Let’s Talk About Blackness on HBO’s Euphoria

This Sunday (Aug. 4) is the season finale of HBO’s hottest new show, Euphoria. The freshman teen drama has covered every topic under the sun (from drug addiction to the complexities of human sexuality) in a way that is raw, honest, and true to the lives of teenagers and young adults in 2019. From the show’s pilot episode, I wrote that this was a series worth following. Nevertheless, Euphoria could benefit from a bit of nuance, specifically around blackness, in its next season.

Euphoria‘s main character, Rue, expertly played by Zendaya, is a young Black woman who is a recovering high school drug addict in an upper-middle class neighborhood. The fact of the matter is, race very much alters how addiction is dealt with in families. Rue’s road to recovery hasn’t been pretty in the least; let’s not forget that she was found choking on her own vomit by her baby sister. Yet, once Rue comes back home, she’s still allowed to go out to parties (obvious hotbeds for a potential relapse), roam until the late hours of night by herself, and basically go about life the same way she did before her overdose. To put it plainly, no Black mother would ever let that happen. Earlier in the season, Rue’s mom does drug test her and is a bit more protective, but it feels like she loosens the reigns way too quickly. One could argue that Rue’s mom is trying to get her to return to normalcy and that means letting her do normal teenage things. Okay. I get that, but realistically a Black mother would have a much stricter curfew and make sure Rue goes out with at least one responsible friend. To be clear, I’m not saying Rue’s mother’s blackness is contingent upon how strict she is, I just want her character to be further explored next season because there is a slight disconnect there. From what we’ve seen so far, it feels like Fez is a stronger parent that Rue’s mom is! It’s like one Rue shows one glimmer of growth, all is forgiven and everything can go back to the way it once was. That’s not entirely realistic, methinks.

Rue (Zendaya) and Jules (Hunter Schafer) in Euphoria via HBO.

Then there’s also the way Rue is treated when she returns to school. We all know there’s bias against Black people, especially when drug use is involved. Rue gets the typical snide remarks and glances, but I feel like parents might be a bit more uneasy about their kids hanging out with a drug addict so soon after rehab (which we end up finding out was essentially a farce for Rue)? No? Just me? Okay.

The penultimate episode of this season gifted us the hilarious scene where Rue cursed Rick out. Rue’s father is dead and Rick is a guy that Rue’s mom is dating. Their relationship doesn’t appear to be super serious, but Rue obliterates him with the harshest expletives possible and with an attitude that would have gotten any Black kid an immediate backhand. It was fun to watch Rue rip in to Rick, especially in the midst of her urination/depression problems, but it wasn’t realistic at all. To my knowledge, Euphoria is loosely based on the creator’s life. The creator, Sam Levinson, is white, but when you cast a Black actress to play a character who is the eldest child in a Black single-mother household… things change. While the experiences could most definitely be common, the way families react and deal with those experiences will be different depending on race and gender. If Euphoria is going to continue to be a show that strives to be as real as possible, it’s going to have to explore the complexities of Rue’s race and skin tone and how they change (or don’t change) her experiences and life relative to the other characters.

Also, please give Rue a Black friend next season. Homegirl needs one. As a matter of fact, Rue is the only Black character in the main high school ensemble (McKay is in college). Furthermore, do no darkskinned Black people exist in the Euphoria universe? The most important darkskinned Black character we get is a former drug addict who acts as a sort of mentor for Rue. Not only will adding darkskinned characters bolster representation, it will also help add more layers to the story Euphoria is trying to tell.

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1 Comment

  1. The darkskin representation in this show kinda hurt my feelings. Not one dark skin character in the mix was just not cool to me 🙄

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