FILM

Are You Less Privileged Than Chelsea Handler?

Is Chelsea Handler woke now? Absolutely not.

How should a white person talk about racism?

More specifically, how should a wealthy, famous white woman talk about white privilege? In Chelsea Handler's new Netflix documentary, Hello, Privilege. It's Me, Chelsea, she makes a go of it using an uncharacteristic amount of self-conscious confessional mixed with her signature bawdy humor and, most effectively, a generous amount of silence. She interviews disparate groups of black students, activists, and comedians, as well as conservative Republicans and white liberals, all in pursuit of her well-documented quest: "I'm clearly the beneficiary of white privilege, and I want to know what my responsibility is moving forward in the world that we live in today where race is concerned."

Hello, Privilege. It's Me, Chelsea | Official Trailer | Netflix youtu.be


If the documentary were marketed as the story of Handler's personal evolution from the low-brow comedian who wrote the New York Times #1 Bestseller titled Uganda Be Kidding Me to a civically-minded and socially conscious Woke™celebrity, then Hello, Privilege. It's Me, Chelsea would work. The 64-minute runtime would be candid exploration of one white woman's privilege and how she found American fame and success through a nuanced blend of excellent luck, a loud mouth, and hard work.

And to be fair, that story comprises about one-third of Handler's documentary. The rest affirms the obvious, which Dr. Laura Smith of Columbia University describes simply: "One of the parts about being a white ally is realizing that every single thing that you have to say about racism, all the people of color you know already thought of it a long time ago, and they've lived it out." Handler travels between the high and low ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, meeting with professors, activists, students, working class people, Bel Air Republicans, a white southern rapper, other comedians, the young, and the old all in pursuit of answers: How can she be a better white person? What should a conversation about white privilege look like? Who should be having those conversations?

Handler faces her own discomfort asking those questions early on, when she's "put in [her] place" by a group of USC students. She attends an open mic coordinated by Jody Armour, a law professor who invites her to participate in their discussion and performances of spoken word about the topic of white privilege. In the first reminder of many throughout the documentary, one audience member points out that the solution is "deeper than a documentary," while another holds Handler accountable for her self-promotional intentions and her privileges as a successful, white comic. "Feel free to edit this out, because I'm embarrassed to be here with you," the student says, "because this is just another example of white privilege. What are you going to do with it other than come into this space and take?"

Handler calls the exchange "intense" but welcomed based on her approach to race and privilege these days, which is simply: Chelsea Handler is one lucky b*itch. The documentary opens with clips of Handler's comedy over the years, including plenty of short-sighted commentary, from fetishizing black men to saying "political correctness is the handicap of any real conversation and I hate it" in her generally maligned 2016 Netflix docuseries episode, Chelsea Does Racism. Handler reckons with her past problematic takes in candid interviews filmed throughout her Bel Air mansion. Her progress can be summed up in her opening words: "I was white, I was pretty, and I had a big mouth and for some reason, that was rewarded in Hollywood." In other words, she got away with a lot—and was even rewarded for it—because of her white privilege.

The most compelling part of the documentary is her delve into her past. "Until doing this film, I didn't realize all the things that I'm guilty of that I've never been arrested for, that black people do get arrested for," she says. At 16, she found herself flunking out of high school and living with her black boyfriend, Tyshawn, who began dealing drugs and with whom Handler was pulled over multiple times while she was also in possession of drugs. She recounts how each time he was arrested she was let go. After becoming pregnant twice, Handler's middle class family forced her to stabilize her life, putting her into an alternative high school which allowed her to graduate "right on time." In the span of the documentary, Handler ends up visiting her ex-boyfriend for the first time in decades; she finds out that after his arrests he never regained his promising future from when he was a teenager with multiple offers to attend college on football scholarships. Instead, he spent 14 years in jail for armed robbery.

Handler is clearly well-intentioned in this special. She earnestly seeks out open discourse with people of color and white people to flesh out the reality of white privilege: "We need to talk to people who are white and stop asking Black people to solve our problems because it's a white person's problem." And when confronted with less informed white people who would only utter the phrase "white privilege" with air quotes around it, she shows genuine frustration. A young woman in a man-in-the-street interview says, "It's not something I see very often," to which Handler responds, "But would you see it if you're white?"

So is Chelsea Handler woke now? Absolutely not. Among other things, she exclusively interviews black and white people, as if to reaffirm the false binary that racism is only an issue between black and white people. As an aspiring "white ally," Handler has continued to promote and discuss civil rights activism, taking to Twitter to promote "Chelsea Handler's Action Center" run by Countable, "the first digital platform that activates, engages and retains your [company's] audience...not once, but every day, on your terms."

She recently posted, "Will you join me in showing up for racial justice? Learn more about @WP4BL, a white anti-racist collective and the Los Angeles affiliate of Showing Up for Racial Justice, and start taking action!"


But despite her good intentions, Handler mostly re-affirms that a demoralizing amount of ignorance exists in America. As she told Jimmy Kimmel while promoting the special, "It's not about how you mean it, it's what that person takes it as." She was speaking about the sensitivity training she had to undergo after a woman at the USC open mic complained about her behavior during filming. She apparently touched the black woman's butt while hugging her after an impressive performance. As Handler told Kimmel, she had no intention of offending the woman, who later enlightened the comedian that black women have been fetishized for their hair and asses for too long and Handler had no right to touch her body. It's a prime example that Handler had little to no understanding of white privilege before filming. "I always thought it was a certain group of people that get into Harvard or Yale or that have rich parents," Handler admits to Kimmel. "It's a privilege just to have white skin in this country, it's a privilege just to go into a grocery store and not be stared at, it's a privilege to get pulled over and not worry if it's a life or death situation."

That anecdote echoes one of the special's flashes in the pan of near-enlightenment. When speaking to wealthy, white, self-described conservative Republican women, Handler gives a simple example of white privilege: She's never been pulled over and felt in danger from the police officer. One woman, a Republican political consultant, is silent for a moment before commenting that she's never considered that before; in fact, only moments prior she had denied the existence of quote-white privilege-unquote. In that new light, the woman admits that "it is a problem" and even says "I don't think there's any way we could deny that." But in a telling moment, her friend asks her if by "it" she means "white privilege" and she says no; she means "black dis-privilege."

TV Reviews

HBO's "I'll Be Gone In the Dark" Is a Complex Portrait of Serial Killer-Hunter Michelle McNamara

The improbably fascinating "I'll Be Gone In the Dark" subverts traditional serial killer narratives.

Michelle McNamara

In the years leading up to her death, Michelle McNamara haunted message boards, libraries, and Sacramento families to get to the bottom of the case that obsessed and consumed her.

McNamara, a true crime blogger whose interest in serial killers morphed into a compulsive desire to hunt and catch them, is the subject of a new HBO documentary series. The first episode, which premiered last Sunday, presents a small window into the mind of a woman who hunted serial killers until she accidentally overdosed on sleeping pills.

It's completely enthralling, a marked subversion of typical serial killer narratives as well as a commentary on their devastating and peculiar appeal.

I'll Be Gone In the Dark (2020): Official Trailer | HBO www.youtube.com


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TV

Andrew Yang's Tweets to Shane Gillis and Bowen Yang Is the Best "SNL" Skit in Years

New "SNL" cast member Shane Gillis has a history of making racist, misogynistic, and bigoted commentary as part of his "comedy." Andrew Yang gave a thoughtful reason why we should forgive him.

Update: SNL recently announced that Shane Gillis has been fired a mere four days after being hired.

A spokesperson for the show issued a statement on behalf of executive producer Lorne Michaels: "After talking with Shane Gillis, we have decided that he will not be joining SNL. We want SNL to have a variety of voices and points of view within the show, and we hired Shane on the strength of his talent as comedian and his impressive audition for SNL. We were not aware of his prior remarks that have surfaced over the past few days. The language he used is offensive, hurtful and unacceptable. We are sorry that we did not see these clips earlier, and that our vetting process was not up to our standard."

Shane Gillis instantly responded on Twitter by doubling down on his earlier non-apology for his inflammatory comments. He posted: "I'm a comedian who was funny enough to get SNL. That can't be taken away. Of course I wanted an opportunity to prove myself at SNL, but I understand it would be too much of a distraction. I respect the decision they made. I'm honestly grateful for the opportunity. I was always a mad tv guy anyway."


Presidential hopeful Andrew Yang is pro-Universal Basic Income, pro-usage of dad finger guns, anti-tie, and, apparently, anti-Cancel Culture.

The 2020 Democratic hopeful weighed in on the recent controversy over one of SNL's three new hires, Shane Gillis. In a since-deleted episode of his podcast, Matt and Shane's Secret Podcast, Gillis says, "Chinatown's f*cking nuts...Let the f*cking ch*nks live there." In another since-deleted clip, Gillis specifically calls Yang a "Jew ch**k." In response, Yang posted a Twitter thread speaking out about how it's "hurtful," but he "forgive[s] Shane, as the guy he called a slur," because "we have, as a society, become excessively punitive and vindictive concerning people's statements and expressions we disagree with or find offensive."

Gillis posted a pseudo-apology last week in the typical cop-out formula of, "I'm sorry that YOU were offended." He defended his language, saying, "I'm a comedian who pushes boundaries. Sometimes I miss." He added, "I'm happy to apologize to anyone who's actually offended by anything I've said."

In response, Yang wrote a measured, thoughtful response: a rarity when it comes to racial commentary, especially its usage in comedy. The 44-year-old tech entrepreneur posted, "I prefer comedy that makes people think and doesn't take cheap shots. But I'm happy to sit down and talk with you if you'd like." He bluntly added, "I've been called ch*nk and g*ok any number of times in my life. It can be extraordinarily hurtful to feel like you are somehow not part of the only country you have ever known. I have certainly felt that - the churning sense of alienation, anger and marginalization."

The clips included Gillis's other inflammatory comments, including epithets about Muslims, the LGBTQ+ community, and women. Most attention has been focused on his anti-Asian remarks in light of the fact that Gillis joined SNL alongside the show's first Asian-American full-time cast member, Bowen Yang. SNL has a long history of "risky" humor to comment on racial tensions (even though the comedic staple has declined miserably in recent decades). But all good satire has a core of empathy that makes pointed criticism about its subject; in contrast, Gillis's jokes were clearly shock-jock locker room humor, geared towards the lowest common denominator.

While many comedians have weighed in on the controversy, namely the question of whether or not Gillis should be allowed to keep his new job, Yang shared his opinion that Gillis should be allowed to stay: "For the record, I do not think he should lose his job. We would benefit from being more forgiving rather than punitive. We are all human."



Andrew Yang Twitter


In truth, Gillis's hiring (despite his past comments) and Yang's response both illustrate the complicated and strange racial prejudice that still surrounds Asian-Americans. According to the last census in 2010, Asian-Americans only comprise about 5% of the population. That would explain the media's scant representation of Asian faces, with only 1% of Hollywood's leading roles being given to Asian actors (even after Crazy Rich Asians' box office success last year).

As such, Bowen Yang's addition to SNL was met with wide acclaim as a long-overdue step forward in the show's 44-season run. That includes Andrew Yang, who congratulated the comedian on twitter, saying, "Hope you play me on SNL. 😀👍" Imagine if the new season opens with (Bowen) Yang playing (Andrew) Yang responding to a racist comment in a thoughtful, satirical commentary. That's probably too high an expectation for the dying sketch comedy show, but America can dream.

As a Muslim-American comedian and former production staff member for SNL, Dean Obeidallah, noted: "The words [Gillis] said may have already made him too toxic for the iconic late-night show. But regardless of what happens, the hope is that people like Gillis can be encouraged to learn and evolve. Of course, the person needs to be willing to do the work for that to happen."