Portia is just a young woman trying to figure out what she wants, and yet many fans of The White Lotus can’t get him to take a break.
Played by Haley Lu Richardson, Portia is among the new faces of HBO’s comedy-drama The White Lotus for its second season. This time around, the story takes place in a luxury all-inclusive resort on the picturesque coast of Sicily. Portia, who arrives at the complex fresh out of community college, finds her way to the upscale local because she’s the assistant to multi-millionaire Tanya McQuoid, played by a smoky-voiced and unpredictable Jennifer Coolidge. As a normal, non-wealthy person, Portia’s character stands in contrast to the lavish guests surrounding her, yet many fans online have criticized the character for her fashion tastes, personality, and even romantic decisions. It’s all part of a long and tired tradition of fans tearing female characters to shreds, especially when they haven’t got it all figured out. And it’s a symptom of fans’ tendency to assess whether a character is “good” or “boring” – rather than considering how they fit into the story.
The reviews started with Portia’s outfits. Fans were left speechless at her taste for fashion; her outfits ranged from tomboy looks that paired looser cargo pants with a bucket hat, to more classic Y2K fashion. One of the most referenced offenses was a zebra print bikini and rainbow knit bolero. Fans online wore exaggerated versions of her outfits, calling them “Portia-core”, and trolled her for her lack of taste. One comedy account even joked that costume designer, Alex Bovaird – a titular costume designer who has worked on award-winning films like Nope and Charlie’s world – should be downgraded for Portia’s outfits.
And the reviews didn’t stop at her fashion sense. A popular TikTok uses an audio clip that reads, “And now I want to sit back and relax and enjoy my evening, when all of a sudden I hear this restless, creaky voice.” As the voice says “agitated,” the music video focuses on Portia. Additionally, fans looked at Portia’s romantic choices, such as her decision to date a guy who has a neck tattoo, instead of choosing the standard nice guy who went to Stanford, Albie Di Grasso.
Fans ultimately criticize Portia’s lack of wealth and her ability to socialize with the elite class. Her outfits? Not luxurious enough. Her taste for men? Vulgar. His attitude ? Not cool and collected.
But that misses the point. Portia is a recent community college graduate who is immersed in a level of luxury that most normal people will never experience in their lives. It makes sense that she wouldn’t be as beautiful as the other characters – like a super-rich housewife or the wealthy, quick-witted lawyer played by Aubrey Plaza. In an interview with Variety, Bovaird said Portia’s costume was meant to convey a character who is still discovering herself and doesn’t have as much money as the other characters. “She’s young, she doesn’t really know who she is, and she tries different ideas. Sometimes she dresses more delicately, and sometimes she dresses like a boy,” Bovaird said.
But the online fan discussion doesn’t center on basic questions about her motivations as a character or how her character fits into the story. Instead, fans seem more interested in theorizing, dragging characters, or shipping Portia with Albie than engaging in story or character creation.
It confuses personal distaste for a character with the idea that their character is poorly written and focuses on issues such as Do I personally like Portia’s sense of style? and Would I personally be friends with Portia? instead of asking why Portia is the way she is and why her character might dress the way she does or act the way she does. Or how his general presence as the only non-wealthy person in this elite space could make this particular story intriguing.
Of course, maybe Portia just isn’t landing with younger viewers in a way that’s true to their experiences. Haley Lu Richardson imbues Portia with a kind of levity that lends an unsettled feeling to her scenes. This is especially true when she talks about what she wants out of a relationship while on a date with Albie. While holding a glass of pristine white wine, she says she wants to have fun. She continues, “I’m sick of fucking TikTok and – and Bumble, and just … screens and apps and sitting there binge Netflix. And I… I just want to love, to live.
In scenes like this, she comes across as confused and uneasy. Portia, like the rest of the guests at the White Lotus resort, feels a bit left out and, to be honest, extremely grumpy. The conversations shared between the guests act as social satire, presenting their own form of horror apart from a death occurring at the hotel. And Portia is no exception to this. She’s a bitch like all the other hotel guests. When explaining to Tanya why she likes Albie, she says, “He’s kind and smart. He went to Stanford and he’s not non-binary. What is unique to her is the bar people hold her character at.
The White Lotus is a show about horrible, awful people. Everyone “wiggles” and “squeaks” in their own way. Are we really going to ignore the two giga-chads who act like on-screen frat boys, the perverted grandpa or God forbid, the cheating dad trying to win his wife back? Season 2 gives us a veritable assortment of awful men, and yet TikTok seems to dwell on Portia’s fashion sense and taste in men during her adventure in Italy.
For those fixated on Portia’s flaws, I’m afraid this show is less a way to gawk at the absolute self-centered nature of the super-rich, and more like something aspirational. Despite how effectively the show satirizes the ultra-elite, many of us enjoy living lavishly and going to Sicily. It’s a mystery with possible accidental death or murder where we can ogle the good life of rich people, and Portia interrupts.
#internet #stop #hating #women #facing #issues