When the Hulu miniseries “Little Fires Everywhere” premiered in March, it became the streaming service’s most-watched drama ever in its first 60 days online. Based on Celeste Ng‘s 2017 novel, the story set in a Cleveland suburb in the late 1990s pits Reese Witherspoon‘s entitled perfectionist Elena, a white mother of four and a journalist, against Kerry Washington‘s Mia, a single black mother and avant-garde artist with a teen daughter who struggles to make ends meet. Their paths cross and Mia ends up renting an apartment owned by Elena and also serving as her housekeeper while alas a waitress.
What happens throughout the eight episodes is a microcosm of socioeconomic inequality, hurtful assumptions, white liberal guilt, awkward political correctness and well-earned black distrust in the system as both family’s lives become intertwined, for good but also for bad. As we learn more about each mother and the background that formed their fates, both women have their flaws but also earn our sympathies.
Now jump forward to where we are now after witnessing videos of numerous African-Americans who have died at the hands of white violence — from random shooters to abuse by the police who are tasked to serve and protect all citizens in our country. Suddenly, “Little Fires Everywhere” has become more relevant than ever now that Black Lives Matter has become a movement in our city streets around the country.
Consider this damning line delivered by Mia to Elena, “You didn’t make good choices. You had good choices!” Wearing a face mask may be enough for white people to be protected from COVID-19. But more people of color are dying from the disease because they lack affordable health care options or are too poor to not work and shelter in place. However, one of the optimistic bright spots of the protests is that people of all backgrounds and ethnicities are standing up for justice for all.
As for the movement to take down statues that honor the Confederancy and erasing the names of its leaders from schools and military bases, consider how this stinging rebuke said by Mia to Elena — with its echoes of “Gone With the Wind” — resonates right now: “You made this about race the day you stood on the street and begged me to be your maid. White women always be friends with their maid. I was not your maid, Elena. And I was nver your friend.” The thing is, the setting isn’t the South. It’s white-picket-fence suburbia in Ohio.
Right now, “Little Fires Everywhere” ranks in fifth place on Gold Derby’s combined prediction odds at 10/1 and rising. However, I believe that the show deserves far more support given Witherspoon and Washington give distinctive, honest and sometimes downright uncomfortable performances as their characters clash. That they had the insight to bring this project to light as executive producers should be applauded. As Vogue noted, “The questions it brings up about motherhood, race, identity and power are real and meaningful.”
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