If HBO’s “Girls” characterized a certain type of young, disaffected millennial, fumbling cluelessly around a gentrifying Brooklyn, and if “Sex and the City” used Manhattan as a tantalizing playground for a class of well-connected, glamorous and decidedly 90s-bound women, both shows had one thing in common: they were painfully, inevitably white.
“We’re gonna fix that!,” Da’Vine Joy Randolph, co-star of Zoë Kravitz’s Hulu makeover of “High Fidelity” (and breakout star of Netflix’s “Dolemite Is My Name”), told Variety at the show’s New York premiere at the Metrograph on Thursday night. “The story of love you’re seeing — relationships and breakups in New York — guess what, it just as much applies to women of color.”
The “High Fidelity” reimagining offered by Hulu, starring executive producer Kravitz and premiering on Valentines Day, transposes Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel and the 2000 John Cusack movie, about a loveless record store owner, who revisits his “desert island top five most memorable heartbreaks,” to Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The series’ protagonist Rob (Kravitz) is no longer an emotionally fraught white man, but a miraculously complicated, bisexual woman of color. And, despite any concerns that the show would embody the same lazy trend of gender or race swapping for the sake of doing so, the adaptation works wonderfully.
“Seeing a female lead in this role lets the woman be the bad guy in an approachable way, because people are familiar with this material,” executive producer Veronica West explained. “They’re going to watch the show, and we sort of get a free pass to have a female hero do bad things, be narcissistic and self-involved. We don’t normally get to see flawed heroines like that.”
One could make the argument that “Sex and the City” — which both Kravitz and West credit as a great influence on the show, sharing a kind of casual, upbeat and sarcastic bent on dating in New York — championed the flawed heroine in a modern city. And yet, “High Fidelity,” in a way so few shows do, sees the trappings of that genre as an opportunity to update (if only casually) the variables that might affect being young and lovestruck in New York, like race and gentrification.
“‘Sex and the City’, as cool as it was, every viewer said, ‘How unrealistic. There is no way that Carrie lives in a three-story apartment while freelancing for a newspaper!’ We gotta do that right,” Randolph explained. “My character was born and raised in Crown Heights. She’s out there collecting records, doing what she’s always been doing, but what people think is cool now. The difference is that those who’ve moved in want to make a profit off of it. Gentrification is a character in and of itself in this show.”
“I want television and film to reflect what the world is,” she continued. “I feel like if an alien dropped down and said ‘Give me a slice of America,’ we would not give them a proper slice. We would not give them proper representation. It’s like we’re stuck in the 80s.”
In fact, no one at the premiere was more elated that the adaptation had actually happened or surprised that it worked and ready to adopt the same badass, nonchalant stature of remaking comedies previously starring white men with black women than Hornby himself.
“I never used to feel comfortable when people would say ‘High Fidelity’ was all about guys,” Hornby said. “I wanted it to be about relationships. Obviously it’s written from a guy’s point of view, but really in the process of publishing the book, I discovered that lots of ‘Robs’ were women.”
“One of the things that bugs me the most is when people say it’s a woke version of my book. It’s like, it’s only woke for you,” he continued. “It’s not woke for these people. This is who they are. It’s not a contrivance. The people in this show — whether it’s Zoë with music or Da’Vine’s character growing up in Crown Heights — they come from this. They come from there. You catch up with them.”