The Balanced Dualism of Portraying a Feminist Utopia: The Bold Type

Featured Image: The Bold Type, Freeform

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If you’ve scrolled through Netflix in search of a better alternative to Emily in Paris, chances are that your eye has caught Freeform’s critically acclaimed series The Bold Type. Premiered in 2017, the show’s four seasons have finally landed on Netflix and Hulu and have been trending ever since. As a long-time admirer of the show, its increased popularity doesn’t come as a startling surprise to me. After all, vicariously living through the lives of three attractive millennial women working in a fashion magazine, set in the backdrop of, you guessed it — New York City, evokes nostalgic feelings for ardent fans of cult classics like Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada.

But The Bold Type is unlike any of its predecessors. It differentiates itself by transcending the stereotypes peddled by shows of similar nature with its thought-provoking depictions of pressing social and political issues. And does so while balancing the loved and unbelievable cliches of such genres (seriously, who can afford to take a taxi everywhere in New York or anywhere, on a writer’s salary?). Through discussions on a multitude of issues like fake abortion clinics, Islamophobia, travel ban, and transgender representations in sports — The Bold Type resembles the ultimate feminist utopia in recent pop-culture history. So it’s confusing as to why the penultimate season of the series feels like a ghost of itself — especially with the portrayal of its only leading bisexual, Black female character.

To the left - Oliver (Stephen Conrad Moore) talking to Jacqueline (Melora Hardin) at the right.
Oliver Grayson (Stephen Conrad Moore) and Jacqueline Carlyle (Melora Hardin) Freeform/Laurent Guerin

Loosely based on Cosmopolitan’s former Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles’ life (who also serves as an executive producer on the series), The Bold Type follows the lives of three best friends — Jane Sloan (Katie Stevens), Kat Edison (Aisha Dee), and Sutton Brady (Meghann Fahy) as they navigate their careers working for the glorious Scarlet magazine. Jacqueline Carlyle (Melora Hardin) as the Editor-in-Chief and Oliver Grayson (Stephen Conrad Moore) as the Head of the Fashion Department at Scarlet demolish the stereotypical self-entitled boss narratives to embody multi-dimensional mentors. Undoubtedly, the show’s strongest forte is its heartwarming portrayal of empowering friendships and interpersonal relationships.

Sutton, Kat and Jane holding hands.
Sutton, Kat, and Jane | Freeform

Writing a quintessential millennial dramedy that incorporates frank discussions of complex topics is of utmost importance for the time we are living in. The Bold Type doesn’t shy away from such intricate issues. From Jane discovering her being positive for BRCA mutation in season one, freezing her ovaries in season two, her subsequent decision to get a preventive double mastectomy, to Sutton’s miscarriage in the latest season, are rare aspects offered by a show of this nature. After all, you are supposed to be invincible and enjoy going through the motions of your twenties — at least that’s what Hollywood tells us. But the show’s honest rendition of Jane’s journey has resonated with its viewers and critics alike.

“Honestly, it is so important that The Bold Type covers Jane’s journey with BRCA testing. I’ve never seen it depicted in any other TV show or movie and it’s been a big part of my life.”
— Amanda (@aamanda_bee), July 27, 2018

Irrefutably, the X factor of the series is its most progressive character, Kat Edison. Director of social media and “the first Black female department head” at Scarlet, Kat is unlike most depictions of women of color in media. Where it’s expected for most women of color to separate their political voices for the sake of their profession and career advancements, Kat is seen thriving when her inclusive feminist views are amplified through her work. She’s not a Black millennial who’s struggling to make ends meet, rather her storyline majorly showcases the trials and tribulations of navigating her evolving sexuality. Her relationship with Adena El-Amin (Nikohl Boosheri), a Muslim lesbian photographer, though frustrating at times, explores the intricacy of intersecting and multi-faceted identities.

Kat (Aisha Dee) smiling to the left as Adena ( Nikohl Boosheri) to the right watched
Kat Edison (Aisha Dee) and Adena El-Amin (Nikohl Boosheri) | Freeform

While the show initially ignored her Black identity, later seasons showed an unapologetic, bold, and determined Kat embracing her ethnicity and sexuality. From heavy discussions about white privilege with Jane to running for City Council because of her frustrations with the enclosure of safe queer spaces – she is the literal embodiment of a purposeful role model. Until season 4, where her character takes a cataclysmic shift. After releasing RJ Safford’s (the owner of the publication) tax returns to prove his donation to a senator supporting conversion therapy, Kat gets fired. The icing on top of this disastrous sundae is when she sleeps with RJ’s Republican lawyer daughter — Eva Rhodes (Alex Paxton-Beesley).

Kat Edison and Eva Rhodes .
Kat Edison and Eva Rhodes, Freeform/Jonathan Wenk

In a single moment, the writers of the show regressed their most progressive character. For Kat — a Black, bisexual, and politically outspoken woman to be romantically involved, and often, proving her worth to Eva, seemed so distant from the Kat we’d grown to look up to. We are somehow supposed to be understanding of this predicament because of Eva’s lesbian identity, and the fact that she has sex with a Black woman must imply that she’s not racist. Making her the niche non-racist and queer conservative we must be accepting of. Choosing to highlight certain attributes of Eva’s identity while completely ignoring her privilege and contribution to systemic oppression, in an effort to package her as a “not all conservatives” trope was the last thing expected of a show like The Bold Type. Aisha Dee too, voiced concerns about her character’s story arc, citing issues with diverse representation behind the scenes.

“The decision to have Kat enter a relationship with a privileged conservative woman felt confusing and out of character. Despite my personal feelings about the choice, I tried my best to tell the story with honesty, even though the Kat I knew and love would never make these choices. It was heartbreaking to watch Kat’s story turn into a redemption story for someone else, someone who is complicit in the oppression of so many, Someone whose politics are actively harmful to her communities.”
— Aisha Dee, via Instagram

The Bold Type is definitely not perfect — most shows aren’t. However, while its other protagonist’s feminism remained expectedly surface-level, Kat’s character was a unicorn I hadn’t seen before. To take a character with such vibrant complexity that defied expectations and then in a bizarre turn — reduced to the polar opposite, both confused and aggravated me. Balancing the positives and negatives of a politically self-aware show such as The Bold Type is definitely an arduous challenge but as its earlier seasons proved — an attainable one. Though the series presents an incredibly utopian version of feminist media – which contributes to its escapist factor, it also, very sparingly, tries to include the grittiness of the actual world. If the Kat-Eva storyline was an attempt to increase its “realness”, then it was nothing but an awful choice. If it was another means to facilitate stories of privileged conservative women while neglecting the pain of marginalized communities, then it is concerning.

Nevertheless, as disappointing as season 4 was when it came to Kat’s storyline, there is still hope for the future. The final season premieres on May 26th, which means they get one last try to amend Kat’s character and deliver an ending worthy of its name.