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Showtime's Ziwe is "trapped in an interminable dance with whiteness, its muse"

  • "In a skit called 'Karens,' from the first episode, Ziwe ensnares a focus group of white women in a number of racial faux pas," says Doreen St. Félix. "But because the participants are aware of their own shortcomings, the joke cannot land. The segment also feels dated, strangled by the unimaginative neologism of the fraught summer that preceded it. We know what Ziwe wants to dismantle. But what does this self-described 'agent of chaos' want to create? In interviews, Ziwe, a maven of self-promotion, claims that she sees her form of caustic satire as the conduit to a confrontational education. And yet Ziwe the show is pessimistic about the American belief in the power of anti-racist enlightenment. It’s possible that Ziwe has a gloriously retributive bent, that it is satire that does not serve a higher purpose, that it simply delights in letting the jab sit and sting. The point is to watch people squirm, not to hear them speak. Although the six episodes cover different topics—immigration, beauty standards, wealth inequality—Ziwe returns repeatedly to the hypocrisies of liberal saints and stooges. In one segment, Ziwe visits a plastic-surgery office, and gets an affable white surgeon to suggest that her nose could be more refined. She gets Andrew Yang to embarrass himself more than he already has. She makes Gloria Steinem listen to her recite the lyrics to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s 'W.A.P.' It’s like a kink. I found myself most interested in Ziwe when the host was in the presence of other Black women—in other words, when the Ziwe persona was put to the test. In a recurring segment called 'Behind the Writers Studio,' Ziwe baits her own writers, deriding them for their participation in the sketches that she herself commissioned. In the finale, she brings out Michelle Davis, who has written, and performed in, a faux-mercial in which Harriet Tubman hawks sports bras. Ziwe tells Davis, 'I think the lesson here is that you can be Black and anti-Black.' This is the show’s tricky apotheosis. Davis turns the tables on the host, insisting that she isn’t anti-Black, and launches into a rendition of the Black national anthem, 'Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.' Ziwe, one-upped at the game of one-upping, can do nothing but giggle and sing along."

    TOPICS: Ziwe, Showtime, Ziwe Fumudoh