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Spoilers for The White Lotus below
The White Lotus’s creator, director and its only writer, Mike White, did an extensive, fascinating interview with New York Magazine’s Vulture. It was deep, introspective, wide-ranging and thought-provoking. There’s no way I can do it justice in an excerpt or description, so read it at the source for more. He talked about being a white man writing about colonialism, privilege and economic disparity, and about recognizing that and still creating art. I shouldn’t be surprised by how self aware he is given how incredible this show was. I wanted to focus on the criticism of this show and some of the issues I had with it – that the music was overly loud, swelling and used too frequently to set a mood, and that certain characters just disappeared, namely Kai and Lani, the new staffer who had a baby on her first day. Here are those sections of that jaw-dropping interview. I finally subscribed to NY Magazine after reading this.
On how Kai and Lani just disappeared
There’s a practical aspect to that, which is that we were forced to shoot in the bubble, so other than when we were out on the boats, we couldn’t shoot anything else. That was the mandate.
But I thought it would be interesting to do that. At the very beginning, [Armond says], “We’re interchangeable helpers.” It’s like they don’t exist, this idea that once they exit the hotel, they’re pulverized, they vanish. I thought that would be maybe controversial, but it’s like a steamrolling. The people waving in the beginning, by the end they’ve been replaced, and it’s like the experience of these hotel guests — oh, she had a baby, he’s in jail, whatever. My hope is that the critique of that is built into the DNA of it.
On the name The White Lotus
Yeah, it’s both my name and the racial oppressor and all of that! I have been Shane. I have been Shane recently, where they wouldn’t let me into my room at two, they said, “Your room won’t be ready for two hours,” that kind of thing.
On whether vacation can be a fantasy where you leave the world behind
The world is too much with us, whether it’s the climate or our phones. That idea of being transported away really was the inspiration for the show as much as anything and [it’s] why the music is the way it is. You go to these places, [on] this hunt for escapism, but there’s this feeling of existential dread that permeates the experience. The waters are rising here, too. There’s no getting away from it all. There’s no mystery anymore.
It’d be nice to be completely obtuse about all these things. This is something I wanted to explore with the show, how everyone’s on the defensive right now. Everyone feels on their heels a little bit. The funny, interesting, complicated ways we try to justify how we vacation, how we spend our money. I’m doing it right now defending why I wrote this! Where do I get off writing a show that takes place in Hawaii? I feel it as a creator, too. Should I just gracefully step off the stage and hide in a hole? You do feel like you’re in an Ouroboros eating your own tail.
On criticism that he’s pandering
I do think about this, and I definitely thought about it in relation to this show, which is — you know, I’m not an idiot. If I wanted to create a virtuous show, I could do it. I feel like I could create characters that fit some people’s political and cultural agenda and probably my own! That would be pandering. The point of art is to reflect something that feels true and conflicted!
There was a guy who did a piece on Jennifer [Coolidge] for Vulture, and he tweeted like, “White people are liking White Lotus because they can stay centered in the narrative,” and I could kind of tell he had — I had the knee-jerk reaction [to someone] criticizing the show. But the show demands that! [But also] if I took that assumption to its fullest, it would make it so that I shouldn’t even be creating anything anymore. It’s a deep criticism of who’s getting what stories made, which is a completely valid conversation. But obviously, it would threaten me in some way! Because this is all I can do! I don’t know how to be a general manager of a hotel!
I don’t need anyone to feel sorry for me; I don’t feel sorry for myself. But I still want to think about things, and I still want to create stuff. And my hope is that it’s useful for somebody besides myself.
I did want to see Lani again and thought she could have brought her baby to the resort. It made sense for her character to disappear because she only worked there a day. Kai created a hole when he left though, as if he was collateral damage. I wanted to see him turn out OK. If it was a pandemic decision for him to leave (I’ve read that it was not filmed in order), it makes sense. A lot of shows had to make hard creative decisions to be able to film last year. As I’ve heard from some of you too, I truly disliked the music. Given how entertaining this show was, that’s a minor complaint. Shows don’t have to be perfect for me to enjoy them and I appreciated this on so many other levels.
When Oya covered this show earlier in the week, she wrote that she hoped they could bring in other writers and directors for the second season, which will have a new cast on a new resort. White was the only person creating this show, which is phenomenal and a testament to how his mind works. I understand what he’s saying about writing what you know and trying to be open and question your own perspective while being unable to escape it. At the same time, writer’s rooms benefit from people with more experiences and backgrounds. (I just heard P-Valley creator Katori Hall talk about the practicalities of this.) So maybe season two will have input from more people with a different take. We’ll have to see how it turns out. I’ve already read some concern that it will go the way of True Detective, but I doubt that will happen as long as White is in charge.
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