Ginny and Georgia review: Netflix show’s potential is undermined by its race problem

The Netflix original Ginny and Georgia is a reminder that the inclusion of diversity doesn’t mean quality when it comes to the handling of characters of color in a predominately white show.

If you’re going to have a biracial lead, then you have to be aware of how you approach topics of race and how that character navigates the duality of their existence. In Ginny’s (Antonia Gentry) case, her Blackness shouldn’t only come up when she’s dealing with microaggressions and racism, and yet, that is what happens in Ginny and Georgia.

While I commend the writers for not ignoring the fact that someone with a biracial identity walks a different path with problems that monoracial people don’t experience, you can’t play footsie with a narrative of that nature. If you’re going to do it, do it. Also, don’t center it all on struggle, especially when you’re going to avoid giving your Black biracial lead friends who are Black.

I wish I could sit here and praise the show for its attention to its teen-centered plots because that is the gold of this series. Ginny and her friends are bratty, fragile, callous, impulsive, awkward, and simply trying to figure out friendship, romance, and sex while dealing with their own personal lives and that of their parents.

Ginny and Georgia suffers under the weight of a race problem

Ginny and Georgia shines as these kids navigate adolescence while yearning for an adulthood they think they understand. They make atrocious mistakes, hurt one another, lie, and cheat. They also laugh together, support each other, and love one another as best they can. But there’s an elephant in the room that the series refuses to fully address: Ginny avoids the Black kids.

When she first arrives in Wellsbury, Ginny is taken under her next door neighbor Maxine’s (Sara Waisglass) wing. It’s how she gets introduced to Abby (Katie Douglas), Norah (Chelsea Clark), Hunter (Mason Temple), Brodie (Tyssen Smith), and Press (Damien Romeo). There is, however, one person she knows outside of Max. That’s Bracia (Tameka Griffiths), the one Black girl with a recurring role on this show, and she’s only there to give Ginny someone Black to speak to and feel not enough with occasionally.

Now, if the writers explained that Ginny was willing to put up with the microaggressions of her friends because she’s used to white people or non-Black people doing that but struggles when it’s a Black person, that’d be one thing. She is, after all, a biracial child being raised by a white mother. She’s the only person of color in her household when her father Zion (Nathan Mitchell) isn’t around. Two of the closest people to Ginny–her mom and her brother Austin (Diesel La Torraca)–don’t look like her and will never remotely experience the world as she does.

But that’s not the reason why she doesn’t hang out with any Black kids, or at least it’s not verbalized. There’s subtext, but subtext means nothing when there were 10 one-hour long episodes to explore that in. The series comes close when Ginny argues with Hunter about how being biracial is different for her because she’s half-Black and he’s half-Taiwanese, which she says means that he is closer in proximity to whiteness than she is.

That one statement puts into context Ginny’s newly straightened hair, her wardrobe change, and her chameleon-like personality makeover to better fit in. And then, nothing comes of it, just like nothing comes of Georgia (Brianne Howey) calling the cops on Ginny when she snuck out despite the fact that she has a Black biracial child and Ginny was wary of a cop in the pilot.

The race problem in Ginny and Georgia made it hard to really enjoy what the show did right. An example of that is Max, a lesbian character whose story doesn’t revolve around coming out. She has friends who adore her and encourage her. She not only wants a girlfriend, she gets one. Her sexual exploration is treated to the same level of awkwardness, cheesy romance, mistakes, and importance as her straight friends. Max has a twin in Marcus (Felix Mallard), and she comes from a signing family because her dad is deaf.

It’s also telling that race only seems to become a factor when Ginny needs something to rail against. It’s not something that’s brought up by Norah, though she’s an adopted child of color, or Joe (Raymond Ablack), who’s a non-white farmer/restaurant owner in a small, predominately white town. Hunter being Asian is weaponized against him, which is set-up by a scene in a prior episode where it’s revealed that Ginny is fluent in Mandarin and he’s not.

So, yes, there’s an entire suspense plot built on Georgia’s past. She has three men interested in her at the same time. We’re expected to fall under the spell of her slowly revealed willingness to do whatever it takes to protect her kids and get what’s hers. The adult plots are not always as interesting or developed as the teens, but it’s still serviceable television, and the same can be said for Austin’s issues with a bully at school.

However, when it comes down to it, Ginny and Georgia‘s problems with race do the series a disservice especially in light of the season’s ending.

When you have a lead of color, that bleeds into everything. There are certain things you just shouldn’t do without keeping race in mind. One of them is having the mixed-race Black girl be slapped not only by her white mom but also her white friend, and she doesn’t say a thing about it. Not a word.

I’m sure there will be viewers of this series that revel in its drama. Both main characters are in love triangles. There’s a suburban cold war between the moms that also involves the mayor. Teens are, at once, in love and sniping at one another. The show is a coming-of-age story of sorts. Willsbury is picturesque. Everyone is attractive. There are secrets, heartbreaks, and unexpected family reunions. Murder, intrigue, and subterfuge. Ginny and Georgia has the works while also being funny.

It’s just, it doesn’t engage race the way it needs to because it’s so determinedly stuck on the white gaze. To be of color is more than struggle. It’s more than oppression, racism, discrimination, and more than microaggressions. Sure, they factor in but they are not the whole story.

If Ginny is uncomfortable in her Blackness, fine. If she resents being both Black and white as society tells her she’s neither or only one, fine. But she has a connection with her father and supposedly her parental grandparents, so where is the joy in those roots?

If Ginny is untethered, unmoored from one side of her racial background, then say that. Explore it. Put words to it. Don’t dance around it. Because what’s left is an uneven story about a biracial child that picks and chooses when race is relevant and only seems to do so to remind the audience that she’s Black, and therefore, she’s going to struggle and deal with racists.

The first season of Ginny and Georgia is now streaming on Netflix.

Nathan Odige