It’s clear from Emily in Paris season 1 that Darren Star hates American millennials. Why else would he make his lead character an obnoxious clichéd combination of arrogance, blind enthusiasm, and unlikeability? He doesn’t even give Emily enough personality to deserve the label of “basic bitch,” which one of her clients bestows on her.
But what’s not clear, however, is why Darren Star is so strongly averse to giving actors of color any real characters, plotlines, or screen time.
This is, after all, the man who brought us Sex and the City and Younger, both of which singularly feature thin, conventionally attractive, cisgender (and typically heterosexual) white women. This is the same man who, in 6 seasons of Sex and the City, gave us precisely one black character, Dr. Robert, and then had Miranda promptly break up with him to get back together with Steve. Who would break up with Blair Underwood for STEVE? Who would break up with Blair Underwood for anyone? There truly is no logical explanation.
But back to Emily in Paris.
The show brings us exactly two characters of color: Mindy and Julien.
Mindy is Emily’s American friend in Paris. For most of the series, we know little about her, only that she ditched her rich parents and is now a nanny to spoiled, ill-behaved children.
Her entire purpose in life seems to be to serve Emily: to show her around Paris, teach her about French faux pas, throw her parties, and give her advice. It’s all about Emily, (almost) all of the time.
Mindy finally gets a brief moment in the end when she gets to sing, but it’s not enough to prevent her from being relegated to a stereotypical one-dimensional sidekick. (None of Carrie Bradshaw’s white friends ever received that kind of treatment, is all I’m saying).
Then we have Julien, Emily’s coworker. Julien has no discernible personality, other than his penchant for gossip and snarkiness, and no backstory. At least their other (white) coworker Luc tells Emily a bit about his history, how he’s worked with Sylvie for 12 years and how she stepped over him to get her promotion.
But Julien isn’t even given that much. How long has he worked for the company? What precisely is his job? Nobody knows.
His only purpose in the show is to drop little nuggets of gossip (mostly about Sylvie) to Emily in order to move the plot forward. How else would Emily learn about Sylvie and Antoine’s affair after all?
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Darren Star is that he continues to get away with this nonsense. Unlike many of his contemporaries who have embraced (or at the very least, tolerated) demands for more representation, Darren has clearly rebuked any notion that lead characters can be anything other than white, cisgender, and heterosexual.
And what’s worse is that audiences lap it up. Sex and the City enjoyed 6 seasons, Younger is getting ready for season 7, and Emily in Paris is currently on Netflix’s Top 10 list. Darren doesn’t spotlight actors of color because he doesn’t have to. He clearly doesn’t understand the value of nuanced characters of color and neither does his audience.
Netflix will most likely renew Emily in Paris for a second season and I’m sure some streaming network will jump at the chance to buy Darren Star’s next white heterosexual wet dream. So go ahead and enjoy your vanilla wafer. I’ll be watching Insecure.