The White Lotus creator Mike White explains why those characters just disappeared

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Spoilers for The White Lotus below
The White Lotus’s creator, director and its only writer, Mike White, did an extensive, fascinating interview with New York Magazine’s Vulture. It was deep, introspective, wide-ranging and thought-provoking. There’s no way I can do it justice in an excerpt or description, so read it at the source for more. He talked about being a white man writing about colonialism, privilege and economic disparity, and about recognizing that and still creating art. I shouldn’t be surprised by how self aware he is given how incredible this show was. I wanted to focus on the criticism of this show and some of the issues I had with it – that the music was overly loud, swelling and used too frequently to set a mood, and that certain characters just disappeared, namely Kai and Lani, the new staffer who had a baby on her first day. Here are those sections of that jaw-dropping interview. I finally subscribed to NY Magazine after reading this.

On how Kai and Lani just disappeared
There’s a practical aspect to that, which is that we were forced to shoot in the bubble, so other than when we were out on the boats, we couldn’t shoot anything else. That was the mandate.

But I thought it would be interesting to do that. At the very beginning, [Armond says], “We’re interchangeable helpers.” It’s like they don’t exist, this idea that once they exit the hotel, they’re pulverized, they vanish. I thought that would be maybe controversial, but it’s like a steamrolling. The people waving in the beginning, by the end they’ve been replaced, and it’s like the experience of these hotel guests — oh, she had a baby, he’s in jail, whatever. My hope is that the critique of that is built into the DNA of it.

On the name The White Lotus
Yeah, it’s both my name and the racial oppressor and all of that! I have been Shane. I have been Shane recently, where they wouldn’t let me into my room at two, they said, “Your room won’t be ready for two hours,” that kind of thing.

On whether vacation can be a fantasy where you leave the world behind
The world is too much with us, whether it’s the climate or our phones. That idea of being transported away really was the inspiration for the show as much as anything and [it’s] why the music is the way it is. You go to these places, [on] this hunt for escapism, but there’s this feeling of existential dread that permeates the experience. The waters are rising here, too. There’s no getting away from it all. There’s no mystery anymore.

It’d be nice to be completely obtuse about all these things. This is something I wanted to explore with the show, how everyone’s on the defensive right now. Everyone feels on their heels a little bit. The funny, interesting, complicated ways we try to justify how we vacation, how we spend our money. I’m doing it right now defending why I wrote this! Where do I get off writing a show that takes place in Hawaii? I feel it as a creator, too. Should I just gracefully step off the stage and hide in a hole? You do feel like you’re in an Ouroboros eating your own tail.

On criticism that he’s pandering
I do think about this, and I definitely thought about it in relation to this show, which is — you know, I’m not an idiot. If I wanted to create a virtuous show, I could do it. I feel like I could create characters that fit some people’s political and cultural agenda and probably my own! That would be pandering. The point of art is to reflect something that feels true and conflicted!

There was a guy who did a piece on Jennifer [Coolidge] for Vulture, and he tweeted like, “White people are liking White Lotus because they can stay centered in the narrative,” and I could kind of tell he had — I had the knee-jerk reaction [to someone] criticizing the show. But the show demands that! [But also] if I took that assumption to its fullest, it would make it so that I shouldn’t even be creating anything anymore. It’s a deep criticism of who’s getting what stories made, which is a completely valid conversation. But obviously, it would threaten me in some way! Because this is all I can do! I don’t know how to be a general manager of a hotel!

I don’t need anyone to feel sorry for me; I don’t feel sorry for myself. But I still want to think about things, and I still want to create stuff. And my hope is that it’s useful for somebody besides myself.

[From Vulture]

I did want to see Lani again and thought she could have brought her baby to the resort. It made sense for her character to disappear because she only worked there a day. Kai created a hole when he left though, as if he was collateral damage. I wanted to see him turn out OK. If it was a pandemic decision for him to leave (I’ve read that it was not filmed in order), it makes sense. A lot of shows had to make hard creative decisions to be able to film last year. As I’ve heard from some of you too, I truly disliked the music. Given how entertaining this show was, that’s a minor complaint. Shows don’t have to be perfect for me to enjoy them and I appreciated this on so many other levels.

When Oya covered this show earlier in the week, she wrote that she hoped they could bring in other writers and directors for the second season, which will have a new cast on a new resort. White was the only person creating this show, which is phenomenal and a testament to how his mind works. I understand what he’s saying about writing what you know and trying to be open and question your own perspective while being unable to escape it. At the same time, writer’s rooms benefit from people with more experiences and backgrounds. (I just heard P-Valley creator Katori Hall talk about the practicalities of this.) So maybe season two will have input from more people with a different take. We’ll have to see how it turns out. I’ve already read some concern that it will go the way of True Detective, but I doubt that will happen as long as White is in charge.

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19 Responses to “The White Lotus creator Mike White explains why those characters just disappeared”

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  1. Bettyrose says:

    Leaving Kai’s gate forever in limbo is the most heartbreaking part of the show.

  2. Elaine Stritch says:

    I think Kai disappearing works really well, actually. It’s devastating. He is, as a person indigenous to the land, collateral damage in the wake of colonization and at the expense of white people “being ok” and leaving feeling good. He is no longer given identity, voice and there’s certainly no happy ending. I am looking forward to watching this again and seeing things I probably missed. There’s so much.

  3. Anna says:

    Very hard to watch this. Jennifer Coolidge is great as are a couple of the other characters, and I kept watching because I was hoping to see where those couple characters were developed and I recognize the overall concept. I agree that the writing is well-done. But yeah, this is for white folks by white folks. Watching shows like this as a BIPOC, speaking for myself, its maddening, and I don’t have the time or the energy anymore to waste a minute on white people dealing with their racism and colonialism. It’s good that they do on those occasions that they do (should be all the time but hey we know that power doesn’t concede itself without a fight so how much can a tv show do, really…). It’s just hard to watch BIPOC people be harmed whether overtly or covertly, like with Belinda’s character. You know what’s going to happen because as a Black woman, you live that scenario a million times a day. What else does that character have? Nothing but her relationship to problematic whiteness. The other characters have more than that but the white male writer writes the Black woman in a completely predictable manner, tired and browbeaten but ever ready to offer solace and consolation and labor until the wee hours, so eager with the proposal that we knew was never going to be honored. Sorry but I don’t see anything progressive about that character development, even as satire or some investigation of white colonialism. Same with Ann Boleyn. I just couldn’t watch a Black woman in that role slowly losing everything and then being murdered. I just couldn’t do it no matter how beautiful Jodie Turner Smith is. I’m trying to survive this pandemic and keep moving forward. Even writing about this is taking valuable time but hey, I enjoy this site so it is what it is.

    • Lala11_7 says:

      Ditto.

    • iconoclast59 says:

      @Anna, Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and perspective. I appreciated reading them. Wishing you peace and power.

    • DeeFly says:

      I agree. I am also tired of BIPOC being written as characters who immediately turn to crime – often convinced by someone else – even though they have no criminal background. Kai immediately decides to steal with no hesitancy? Enough with this trope.

  4. sunny says:

    I really loved this show but i do think it had some flaws. Mike White is a creator I greatly enjoy. I thought it was realistic that the people of colour disappeared in the context of the show because I think White was making a criticism about how wealthy white people use people of colour as props or that people of colour are only seen as a means to serve the white characters. In that way, it was painful and realistic. One of the few characters of colour who remains, Paula aligns herself with the terrible white family and I thought White was smartly making a comment on the sacrifices that often need to occur for people of colour to aligns themselves with capitalist wealth. I mean, Paula hates these people but not enough to align herself with Kai over them in a way that risks herself. Sure it was frustrating to watch as a black viewer but I thought it made compete sense within the context of world Mike White built.

    • Apple Cart says:

      That’s very true years ago I read that POC are used as props in shows . Llike in 24, the President was made black intentionally. As he would have a small role but was in a leadership position. So Keifer’s white character could have the largest role on the show. It’s all about apperances.

  5. Laura says:

    “As I’ve heard from some of you too, I truly disliked the music.”

    Lol the music was the best part of this ultimately pretty shallow show.

  6. Ellie says:

    I’m glad someone else agrees! I loved the music, enough to look to look up the composer and listen to it on Spotify.

  7. Case says:

    I ultimately kinda felt like this show thought it was smarter than it actually was. Idk.

  8. Kfg says:

    I like the show because it’s absolutely accurate. It is the epitome of how colonizers behave. The teen daughter is the wannabe woke but actually is a jealous bitch who feels her ytness makes her entitled to controlling her friend and trying to take away any guy interested. The mom is the typical gen x mom with no real self-awareness who again uses her ytness as a tool for control. All of the characters are who BIPOC have to deal with on a daily basis.

    • Lemon says:

      I thought the teen daughters actresses were great.

      Paula told Olivia, that’s your “tribe”. And in the end the break in with Kai prompted the family to become cohesive their ostentatious vacation didn’t. For all of her vocal fry, Olivia was just a girl who wanted her Mom’s attention.

      Paula had told Kai all of that when they met, that Olivia was just a product of her family, her race, etc. as hard as she tried not to be.

  9. sassafras says:

    I think the word ouroburos is exactly right for this show. Just look at the comments – we go around and around – the white people are terrible, the cycle continues. I think the genius in the show was those little parts where you could glimpse a rational, empathetic, logical person through the veil. You felt that each character had a moment – where the paths diverged. They could go towards development or they could go on their merry way. And so the audience was tricked and turned and the plot twists weren’t twists at all, but characters staying true to themselves when we thought they were going to overcome or learn or grow. The writing was good but the actors made that writing glow and hum.

    • sunny says:

      This is a fantastic point. Many characters had glimpses of self-awareness that rolled right along into their typical bs. :)

  10. psl says:

    This is the guy from the movie “Chuck and Buck”!

  11. J ferber says:

    I liked this show. For me, the greatest episode was the fourth. I was disappointed in the fifth and sixth. I still feel Enlightened was the better show and HBO brought back both seasons.

  12. Bookie says:

    I feel like I’m the only person who was “meh” about White Lotus.