The Kissing Booth makes an insultingly weak attempt at diversity and I’m not buying it

Come on Netflix, this is bad even for you

Netflix is not good with diversity. There are exceptions, I admit. But, for the most part, the LGBTQ+ and non-white characters in main Netflix shows and movies feel like weak, half-hearted attempts at throwing a sprinkle of diversity into very white, straight stories. Think about how Cheryl and Toni feel as though they’re literally placed in Riverdale just to meet a quota. How often non-white characters are written as white, and clearly someone realised halfway through the casting that the current cast list was a blinding display of whiteness, so filled a few token roles with absolutely no adjustments to their characters at all. Or the writing room feels all white and all straight, so these storylines never have a sense of authenticity to them anyway.

This is exactly what happens in The Kissing Booth 2. They plonk a gay character and two POC roles in there to make what is the whitest, straightest movie ever feel a little bit less so. But it could never – it’s THAT white and straight. And the lazy attempt to divert away from that just feels forced.

Take the gay storyline. It is completely independent of the ENTIRE rest of the plot, literally could have been written in post-production and refilmed and cut just to shove some diversity in there for the sake of it. It’s also victim to so many of the classic gay storyline faux pas that any actual gays are sick of by now. Closeted high school homos coming out after a public kiss to raucous applause. Woo! The boys are kissing! Go, honey! I’m tired.

If they really wanted to show some diversity, they could have written a main gay character. They could have made Marco’s character gay and saved us all that tired, overplayed love triangle trope because we all knew Elle was going to end up with Noah anyway. Lee could have been a gay character. There was really no need for Lee to be straight, why couldn’t he have had a boyfriend instead of damp towel Rachel? But that’s exactly it – the main characters are never gay, it’s only the side characters because straight writers care more about the potential for hetero love than diversity.

And as for their attempts at adding a sprinkle of non-whiteness, we have Marco and Chloe. Chloe is the “other woman” character with no personality other than what is given to make Elle, and the audience, see her as a threat. We have long sequences of her being impressive for the sole intention of pitting her against Elle, and making Elle feel insecure. Then Marco’s character follows the classic over-sexualised portrayal of anyone Hispanic – there’s literally a zoomed-in sequence of him working out, faceless, which feels inappropriate verging on pornographic. Also, isn’t this guy supposed to be 18 years old?!

The fact that these characters aren’t white feels like an afterthought. If you took their character and made them white, nothing would really change. I’m not saying that white and non-white people have fundamentally different personalities, but if all your non-white characters have personalities indistinguishable from the staple white personalities you write, it’s going to make me raise an eyebrow. In Jay Z’s video for Moonlight (stay with me here) he gets black actors to recreate a word for word scene of Friends to show how jarring it feels when you’re pushing diversity without telling actual non-white stories. You can feel it.

All of these attempts at “diversity” in KB2 feels a little too much like when JK Rowling decided Dumbledore would be gay, years after the books were released. It gets you wokeness points for clout with absolutely none of the effort or shaping of storylines. If you want to include non-white characters and gay characters in your writing I beg you of this – consult someone who’s actually POC or gay. And don’t include them just for the sake of it, because we can all tell.

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