White Lotus fans keep making fun of Portia, but they’re missing the point

White Lotus fans keep making fun of Portia, but they’re missing the point

Portia is just a young woman trying to figure out what she wants, and yet many fans of The White Lotus can’t seem to cut her a break.

Played by Haley Lu Richardson, Portia is one of the new faces gracing HBO’s comedy-drama The White Lotus for its second season. This time the story takes place in a luxury all-inclusive resort on the picturesque coast of Sicily. Portia, who comes to the resort fresh out of community college, finds her way to the luxurious place as an assistant to multimillionaire Tanya McQuoid, played by a smoky-voiced and unpredictable Jennifer Coolidge. As a normal, non-wealthy person, Portia’s character contrasts with the lavish guests around her, yet many fans online criticized the character for her fashion taste, personality and even romantic decisions. It’s all part of a long and tired tradition of fans ripping female characters to shreds, especially when they don’t have it all figured out. And it’s a symptom of the fans’ tendency to evaluate whether a character is “good” or “annoying” — rather than considering how she fits into the story.

The criticism started with Portia’s outfits. Fans peered at her fashion taste; her outfits ranged from tomboyish looks pairing looser-fitting cargo pants with a bucket hat to more classic Y2K fashion. One of the most referenced transgressions was a zebra print bikini and rainbow knit bolero top. Fans online wore exaggerated versions of her outfits, calling them “Portia core” and lambasting her for her lack of taste. One comedy report even joked that the costume designer, Alex Bovaird – a tenured costume designer who has worked on award-winning films such as Nope and The benefits of being a wallflower — should be relegated to Portia’s outfits.

Haley Lu Richardson as Portia in White Lotus.  She is talking to a young man outside on a patio bar overlooking the sea.  She is wearing a rainbow knit bolero top with a zebra print bikini top.

Photo: HBO

And the criticism didn’t stop at her fashion sense. One popular TikTok uses an audio clip that says: “And now I want to sit back and relax and enjoy my evening, when all of a sudden I hear this rousing, rasping voice.” As the voice says “agitating”, the video clip focuses on Portia. In addition, fans have scrutinized Portia’s romantic choices, such as her decision to break up with a guy who has a neck tattoo instead of choosing the standard cute guy who went to Stanford, Albie Di Grasso.

Fans eventually criticize Portia’s lack of wealth and ability to socialize with the elite class. Her outfits? Not luxurious enough. Her taste in men? Trash can. Her attitude? Not cool and collected.

But that misses the point. Portia is a community college grad who is young and thrown into a level of luxury that most normal people will never experience in their lifetime. It makes sense that she doesn’t look as good as the other characters – like a super-rich stay-at-home wife, or the rich and shrewd lawyer played by Aubrey Plaza. In an interview with Variety, Bovaird said Portia’s costume was meant to convey a character who was still figuring herself out, and who didn’t have as much money as the other characters. “She’s young, she doesn’t really know who she is, and she’s trying different ideas. Sometimes she dresses more classy, ​​and sometimes she dresses like a boy,” Bovaird said.

But online fan discussion isn’t centered on basic questions about her motivations as a character, or how her character fits into the story. Instead, fans seem more interested in theorizing, dragging characters, or shipping Portia with Albie than engaging with the story or character craft.

It confuses personal dislike of a character for the idea that her character is poorly written, and focuses on questions like Do I personally like Portia’s sense of style? and Would I personally be friends with Portia? instead of asking why Portia is the way she is, and why her character might dress the way she does or act the way she does. Or how her general presence as the only non-wealthy person in this elite space could make this particular story intriguing.

Of course, maybe Portia simply isn’t landing with young viewers in a way that feels true to their experiences. Haley Lu Richardson imbues Portia with a kind of flightiness that lends an uneasy feel to her scenes. This is especially true when she talks about what she wants from a relationship when she’s on a date with Albie. Holding a pristine glass of white wine, she says she wants to have “fun.” She continues, “I’m sick of fucking TikTok and – and Bumble, and just… screens and apps and sit and sit and binge Netflix. And I just want… I just want to live.”

Portia, played by Haley Lu Richardson, sits on a couch next to her boss, Tanya, played by Jennifer Coolidge.  She sits diagonally next to Tanya who looks at her with a serious face in an upright posture.

Photo: Fabio Lovino/HBO

In scenes like this, she appears confused and uncomfortable. Portia, like the rest of the guests at the White Lotus Resort, is feeling just a little off, and to be honest, extremely cranky. The conversations shared between the guests serve as social satire, offering their own form of horror beyond a death that occurs at the hotel. And Portia is no exception to that. She’s a jerk, just like every other hotel guest. When talking to Tanya about why she likes Albie, she says: “He’s nice and smart. He went to Stanford and he’s not non-binary.” What is unique to her is the bar that people like her character to.

The White Lotus is a show about horrible, horrible people. Everyone “agitates” and “grates” in their own way. Are we really going to ignore the two giga-chads acting like college frat boys on screen, the pervy grandpa, or God forbid, the cheating dad trying to win his wife back? Season 2 gives us a veritable smorgasbord of awful men, and yet TikTok seems to dwell on Portia’s fashion sense and taste in men during her outing in Italy.

For those who focus on Portia’s shortcomings, I fear that this show is less a way to look at the absolute self-centered nature of the super-rich, and more like something aspirational. Despite how effectively the show satirizes the ultra-elite, there are many of us who would love to live lavishly and go to Sicily. It’s a mystery with a possible accidental death or murder where we get to look at the beautiful lives of rich people, and Portia interrupts.

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