I’m in love with Gilmore Girls. The relationship I have with this show is among the most stable I have had in my entire life – weathering the ups and downs of my impressionable adolescence to the chaos of my 20s. I’ve watched the full series at least four full times, and seen individual favorite episodes more times than I can begin to count.
Which is why, on the eve of its revival on Netflix, I need to call the show out.
Each time I watch an episode of Gilmore Girls, I find something new about it. When I rewatched the series as a senior in college I was able to relate to Rory’s fears of finding a job after graduation more than I could when I was in middle school. As I rewatch the show now that I’ve moved away from home I find myself more sympathetic towards Emily and view Lorelai’s relationship with her mother in a different light. With each year the show continues to bring me joy in new ways and pulls at heart strings that I didn’t know were there before. However, over time, despite my love for the show, I’ve become unable to deny one crucial flaw of Gilmore Girls: it’s undeniable whiteness.
I understand that a show set in a small town in Connecticut will be predominately white by nature. But when I say that Gilmore Girls is undeniably white, I am saying that it is unrealistically white. Sure, Gilmore Girls has some people of color in its cast – but these characters often are stereotyped or made into one-dimensional tropes. Lane Kim – the Korean-American best friend of Rory – represents a typical stereotype of a suppressed Asian-American teenager growing up with a “tiger mom”. Her storyline – familiar to many Asian-Americans, like myself – focuses on the cultural conflict between her mother’s traditional Korean upbringings and her desire to be more like a regular, American teenager. However, the reality is that Asian-American upbringings are much more nuanced than the black-and-white strictness portrayed in Lane’s household, and the exaggeration of this conflict only perpetuates worn-out stereotypes against the Asian-American community. Michel Gerard – the only main black character on the show – is often emasculated for comic relief and is never given any storylines with depth or nuance despite appearing in most episodes of the series. In this way, the only two major people of color in the Gilmore Girls series serve as tokens – one-dimensional caricatures to fill up space and re-emphasize the norm of whiteness.
Some may argue that forcing Gilmore Girls to fill a diversity quota for the sake of diversity would make the show less real – and I don’t argue with that. I don’t believe that there should be a quota that we fill for people of color on a show. However, I do believe that by only having two people of color on a show – even if it is set in small-town New England – and by making those two characters either stereotypical or one dimensional, Gilmore Girls’ whiteness is just as unreal as it would be if it had diversity for the sake of diversity.
The whiteness of Star’s Hollow, of the friendships and experiences in Gilmore Girls, is always unreal to me. As a person of color, it’s impossible to look at Stars Hollow as a realistic interpretation of what America means and represents to me. While not all shows have to represent my reality, it is just another reminder that my reality – and the reality of other people of color – is all-too-often ignored or stereotyped in lieu of developing white characters and storylines. At best, this is lazy writing. At worst, this perpetuates the silencing and the marginalization of people of color in media and in our country’s history.
This does not mean that I don’t enjoy Gilmore Girls. This does not mean I won’t binge watch the new episodes on Friday when they are released on Netflix. It just means that the undeniable whiteness of Gilmore Girls made it seem like nuanced lives and experiences were only attainable for white people, while for people of color the experiences had to be condensed, diluted, and flattened in order to be accepted. The whiteness of Gilmore Girls makes it seem like the experiences of people of color are only palatable if they are simple – their experiences only matter if they are erased of any true complexities or contradictions to the status quo. At the end of the day, isn’t that all we want? To feel like our experiences matter, even with all of their complexities and contradictions?
As the debate around representation of minorities in the media continues, and as our country moves quickly towards becoming a majority-minority nation, it is hard to not watch Gilmore Girls and see its whiteness (as well as its numerous homophobic and ableist comments) as outdated. The rise in popularity of shows that portray well-rounded, whole, realistic people of color such as Jane the Virgin, the Mindy Project, Master of None, and How to Get Away With Murder, show the value of more diversity in television. It’s about time other shows, including Gilmore Girls, recognizes that.
We get so caught up in keeping our favorite shows perfect in our minds that we often dismiss valid critiques of them. However, the flaws of Gilmore Girls and other undeniably white shows does not change the value they bring. While we cannot change a show that ended almost 10 years ago, we can admit to its flaws and figure out how we can move forward.
I hope that the revival of Gilmore Girls will bring more diversity. I hope, moving forward, we will see more well-rounded storylines for people of color and other marginalized persons, and the end of one-dimensional tropes and stereotypes – both in Gilmore Girls and in all TV shows. I hope writers’ rooms will look more like the audiences watching their creations and I hope that people of all backgrounds will be able to see themselves represented as whole, complex individuals on screen. And I hope that, in bringing more diversity and representing all characters as whole and complex, the revival of Gilmore Girls will be able to touch the lives of more fans than ever before.
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