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The White Lotus: From Hawaii to Italy

With Season 2 of The White Lotus coming back on HBO Max this week, let’s discuss the shortcomings of Season 1…

The White Lotus is an HBO Max original which in its first season followed the events of multiple guests staying at the White Lotus Resort in Hawaii. Although these guests have their own separate backstories, over the extent of their trips, their dysfunctional lives become intertwined in unfortunate ways. I am writing this after having watched the first episode of the second season which premiered Sunday night. This new season follows the same formula as the first season but with new characters and a new location, Sicily. The cast of this new season features the likes of Aubrey Plaza, Theo James, Haley Lu Richardson, and more -- a promising cast in my eyes. While the 65 minute premiere was a good foundation for the tone of the upcoming season, there isn’t enough to discuss thus far. When thinking of how this season may go, I’m reminded of my feelings about the first season; feelings which are mostly critical.

The first season of The White Lotus centers on wealthy white vacationers staying at a resort in Hawaii, a plot line that reflects a very common occurrence in Hawaii’s reality today. As conversations surrounding Hawaii and outcries from Hawaiian natives are recently gaining more attention, writer Mike White does not shy away from integrating these realities into the plot of the show. One of the storylines of the show follows a family consisting of two parents, a son, a daughter, and the daughter's friend. The friend accompanying the family begins a romantic involvement with a native Hawaiian boy who works at the resort. As their relationship evolves, he tells her about the issues his family has faced because of the very hotel she is staying at. He describes how his family and other natives had their homes taken to develop more tourist locations and how his family can’t afford a lawyer to get their land back. In this regard, I think the show is successful in highlighting the voice of Hawaiian natives in a way the average viewer can empathize with and feel for. My issue arises in how the Hawaiian character’s storyline ends. In a series of events which cause the Hawaiian boy to escape from the police, his narrative ends with his arrest while the wealthy family returns home. In my eyes, I think the plot line which places this well meaning and disadvantaged character in a terrible and heartbreaking situation was wholly unnecessary. I don’t see the benefit of addressing so many of the very real situations facing the Hawaiian people where a possibility for a hopeful ending is possible but instead abruptly ending this character’s development with a devastating outcome. On top of all of this, the son of the affluent white family decides to stay in Hawaii and try to live as one of the natives. Why does this native boy need to meet this melancholic end while this tourist can just insert himself in a culture the first boy will be denied for the rest of his life? I tried to understand the decision making process behind the conclusion of the season by reading interviews with the writer but it actually just made me more upset. It can be argued that the choice for this ending was to show a realistic side of how situations like this tend to play out but I find this argument tired and unsuccessful in this context. Why must writers make entire plots where they can create any world or societal structure they please but still include the aspects of reality that hurt marginalized communities? Especially when it is made by a white writer; it simply is not their place to make these commentaries. A discussion on white creators trying to write characters of colors is one that really needs to be addressed more in the media and I hope the second season does not involve the same lack of thought.


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