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Dear Diary,

Rina Grob
︎ (@rina_grob)
website: millennialapproaches.com

Rina is just here to eat her way through various cities, pet dogs, write nonsense at 3 am in fits of insomnia, and consume copious amounts of coffee and diet coke.

Dear Diary,
Manny Montana deserves better

Please note before reading this if you planned on watching ‘Good Girls’ and haven’t already this entire essay is one big spoiler!

Like a lot of people during this weird and unusual time, I decided that I was going to fill my days by finally tackling my Netflix to watch list.

A show that has been in my queue for a while now is NBC’s ‘Good Girls.’

The story follows Beth (played by Christina Hendricks from Mad Men) her younger sister Annie (played by an actress I at first thought was Zosia Mamet but is actually Mae Whitman, who I don’t know where I recognise her from... but boy does she look familiar)

And life long friend Ruby (played by Retta from Parks and Rec) three women living in the Detroit suburbs who for various reason are in dire need of a lot of cash and quickly. Together they devise a plan to rob the grocery store where Annie works.

The plan goes off without a hitch until one day Beth returns home to find three gang members sitting in her kitchen. Turns out the money they stole belongs to them and they want it back.

Here we are introduced to Rio, the leader of the gang.

I was immediately intrigued by his character.

Actually, he is just really really hot.

A quick google search reveals the actor, Manny Montana is not only very happily married but also a doting father, to which I say good for you sir, and should that ever change please feel free to slide into my DMs ( the married part, not the kid part)

Good Girls currently has three season, two of which are available on Netflix in Germany. Rio is listed as an apparent main character.

We aren’t told much about Rio, in fact we know shockingly little about him for a so-called main character. In season 2 we learn he has a son, and possibly an ex-wife. Towards the end of the season we also find out his real name is Christopher and catch a glimpse of where he lives. But thats it. I know from the internet that in season 3 we briefly meet the mother of his son and said child in slightly more detail, however only in the context of how they are useful to Beth, once her character has no more need for them, it seems they disappear (Okay you caught me I streamed season 3…..sorry!!)

Rio is never fully given his own arch, he always just pops up to aid along Beth’s story line (No serious he pop up, Beth even describes by saying’ Man pop us like a freaking genie’) Even his brief interaction and plot with Agent Turner revolve around Beth and her mess and is over in less than two episodes.

At first glance a scene showing Rio at a country club with his attorney feels like a little more agency for his character until you realise its just to move Beth’s story along. So they can tell us Beth appeared to take “care of” a situation like Rio told her to. It's not about him at all.

The show barely acknowledge Beth’s privilege. That as a white, middle class woman she has access to things and is granted certain leniency that Rio isn’t.

It comes up a couple of times that Beth is a perfect front. That no one is going to suspect the suburban house wife of being up to no good (spoiler, they do.) Beth telling him her laundering money through their legit business doesn’t look suspicious but him doing it with a shady lot staffed with gang bangers is. But the root of the issue isn’t really addressed.

Furthermore it's never acknowledged that Beth choses crime. We don’t know any thing about why Rio does what he does. Instead we experience the world of crime through the lens of this white middle class woman.

In a problem with the single story Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie asserts: “The problem with stereotypes isn’t that they are untrue but that that are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

For all intents and purposes Rio is a stereotype that most of white America has of a Mexican-American Gang member.

The reality of being Mexican-American in the USA means that people like Rio truly do exist. But the problem is that this seems to be the only depiction on main stream television.

People have varied and complicated reason for joining a gang or leading a life of crime, but the glorification of white crime means that often times television depicts it as a fun sport or last resort for white people rather than unavoidable or a necessity as it is for a large portion of the population. We never look down on them as we do on the BIPOC in the same situations in real life.  We sympathise with them, even root for them.

The thing is the show does give Rio some surprising nuances beyond a stereotype, we see him eating sushi, drinking tea, playing tennis, the brief glimpse of his loft, shows us a sophisticated and elegant space. There are hints of some thing deeper, beyond a tired stereotype. But it stays at that, hints.

It is some what refreshing to see a male character occupy what is normally the female characters plot function, aiding the story of the protagonist along ( looking at your Peaky Blinders) As well as the age difference between Christina Hendricks and Manny Montana, some thing we don’t see often on television.

The dynamic between Rio and Beth is what makes the show worth watching. Beth’s husband Dean constantly belittles her ideas, and initially assumes her involvement with Rio is a case of him taking advantage of a naive innocent woman. He doesn’t listen to her and generally doesn’t appreciate how smart and cunning she is.

In a memorable sense in season 2, whilst Beth is trying to explain her ideas on how to expand their Car Dealership Dean condescendingly tells her she doesn’t understand business and attempts to further belittles her by telling her he would never tell her how to raise their kids and they each have their own superpower so why mess with that. He then suggests they order a bottle of wine, which Beth doesn’t dignify with a response instead ordering her drink of choice (hint it definitely isn’t wine)

This scene stands in harsh contrast to earlier in the episode when Beth meets Rio in a bar. She tells him that he doesn’t know her, to which he responds he thinks he does and without hesitation orders her a bourbon on the rocks (hint this definitely is it)

Dean almost grotesquely eat his dessert as Beth calmly sips her bourbon suggesting they go to a bar.  A bar at which she spots Rio and well; go watch the episode your self if you haven’t already to find out what happens.

This episode not only cements the contrast between the two men, but further more emphasis their role in the show.
Rio is the dangerous, the unknown, the other. He represents a white woman’s jaunt into a world that is fetishised and romanticised.

Of course we want to see equal representation and rich story lines for women in the media, but why does it have to come at the expense of men of color. Especially when it's a white woman. Surely we can find a way to let all women have agency and break the mould whilst also addressing the inherent racism and toxic type casting running rampant in the media we consume.

In a radio interview Manny revealed that producers and show-runners were trying to get him to play Rio as constantly “angry and surly,” how he instead electing to play Rio like the “guys he knew back in the hood” who were “charming, and funny, not always just mean.”

At first I assumed the way Rio talks in the show is character choice. The thing is having watched a lot of Manny Montana interviews, thats just the way Manny talks. Sure irl he is a lot peppier and expressive but the vernacular is the same.
There are a couple of pictures up on instagram where at first glance I was confused about whether he was in character or not, they way he was dressed was so similar to Rio. I came to the conclusion that’s just the way Manny dresses. (Its actually easy to tell the difference; Manny is very smiley, also he doesn’t have giant bird tattooed on his neck)

In the same radio interview (although in a different context) Manny states that everyone in the writers room is white. In fact it would be appear that everyone from the show runner to producers are also white (I tried to google them but there isn’t that much info out there on some of them, so please correct me if I am wrong)

So what does this mean for the character?

I couldn’t help but wonder how the character description for Rio was written. What was specified about him? When they sent out the casting call were they looking for a white actor?

Manny clearly brings a level of authenticity to the character.
But is the character who is he because of Manny or was Manny cast because of who the character is?

What does it mean when a bunch of white writers create a character of color? Does Manny playing this character with integrity valid him?

I wonder how the costume department would dress him if a white actor had been hired? Would there be a difference?

Recently whilst driving on the highway with my mother we passed a truck from Lithuanian full of cars. My mom remarked the cars were probably all stolen.
I laughed and chastised her and she just chuckled saying its true Lithuanians steal the most cars. If you google Lithuania and cars you gets pages of results of Lithuanians abroad stealing cars.

I know she was just joking around, poking fun at her people and wouldn’t say it in front of others but I couldn’t help think about how annoyed I would be if some one else who wasn’t Lithuanian had said this, even if there was some truth to it.

The answer to all these questions is more diversity, both in front and behind the camera.

No one would have to play a stereotype if we had equal representation.
But how do we deal with the current characters and situations we have?

I have to admit I was filled with doubt when writing this. As I was almost done I started over thinking if it was my place to talk about these things and if I wasn’t exaggerating all of this.

But then season 3 of Good Girls dropped on Netflix and I gave it a real good thorough, legal, rewatch. And in struck me how, season three is bad, but also how the characters of color are handed shitty story lines even more this season. Ruby now works at a nail salon, her husband works as a security guard at a strip club, mean while Annie is in therapy and Beth is scheming away. I wish I could reach out to the creators of this show and make them realise it was worth watching because of the tension between Beth and Rio. Ya’ll are self sabotaging like crazy. I could write you an entire character study on Beth and why she sucks and why she is ruining the show.

But I will settle for angrily fuming in my room about how Rio is the best character in the show and he deserves way better.

And whilst writing this, I came across a picture of Manny Montana wearing glasses so I am now going to throw my laptop out the window and scream.

Ps. This didn’t fit into the essay any where and maybe this is just me being nit-picky but as some one who grew up outside of Detroit let me tell you, ain’t no one running around with an open jacket and no scarf. Winter there is next level cold. I know these shows are typically filmed in Atlanta/LA but surely there was one midwesterner on set.
Although I will give them credit for putting them in heavy duty gloves instead of chic leather ones.

Also the show is unclear about where exactly in Detroit it is set but a piece of paper reveals Beth’s address to be in a town called Ashfield, Michigan. It doesn’t exist but the postcode listed is for a town called Rochester, Michigan, which is about 30 minute outside of Detroit. Although they later state they live in Wanye County and Rochester is in Oakland County.