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Succession's relationship with hip-hop is a microcosm of the show’s relationship with race

  • From Kendall Roy's hip-hop fandom to composer Nicholas Britell’s hip-hop-infused classical score, "Succession’s relationship with hip-hop—which is always conducted at an ironic arm’s length, even when the music takes center stage—increasingly strikes me as a sort of microcosm for the show’s relationship with race," says Jack Hamilton. "The show’s showcasing of a definitively Black, working-class musical form against a backdrop of white wealth is certainly a winking commentary on its characters’ privileged obtuseness (particularly Kendall’s), but it also resounds as an inadvertent metonym for the rather stunted position of Black characters within the world of the show itself. It’s a joke, but one whose implications can feel a bit queasy the more you think about them." Hamilton adds: "Succession is not a very diverse show, a condition that’s arguably baked into its subject matter. The elite corridors of American corporate power that Succession depicts have been overwhelmingly Caucasian for as long as they’ve existed. Succession is also, unequivocally, a show about awful people. With the exception of Greg, who’s too far into comic relief to serve as a meaningful pivot of audience identification, every main character in the show is despicable. The degrees of despicableness may differ, but this often corresponds more to sheer opportunity than anyone’s moral compass. The conceit of Succession thus allows the show to relegate nonwhite characters, Black characters in particular, to sideline roles, while also ensuring that these characters will not be treated particularly well. A recent example is high-powered attorney Lisa Arthur (Sanaa Lathan in an underwritten role), whom Kendall snatches out from under his siblings’ noses and then abruptly jettisons, confident that he knows what’s best for his legal strategy. (Indications thus far: He does not.) It’s a flagrantly disrespectful move, one that’s hard to imagine him duplicating with one of the older, whiter lawyers his father prefers. This isn’t to suggest that Succession is a racist show, merely that its whiteness lets it avoid confronting the subject of race with any real complexity, which is of course one of the many perks that whiteness has historically conferred on actual white people. It’s notable, though, that a show with such a relatively slight interest in actual Black people would feature hip-hop music so prominently, and often memorably."


    • Succession gets "toxic whiteness" so right: "Succession has almost no Black characters," says Kali Holloway. "In fact, there are almost no people of color at all in the rarefied world occupied by the Roys, a media dynasty of ruthless billionaires whose sole interest is accruing more power and money, and whose shamelessness is often pridefully sported. 'We don’t get embarrassed,' Shiv, sister of Kendall and the lone woman competitor among the four Roy siblings to father Logan’s throne, says in a recent episode. Whiteness is as much a part of the Roy brand as their family’s obscene wealth; it’s all wrapped up with and inextricable from the reactionary rightwing politics of their ATN News network. The few Black folks who move through the Roys’ orbit are always at the family’s service, and if they are in public-facing roles, it is because their Blackness is yet another thing the Roys can exploit."
    • Succession should move on from "cruel" humiliation of Kendall Roy: "Succession is the sort of show that can really warp your brain," says Lacy Baugher Milas. "A darkly comedic drama about terrible rich people living largely consequence-free lives and being awful to one another for sport, it often leaves viewers struggling to know who—if anyone—we are meant to be rooting for. It’s no wonder we’re all rabidly shipping the only two people on the canvas who seem to genuinely like each other; our moral compasses are thoroughly broken. And, generally, that’s okay. Part of the fun of this show, after all, is allowing ourselves to vicariously enjoy these characters and their terrible behavior for who and what they are. But, apparently—and I’m as surprised as anyone about this—even Succession has a bottom, a place where it feels as though it’s taking things too far, and that uncomfortable low point is Season 3’s treatment of Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong). At this point, the show’s seemingly single-minded determination to not just deconstruct Kendall’s character, but thoroughly break it, isn’t fun or funny anymore—it’s cruel and uncomfortable to watch. And it’s a cruelty that seemingly serves no real end either, other than to reinforce for what feels like the dozenth time that Kendall is a mess who hates himself as much as he longs for his father’s approval."
    • There is unbearable sadness in Tom Wambsgans: "It’s hard not to focus on Kendall in 'Too Much Birthday,' what with the VIP tree house and the crucifix he almost hangs from and the frantic search for presents from his kids," says Kathryn VanArendonk. "But there’s something striking and unsettling about Tom here, and as much as Succession continues to be the best imaginable version of a story spinning its wheels, Tom is the signal I keep looking at to suggest that things might change. All season, while the siblings squabble and tug at the lines of power, Tom has sunk into a depression, contemplating the likelihood that he’s going to jail. At various moments, it has seemed like there might be a hidden undercurrent. Maybe he’s wearing a wire? Maybe he’s going to betray the family to get out of jail time and just hasn’t done it yet? Or maybe he has a conscience, and even though imprisonment clearly terrifies him, there’s some part of Tom that actually wants to be punished?"
    • Matthew Macfadyen and Nicholas Braun discuss Tom's big freak-out
    • How many attempts did it take to pull off the desk-flipping scene?
    • Sarah Snook says after filming Shiv's wild dance scene she was told: "You've just become a GIF"
    • Director Lorene Scafaria on filming Succession's descent into Kendall's birthday hell

    TOPICS: Succession, Jeremy Strong, Lorene Scafaria, Matthew Macfadyen, Nicholas Braun, Sarah Snook, Hip-Hop