Clearly Lisa Bonet passed down her acting chops to the daughter she shares with rocker and actor Lenny Kravitz. She also passed on the racially ambiguous aesthetic that allows both mother and daughter the flexibility to play a multitude of roles in Hollywood. For her latest endeavour, Zoe Kravitz plays Bonnie Carlson on HBO’s Big Little Lies. Bonnie is the free-spirited second wife of Nathan Carlson — the ex-husband of Monterey, California’s queen bee, Madeline Martha Mackenzie. While the other women obsess about status and popularity, Bonnie can be found teaching yoga and hand-making jewellery. She stands out, but no one ever seems to notice or mention that she’s Black.
With only a few days before the season finale, there hasn’t been a single mention of Bonnie’s race. Monterey isn’t the kind of place where no one would notice — Bonnie is the subject of neighbourhood gossip for using too much hip while dancing at a kid’s birthday party. Madeline — still bitter about her own failed relationship with Nathan and the fact that their teenage daughter prefers spending time with her lax stepmother — hones in on every little detail that separates her and Bonnie. Not even she has made an offhanded comment about the fact that Bonnie isn’t white.
It would be an odd oversight if it weren’t so predictable. Monterey is a nearly utopian representation of upper-class America. It’s the kind of place where waves aren’t made, and a potentially divisive subject like racial nuance is an enigma. There are other people of colour on the show. They’re mainly neighbours who are only shown as police witnesses and background characters. None of them seem to add any cultural diversity to their town.
That’s the problem with Bonnie. Sure, she lives in the same insulated wealthy town as the rest of the women. She obviously shares a comparable socioeconomic status. But are we meant to believe that she was born there? That she doesn’t have family and cultural ties that would break up the monotony of Monterey? The series' failure to acknowledge these questions is a form of whitewashing that’s been pretty popular lately.
Big Little Lies’ Bonnie problem is just another example of a series adding diversity in visibility only. It’s a move that takes a colourblind approach to race by presenting it as a mere aesthetic difference between people, not one that affects how they interact with the rest of the world. Race adds to our humanity. It’s a daily part of even the most mundane moments of our existence, from the food we eat, to the way we speak. True on-screen diversity should embrace that, not ignore it.