In the post-#metoo media landscape, (fictional) portrayals of violence against women including HBO’s Big Little Lies [BLL] are praised for raising awareness. I suggest that BLL juxtaposes visual façade and sound to portray how women can use their voice to speak up against violence. This exemplifies how, as Gilmore discusses, after #metoo “as more women come forward […] women’s voices are amplified.” However, these “amplified” voices belong to white women, and BLL marginalizes the voices of women of color [WOC].
White women voice their experiences of violence – Celeste (Nicole Kidman) during therapy, Jane (Shailene Woodley) during sing-alongs to her iPod – while the only central WOC, Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), is Othered: she’s a yoga-loving second wife, separated from the white protagonists. Her black identity is never acknowledged, yet her character is instrumental to the story because she kills Celeste’s abusive husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgard). As seen in the clip, Bonnie erupts into the violent climax of the action with a single visceral scream when the white women fail to stop Perry. There’s dissonance between the brutal images and the calm music and ocean waves which originate from a different scene far from the violence. Thus, violence is sanitized through the alienation of image and sound; the screams of white women are not heard. By contrast, Bonnie’s scream is the first sound originating from the image: it’s the only moment when Bonnie’s voice as a WOC is “amplified”. At this pivotal moment, the only voice is Bonnie’s; however, BLL’s ignorance of her position as a black woman minimizes the representational potential of the sequence.
BLL’s focus on white women mirrors how WOC are marginalised in the #metoo movement. This is exemplified by the focus on white celebrities in media coverage of #metoo and lack of attention to the work of #metoo leader Tarana Burke. As Onwuachi-Willig emphasises, marginalisation occurs “despite the fact that #MeToo began with a [WOC]; and despite the fact that [WOC] are more vulnerable to sexual harassment than white women”. Burke herself stresses that “what history has shown us […] is that if marginalized voices […] aren’t centered in our movements then they tend to become no more than a footnote.” Comparably, Bonnie centres herself amongst white women while she screams, but her character/voice is routinely marginalised and she’s not much more “than a footnote” – in spite of her central role in the story.
Hearing Bonnie in the final episode
Thanks, Anna. I agree that her single scream in that climatic scene is crucial. I would say that her singing performance earlier in that final episode is another key moment in terms of her voice being amplified (and that it's something of a precursor to the scream). After all, Bonnie is the only woman to sing an Elvis song at the show, and her singing ability becomes another reason why Madeline vaguely resents her.
At the same time, I cynically wonder if the show's producers also gave Bonnie a singing performance as a way to "take advantage of" Kravitz's musical heritage. I.e. thinking that audiences will want to hear "Lenny Kravitz's daughter" sing,
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