Watching Netflix’s new Selling Sunset ripoff, Million Dollar Beach House, feels very, very weird in this cultural moment. Yes, of course the show was shot over a year ago, but it seems crystal clear that Netflix did nothing to adjust it for what’s going on in 2020. The series follows a group of realtors in the Hamptons—one of the wealthiest real estate areas in the country. Last summer, that type of show could have been a delightful binge watch. But this summer, set against a global pandemic and a serious reckoning with the racist history (and present) of the United States, the show seems woefully out of touch and even kinda racist. Million Dollar Beach House only has one BIPOC cast member, Noel, and the treatment of him is… questionable at best.
It starts with the very first episode, and it’s a combination of microaggressions towards Noel from his fellow cast members and editing tricks on the part of the show itself. We’re introduced to Noel, who is the only realtor of color at Nest Seekers (that we know of). Right away, in a confessional-style interview, fellow realtor Michael asks the producers, “Was Noel here today? ‘Noelle,’ whatever the fuck?” as if he doesn’t know his own coworker’s name. Um… “Noel” is a whopping two syllables. How can you not remember it? And he goes on to say that Noel is “very polished, a polished gentleman,” as if that’s a surprise. Literally… so much yikes. The microaggressions continue from there.
And it gets worse throughout the season, especially during Noel’s conflict with Peggy, a white female realtor. The two of them have a disagreement over one house Noel is trying to list, and for at least three episodes of the six-episode season, the narrative centers Noel as the troublemaker in the situation. Noel was “rude,” his fellow realtors say, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about with this house, etc. Peggy and Noel get into a fight about it at Noel’s own birthday party. It’s one of the central conflicts of the season, and because we all know reality TV is produced more than it is organic, it seems odd that the show would choose to pit its one Black cast member against the only woman in the firm, and a white woman at that. In a summer full of Karens, where we’ve watched Twitter video after Twitter video of white women using their power to uphold a racist system that benefits them, it feels so incredibly icky to watch Noel have to duke it out with Peggy over a $30 million house, while cast members like Michael and J.B. get off relatively unscathed.
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