Rather than defaulting to the tropes that so often reduce Black characters to caricatures, Hulu’s “Shrill” is one of the rare TV worlds in which Black women have full lives outside of their friendship with the lead character, as a March 20 essay from Minda Honey for Vice points out. Rather, it is “a show that is thinking about how to decenter Whiteness even when the narrative is centered around a White character.”
Annie (Aidy Bryant) is an unapologetically fat White woman navigating the ins and outs of the dating scene and life in Portland. Her roommate and bestie Fran, is a self-assured Black woman played by Lolly Adefope. In a refreshing turn, Fran is not expected to merely sit and listen to Annie’s woes or put herself aside to endlessly support Annie’s whims. Honey writes:
Fran isn’t the early-series Donna Meagle to Annie’s Leslie Knope. She isn’t the Titus Andromedon to Annie’s Kimmy Schmidt. Or the nurse Tamra to Annie’s Dr. Mindy Lahiri. She’s her own full-bodied person and totally unapologetic about it. As Fran says when Annie’s deadbeat boyfriend asks her for an apology for pepper spraying him, she doesn’t “apologize to White people.” She simply exists. She rebukes the sidekick role Black women are frequently defaulted to based on race even further, when she tells Annie she’s putting a moratorium on convos about Annie’s manchild love interest—Bechdel test: Passed. The narrative is then free to explore Fran as a character beyond being a shoulder to cry on for the White woman in her life.
Shrill does more than populate its White woman protagonist’s life with a cast of supporting people of color whose sole purpose is to bolster her fragile self-esteem, offer never ending sage advice, or spout out catchphrases like “What White nonsense is this?” Fran, along with Annie’s work husband Amadi (Ian Owens), aren’t bizarrely the only POC that exists in an all-White TV world either. And both have full lives outside of their friendship with Annie, talking about it openly and never compromising or allowing Annie to steamroll them with her own issues. And Annie mostly accepts this when he’s called out for it.
As a result, according to Honey, “Shrill” asks White viewers to question their comfort with this norm while also creating a release for Black viewers and other viewers of color.
Read the full piece here.