On September 19, 2019, ‘Hello Privilege, It’s Me Chelsea’. was released on Netflix and has since received some backlash. A seemingly ambitious and well-intended endeavor, ‘Hello Privilege’ was undertaken by comedian, actress, writer, television host and activist Chelsea Handler, who is known for her brash and brazen style of comedy, and the last person you’d expect to tackle the ever-pervasive and oppressive structure of white privilege; especially with a book titled ‘Uganda Be Kidding Me’ and tweeting jokes about Brad and Angelina’s Vietnamese child growing up to be a bad driver.
The documentary, directed by Alex Stapleton, follows Handler as she explores white privilege and further examines her role in our society as a white woman. Her approach was to interview, and sometimes confront (albeit shallowly), other white people on their privilege. In the documentary, Handler talks with a spectrum of people on the issue. For instance, she visited a group of conservative women in prestigious Orange County, California. When asked on their take on white privilege, responses ranged from, “not as bad as it is made out to be” to “we need to move on.” Visiting an Oktoberfest celebration, Handler asked the same question to festival goers, where most did not believe that white privilege exists, or were unaware of the severity of its harm.
Writer and anti-racism activist, Tim Wise, provided insight into why some white people quickly defend themselves or deflect the notion when white privilege is brought up. Historian Carol Anderson also gave background to the development of the psychology of white privilege. Throughout the documentary, Handler uses herself as a prime example and draws from her life, the main point being that white privilege was fully at work when her and her former boyfriend, Tyshawn, were detained for possession. Tyshawn was convicted, and Handler was let go with no repercussions.
‘Hello Privilege, It’s Me Chelsea’ was certainly made with good intentions. Handler does come across as genuine in her endeavor, despite a very questionable past. Though well meaning, the documentary does have legitimate criticisms that warrant backlash. For one, it does come across as ironic due to the fact that Handler is white and bringing this topic to the forefront. At first glance it seems like the right thing to do, but what is upsetting is that, Black and Brown people have been speaking up and speaking out about the inequality for a very, very long time. Yet, our voices go unheard because the power structures were put in place to oppress. But when a non-Black person speaks on the same inequalities, it is taken with importance. If I or another Black or Brown person were to make a documentary on white privilege, it probably wouldn’t have gained as much traction.
Handler also should have highlighted more POC with larger platforms, or allowed more time for those she did highlight in the documentary to speak. For an ally to help abolish white privilege (and white supremacy as a whole), they need to prioritize POC’s voices by allowing us to speak and be heard with the same attention and urgency.
Another criticism worth noting is that Handler did not ask enough hard questions, and when there was an opportunity to dig deeper, it was quickly dismissed.
White privilege is not an easy topic to talk about and when it is brought up, the discussion is very careful. The majority of the documentary was ‘comfortable,’ and shield away when it got too close to an open flame. White privilege has to be talked about by everyone, and very explicitly. Part of that rawness comes from people being honest with themselves first, and recognizing that there is, in fact, a problem. It would have made for an excellent and compelling watch if Handler was more aggressive with her questioning. It could have been truly thought-provoking; but the product we got barely scratches the surface.
‘Hello Privilege, It’s Me Chelsea’ is a great start. There is a glaring irony in how the documentary was executed, but what we must acknowledge is the fact that Handler did use her platform to try and give greater traction for change. She seems eager to learn more about herself in terms of privilege, so hopefully the critiques are a learning experience for Handler and others wanting to be allies.
‘Hello Privilege, It’s Me Chelsea’ is currently streaming on Netflix.
Categories: Arts & Entertainment