UPDATE 3/22/16: This post is from August 2015, before the show came out, and reflects the information available at that time. As it turns out, the show is actually about six millennials, one of whom is Asian and one of whom is supposed to be vaguely Cuban. That said, most of the criticisms and problems outlined in this post are still valid. The author attended the premier a few weeks ago and wrote a more current review.
Look out Popville—it sounds like we have a new contender for one of the top spots on Washington’s 100 Whitest. Introducing Districtland, a forthcoming show billing itself as a portrayal of the “real DC.” The punchline: it’s about five upwardly mobile white millennials who live in Northwest.
Here’s how producer Russell Max Simon summarizes the project on its Indiegogo fundraising page:
Shows about DC are having a moment – but do any of them show the real DC? The Millennials who come from all over the country brimming with ambition, confidence, and idealism. The locals who only see their city stylized or whitewashed.
DC may be the center of politics in America, but there is a different story waiting to be told: about this town’s young people trying to make a difference – and what happens once they run up against the familiar, messy problems of adulthood.
Based on the hit Capital Fringe play by Cristina Bejan, Districtland will tell the story of five DC housemates grappling with love, careers, and life while struggling to rise above the city’s transactional foundations.
After write ups in DCist and the Post, the conceit was quickly met with a lot of digital eye rolling and apt criticisms of its racial dynamics. And rightfully so. Staking a claim to the “real DC” with a show about white newcomers is plainly tactless. I haven’t seen it, but based on the interviews with its producer, it sounds like Districtland is by and for young white people, addressing Washington’s complex racial politics only in so far as they affect the experiences of the [painfully cliché] white characters.
The five main characters of Districtland are in their 20s. They include a Rhodes Scholar, a Georgetown lawyer, a consultant and a congressional staffer.
Not helping! When your premise is conveyed exclusively through the narrow lens of affluent whiteness, asserting Washington authenticity is downright insulting, as most seem to agree. That said, I won’t fault anyone for making art about their own experiences. Unlike a lot of local baby boomers, I don’t think there’s anything inherently invalid about creating a show (or play or book or website) about Washington’s white millennials. They are an impactful phenomenon, and their influx is inarguably one of the most salient features of contemporary DC. So make a show about it. Just don’t bill it as the “real” Washington and ham fist the race issue.
A specious claim of “realness” isn’t even my biggest complaint about Districtland though. I agree that there’s a story waiting to be told about this town’s young people, but it sounds to me like Districtland will get that story wrong. Like the show’s characters, I’m a white person who moved here for work; I don’t have any idea what the “real DC” is. But I sure as hell know what this town’s young people are like, and far from portraying the “real DC,” it sounds like the show won’t even portray the real character of white millennial DC.
What I balk at is the generalization that most of the white millennials who move to Washington are “brimming with ambition, confidence, and idealism” and “trying to make a difference.”
That’s far too rosy and sympathetic. Ambition absolutely, but idealism? That’s certainly true for some, but the biggest difference most of Washington’s white millennials are trying to make is in their bank account. If we’re trying to be “real” then let’s not kid ourselves: twentysomethings mostly come to DC to make money and advance their careers; changing the world is just fodder for cover letters. Most are happy to go with the lucrative flow of the status quo. Instead of trying to fix how fucked up everything is, too many are all too eager to do the bidding of the corrupt elites who run this town in hopes of someday becoming them. If we’re generalizing about Washington’s white millennials—about the lawyers and consultants and politicos the show highlights—I would argue that they should be characterized more for their unabashed avarice and enthusiasm for conspicuous consumption than for their alleged idealism. But it doesn’t sound like Districtland will tell that very real part of the story.
The show debuts in March, at the D.C. Independent Film Festival. I plan to be there, and can only imagine how white that crowd will be. I just hope things don’t get too “real” for us.