Black women are rarely cast as romantic love interests. The best part of Warner Bros. Everything, Everything is the film’s effort to rectify that and normalize race and desire.
Content Warning: This article may contain spoilers.
This weekend, the Warner Bros. film, Everything, Everything premiered for audiences across the country. Based on the 2015 novel by Nicola Yoon, the film explores life through the eyes of Madelyn “Maddy” Whittier, an 18-year-old girl who lives with a disease that prevents her from leaving the house. She begins communicating with the new boy next door, Olly, and from there the relationship becomes romantic, as Maddy struggles with her desire for Olly and the confinements of her illness.
Everything, Everything isn’t a revolutionary story or one that hasn’t been told before – in fact, it’s just another retelling of the classic boy-meets-girl romantic structure we’ve been introduced to our whole lives. But the best part of this story is the normalization of race and desire, to an extent.
Amandla Stenberg plays Maddy, with her mother, Dr. Whittier, played by Anika Noni Rose. Even with the plot that is rather expected, the placing of Black actresses at its center is a fresh retelling and a rare example of Black women being the center of love and desire in romantic dramas.
Black and other women of color – especially dark-skinned WOC – are rarely in the role of women desired in romantic partnerships on screen. With television, The Mindy Project and The Flash are rare instances showing women of color (in The Mindy Project, we have an Indian Hindu woman as the titular character, while The Flash centers its lead romance on the hero, Barry Allen, and his childhood friend Iris West, played by Candice Patton) of WOC in lead roles and romances that move the show forward. Though, like these shows, some may be uncomfortable with the implications that these WOC leads are almost always romantically linked to white men.
Everything, Everything never explicitly talks about race or racially-specific things in the film. There could be a lot of speculation on this (as both the book and the film are geared towards a young adult audience), but the lack of discussion on race makes for Stenberg’s role as the lead an interesting and complex one to grasp.
The biggest concern I had with the movie was the lack of nuance it gave Dr. Whittier, especially after it is revealed that she lied to Maddy, who turns out to have never been sick. Dr. Whittier experienced grief and possibly a manifestation of mental illness, clinging to the idea that Maddy was sick after her husband and son were killed in an accident when Maddy was only a few months old. Dr. Whittier hyperfocused on the illness, clinging to the idea that Maddy had a rare disease that made it so she had to be confined to the house.
By the end of the film, the audience is torn. We understand Maddy’s rage and sadness at missing out on so much life experiences because of her mother’s lies, but we also feel the sense of loss, helplessness and unresolved grief within Dr. Whittier that made her do what she did. In the film’s focus on the romance between Maddy and Olly, it undervalued the weight of the impact of Maddy and Dr. Whittier’s relationship.
Overall, I did enjoy the movie – Stenberg and her relationships with everyone in her life were entertaining and comforting to watch. I enjoyed her as the lead and found the conclusion comforting and agency shown refreshing, especially as media tends to shy away from showing complicated or less-than-perfect relationships between mothers and daughters. The ending seemed fitting somehow.
Everything, Everything was a welcomed addition to the young adult romance film tradition.