intelligence rather than her skin color as conniving and evil, which plays into an ancient stereotype that Black individuals are rage-filled. Not only did that storyline feed toxic stereotypes, it was simply unrealistic. By exaggerating a teenager’s power over her teacher, the show perpetrated a white man as a victim to a Black girl, which inherently feeds into the “angry Black woman” trope that the media has portrayed since the 1880s.
Another gross mishandling of a serious issue was with Miller’s friend, Abby, who was shown plastic wrapping her legs while her parents fought. On multiple occasions, Abby tried to confide in her friends about her body image issues or her parents’ divorce, yet time and time again, Abby’s storyline was cut off by other, more outspoken friends’, issues. Much like in the case of the Chen-Miller-Baker love triangle, the show chose to prioritize a self-centered, loud personality over a genuine conversation surrounding mental health.
The teenagers were not the only characters who were over the top. Miller’s mother Georgia was caught pointing a gun at her, had two husbands who “mysteriously” died from heart attacks and had a son who stabbed one of his classmates. Even though the show clearly portrayed that there was violence in the Miller household, and that other residents of the town saw it, Georgia Miller was able to utilize her sex appeal to escape persecution.
In reality, it is very unlikely that a woman will be able to seduce every man she ever meets. On top of that, seduction alone cannot erase a paper trail of domestic abuse and murder. By exploiting how far conventional attractiveness can get a person, and by painting Georgia Miller as more fun, attractive and worthy than other women, the show validates her actions, despite them severely emotionally scarring her children.
Despite these criticisms, I do believe that “Ginny and Georgia” has potential. If the show thoroughly discusses serious plotlines in its second season, it can evoke emotion and create greater conversation. To do so, the show needs to complete the quieter character’s stories to portray effective messages and to give the audience more characters that they can relate to and, in turn, feel emotionally connected to.