BBC’s Everything I Know About Love may hone in on friendship, but tonight’s episode also demonstrates just how tiring it can be to have a friend that needs educating about racism and society, writes Stylist’s Morgan Cormack.
Warning: this article contains spoilers for BBC’s Everything I Know About Love.
If, like us, you’ve already blitzed your way through Dolly Alderton’s new series, Everything I Know About Love, you’ll be filled to the brim with a whole host of thoughts. You’ll be reflecting on your own friendship breakdowns, reminiscing about how carefree that early 2010s era of fashion was and enthusiastically adding the entire Rizzle Kicks back catalogue to your Spotify.
The series focuses on Maggie (Emma Appleton) and Birdy’s (Bel Powley) childhood friendship that devolves after the introduction of Birdy’s stable – and terribly boring – boyfriend, Nathan. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the series is about Birdy and Maggie exclusively, but the two longtime besties move in with their university friends Amara (Aliyah Odoffin) and Nell (Marli Siu).
For the first couple of episodes, Amara and Nell offer us smart quips and dialogue around dating, advice and all the other things witty girlfriends come out with. But after these first couple of episodes, we really start to see Amara coming into her own.
Her corporate job in property is obviously not her passion and this is something Maggie reminds her about. “I wish I could do what you’ve done,” Maggie sighs at her, while making a cup of tea. “Which is?” Amara asks.
“Give up my dreams and sell out for an Asos wardrobe,” Maggie replies. It’s a comment she hits Amara with while handing her a Marmite and lettuce sandwich to take in for lunch. Judging from Amara’s sigh and quick passing over of the comment, it’s something she’s used to.
We follow Maggie’s whirlwind journey from struggling blog writer to working on a hit reality TV show. She’s a “posh” English literature grad who knows that 2012 is her time to shine, and as she says: “Amara, we are in a boom of mediocre girls making a name for themselves by being moderately funny on the internet – I can’t waste a minute, this is my time.”
But even so, her recognition of this fact doesn’t make her any less confusing and – this may be an unpopular opinion – annoying as a character. As well as battling with her own selfishness in regards to Birdy’s relationship, she is also painfully oblivious to Amara’s own life problems. For example, Amara opens up to Maggie about the fetishisation and racism she’s experiencing on the new dating app they both downloaded.
“Oh my god, that’s rank,” Maggie says. She looks visibly horrified when Amara tells her of the messages she gets, ranging from men telling her that they’ve “always wanted to be with a Black girl” to stating how proud they are of how many Black girls they’ve been with.
Amara goes on to talk about how “mental” she feels receiving all these messages, how disgusted she is at being belittled to being a man’s “dirty fetish”. Maggie (again) looks horrified and you wait for her to offer a word of condolence, a hug or some advice. Instead, she turns the situation around to herself: “Do you think anyone will have a fetish for lanky white girls who talk too much and stop giving blowjobs after a month?”
She adds: “I hate that men think it’s OK to speak to you like that – you must’ve just got a bad batch.” Honestly, you want to wince at how painfully unaware Maggie is of Amara’s life. Amara wants to say more and looks visibly uncomfortable but the conversation moves swiftly on, as is the way with Maggie.
Amara’s professional life is also something that Maggie just can’t quite grasp. Amara’s ambitions of being a contemporary dancer were quickly burst when an influential dancer told her she wasn’t the “right fit” for their company. We come to learn about this not through Amara’s conversations with Maggie, but instead with a fellow Black female dancer that she watches perform in a London show. She attends her dance class and the teacher is shocked to learn that Amara – who is a complete natural – is not with a dance company. “I got kind of tired of it all, I guess,” Amara tells her.
She reveals that directors would assume she was a street dancer, and in one major audition, the woman constantly told her to “tuck my bum in”. It’s the first time we hear Amara talk so candidly about the discrimination she faced in the dance industry, which ultimately led her to pursue a different career path instead. But afterwards, she feels reinvigorated to start attending auditions again.
She goes to one audition during office hours, telling work she has a doctor’s appointment. It goes well, and in episode five, Maggie can’t wait to express her excitement: “I knew you’d end up quitting your job and going back to dancing. I mean, property? As if you could end up selling houses.”
But Amara’s not quitting her job because she still has rent to pay, something Maggie just doesn’t understand. “Yeah, you can still do that without being in a job you hate,” Maggie beams.
“You just don’t understand,” Amara sighs. “Yeah I do; look at me,” Maggie says.
“Yes, look at you Maggie. You’ve managed to land your dream job so you think that everybody else can too, and if they don’t, then they’re selling out. Or they don’t want it enough. I was told explicitly by someone high up in the industry that I would never make it as a contemporary dancer.”
Maggie apologises and states that she didn’t realise, but Amara continues: “Yeah, and you didn’t realise that I was the only girl who looked like me on my degree course. Or that when men chat shit to me on dating apps, it’s not just a bad batch. I love you babe, you are my ride or die, but we are not the same. And you don’t fucking get it sometimes.”
“I’m so sorry,” Maggie says. To which Amara aptly responds: “I don’t need you to be sorry; I just need you to see.”
Many women of colour can attest to a similar kind of scene playing out with friends. No matter how well-meaning they can be, there can often be a need to educate or play down experiences because some friends can’t quite grasp that this is the way the world is.
Fetishisation, discrimination and misogynoir simply aren’t terms or experiences that are on the radar for many people. But it’s being friends with people like this that can oftentimes prove exhausting for the Black women and women of colour who are involved.
While Everything I Know About Love is very much not the kind of television show I was expecting to dissect for its social and racial issues, it does underline a common experience through Amara. Dealing with friends that simply “don’t see colour” or are tone-deaf is more commonplace than many people realise. But, as is the tidal wave of friendship that Amara highlights in the series, it doesn’t always signal the definitive end to a friendship – rather just an uncomfortable recognition that our realities are not the same.
Episode five of Everything I Know About Love airs tonight on BBC One at 10.40pm and is available to stream as a boxset on BBC iPlayer.