As Succession wraps its third season, the series is more popular than ever before, drawing in 1.4 million viewers during its highly-anticipated return. According to the network, that was the best premiere-night ratings of any HBO series since HBO Max launched in May 2020. Again, we followed these wealthy white people as they made the worst possible decisions given their circumstances. Even though their displays of wealth are often bordering on grotesque, it made for very compelling television.
The HBO hit’s predominantly-white cast has been a topic of discussion since it premiered, with many left wondering why more characters of colour aren’t included in the opulent fictional world of Succession. But showrunner Jesse Armstrong himself has stated many times that the Roys are not to be envied; the characters live in incredible comfort, but they are seldom at ease. Their wealth is often juxtaposed with what Armstrong calls “death sentence vibes”, like how the season two finale had all of them–quite literally–fighting for their lives in an obscenely luxurious private yacht. It’s absurd, but it is a satire on the ultra-privileged–one that is very much so based on actual current events.
So why are so many still crying for better representation? Identity politics have indeed dominated conversations around pop culture over the last few years. Still, while I find value in positive representation, many don’t ask themselves what that actually entails. People want to see themselves on-screen, which is valid! But when it comes to shows like Succession, you have to ask yourself: What kind of representation would that be?
The Roy family is cowardly, selfish, and utterly disdainful of anyone who doesn’t fit into their preposterous lives. Their conversations are mostly made up of buzzword-filled corporate nonsense, and it’s pretty clear that these people are meant to be unsavoury to the viewer. Succession is filled with drug-fueled parties, private jets, and of course, casual bigotry. To fit into the series’ satirical world, marginalized characters would almost always have to either be mistreated or share the same abominable morals that our protagonists do.
As far as characters of colour, we currently have Kendall Roy’s overworked assistant Jess Jordan- a Black woman constantly dealing with the fallout from her boss’s impulsive behaviour. Despite being constantly undermined, she’s been fiercely loyal since the beginning. I would be remiss not to mention that she is very light-skinned, so much so that she is almost the same skin tone as Stewy Hosseini, played by Iranian-born actor Arian Moayed. Marcia, Logan’s third wife who, while French, is played by Hiam Abbass. We were also introduced to attorney Lisa Arthur (Sanaa Lathan), the Gloria Allred-type who notably represented trafficked sex workers in a previous suit. She is positioned as the best option for legal counsel, but Kendall Roy’s disrespect towards her immediately overshadows her credentials. Furthermore, Kendall Roy’s own daughter Sophie (Swayam Bhatia) is never even acknowledged by Logan as a grandchild. And last but not least, we have South Korean singer Jihae Kim playing PR consultant Berry Schneider, who has maybe five lines total in the entire show.
The seemingly omnipresent patriarch of the Roy family, Logan Roy himself, has made several racist, homophobic, misogynistic, and anti-semitic remarks throughout the series, freely throwing slurs around without consequence. His eldest son Connor Roy even recalls how ‘no Blacks, no Jews, no women above the fourth floor’ was Logan’s policy during the earlier days of Waystar Royco. This makes it so that it’s especially amusing to watch Kendall’s attempts at becoming “woke” while simultaneously wanting to uphold everything his father built. It’s particularly jarring during the second season. He antagonizes Rob Yang’s character Lawrence Yee by union-busting and effectively shutting down the digital magazine Vaulter on behalf of his father. This was perfectly executed to showcase how the Roy kids’ attempts at being morally sound continue to fail by not wanting to give up their immense privilege.
Just take a look at Shiv’s entire character- as a self-proclaimed believer in “liberal democracy”, the only Roy daughter was someone we could root for in a sea of terrible characters. When we first meet her, she is working as a political consultant for a Bernie Sanders-type candidate, which leads the viewer to believe that maybe she wasn’t that bad after all. But while she fails at likeability in every turn, it’s her flimsy morals and power-hungry attitude that’s shown us who she really is; manipulative, spineless, and just as terrible as the rest of her family. She continues to side with her class status above everything else, which is precisely how privileged white women behave in the real world.
Despite cruelly baiting a Latinx child with a million-dollar check during the pilot episode, Roman Roy was considered one of the least despicable characters by most. But we were reminded that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree once he became entirely on board with fascism, proclaiming his support for a right-wing presidential candidate with alleged Nazi ties. Of course, all of the Roys are twisted in their own way, but the common denominator here is their inherent prejudice and disdain for anyone they feel is beneath them.
The series has shown us what representation for marginalized characters would look like already, so I have to ask: Why would you want to see yourself represented in a show like Succession? Do you feel like fictional characters of colour should also be allowed to be morally corrupt capitalists? Would you want to see more marginalized characters on the receiving end of Logan Roy’s bigoted berating? While certainly not enough, there is still plenty of media with positive representation. It’s 2021! Marginalized characters should be allowed to have flaws, and yes, all-white casts are unacceptable in certain stories. Still, I think it’s time we admit that it’s better storytelling when bad things only happen to bad white people. And that’s okay.
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