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The Good Fight

The Good Fight: Delightful, Problematic, Unflinching

The Good Fight is delightful. Taking place in the Chicago law-and-politics universe of The Good Wife, the show focuses on Christine Baranski’s standout character, the fiercely calm Diane Lockhart. The first episode starts with Trump’s inauguration and follows Diane as she loses her life’s savings in a Murdoch-like-scam. Forced out of retirement, she lands on her feet at a traditionally black firm, Reddick, Boseman.

Diane’s new status as an outsider — both within her own firm and as a representative of that firm in the larger legal community — matches Diane’s status in the new world order. The ridiculous of the news, the backsliding on issues Diane cares about, and the general sense of chaos, overwhelm her. She sleeps with a violent extremist, starts microdosing hallucinogens, and keeps a gun at her desk (covered in beautiful, silk scarves, naturally). She’s no longer in charge and doesn’t know how to handle it.

Of course, Diane Lockhart isn’t powerless. She still has that perfectly coiffed hair, a rolodex of high profile clients, and her fine legal mind. And she still has her whiteness — a particularly glaring privilege as the only white partner at a black firm.

Much of the drama on The Good Fight touches on issues of race with a recent episode, “The One With Lucca Becoming a Meme,” focusing entirely on the issue. This is a black and white world where Latinx and Asian people don’t seem to exist (despite Latinos overtaking blacks as Chicago’s largest “minority” group years ago). So we’ve seen racism on the show as police brutalizing black civilians, snide comments said to Cush Jumbo’s black Lucca Quinn as she dates (and has the child of) one of Chicago’s golden white boys, and of course, the need for a black law firm at all.

But this episode was different — this time, we are looking inside Reddick, Boseman and the results are not pretty. Nyambi Nyambi’s Jay DiPersia, the firm’s senior investigator, sends out salary data to the entire firm, revealing that even at Reddick, Boseman, the white people are making more. Managing partner, Delroy Lindo’s Adrian Boseman, explains the disparity in two ways. One: times are changing. With Trump and associates in power, the no-bid system that awards contracts to minority-owned and -led companies may be going away. Hence, the need for all those white faces to begin with. Two: the market. Specifically, the idea that the firm must pay men and white attorneys more because they could leave and find hiring paying jobs elsewhere.

Times may be changing but the marketplace argument sucks in this show and in the real world. It takes no responsibility for fostering (let alone reinforcing) discriminatory pay practises, forever favoring the status quo. It also assumes a zero-sum game where men and white attorneys get paid less rather than women and black people getting paid more. In this argument, diversity doesn’t bring better results (as study after study shows) but rather is just a way to score cheap labor. Yet, Boseman is in charge and so his ideas, along with the implicit bias of the rest of the partners, set the rules. Watching his explanation go unchallenged, I had to wonder if the show’s creators believed it.

You see The Good Fight is rare because ALL the main characters are women or people of color. And due to the fact it is set in a black firm, most of the extras and smaller parts are too. Yet, of the four principles — Diane Lockhart, Lucca Quinn, Rose Leslie’s Maia Rindell, and Sarah Steele’s Marissa Gold — three are white women.

We see life outside Reddick, Boseman but only through Dianne, Marissa, Maia, and Lucca’s eyes — leaving Lucca in the odd position of being the sole representative of what it feels like to experience racism as a woman of color. In this episode, a white woman in the park accuses her of abducting her lighter skinned baby, going so far as to call the police. Lucca, of course, defends herself and the result ends up making her a meme: mothering while black. Yet, at Reddick, Boseman, Lucca is regularly the lightest skinned woman in the room. As such, she’s probably less likely to experience the effects of racism than her darker-skinned peers (although she would not be free of them). I’m not trying to take away from Lucca — she’s an amazing character who manages to be smart, wry, and fatal with the slightest of facial expressions — but it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the primary black character is light skinned.

This dynamic of focusing on white women and one, light-skinned black woman in a sea of black talent makes me uncomfortable. That’s why I’m so glad Adrian got those great arcs in season two with his past student accusing him of sexual favoritism and his media-damning turn as a pundit. The episode about Jay’s immigration status was amazing on so many levels — the driving-while-black trope, the atypical face of immigration, the celebration of his artistic talent (in particular when compared to Melania Trump’s). And Liz is FINALLY getting more to do in season three with the heart-wrenching revelations about her father, the changes in her personal life, and her decision to join Diane’s resistance group.

With these subplots, The Good Fight seem to try to right its wrongs. In the episode where Reddick, Bozeman confronts its pay disparities, the white characters do not get off the hook. Maia is straight up fired, which I’m into, since she’s been smashing windows and generally being difficult around the office. In a great scene, Diane, Marissa, Quinn, Adrian, Jay, and a handful of other Reddick, Bozeman attorneys are all sitting at a conference table. As they discuss police brutality, Lucca notices that only the black people know the names of police shootings victims. Diane says she doesn’t think that’s true so Lucca tests her theory. It turns out the white people can’t name Laquan McDonald, but all the black people can. Reverse for Matthew Shepard. Ouch. Diane responds by returning to her desk and trying to memorize the names, Marissa asks Lucca if she thinks she’s racist while Liz and Boseman talk about tribalism.

It’s the type of lesson that could fall flat — yes, racism is complicated — but doesn’t because of The Good Fight’s unflinching gaze. This is a show that is willing to kill its heroes. Black-led doesn’t mean racism-free. Women-centered doesn’t mean kinder or softer. Losing the advantages of privilege is not unjust. Maya and Marissa will be fine. Indeed, where Jay didn’t manage to land another job after temporarily quitting Reddick, Boseman, Maya appears to get another gig right away. She can take her whiteness with her. So even while the show laments her firing, it allows for the possibility that it was the right thing to do — if such a thing exists.

So far, The Good Fight’s third season revolves around the changing nature of the firm’s identity. With the firm’s patriarch not only dead but disgraced, Riddick, Boseman no longer has a guiding light. Are they simply trying to make money? Trying to prove black excellence through economic success? Using their capital to fight for civil rights? They don’t know. And that ambiguity may mirror the show itself with its faults, insights, and humor. It’s a good fight, indeed.

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