I never watched Baywatch growing up. As an adult, I understand the fantasy element of a show about hot lifeguards in sunny Los Angeles stopping crimes, being hot, falling in love, and being hot some more. The weather was nice and the swimsuits were higher than normal, even for the ‘90s. But I saw myself in none of it.
I'm a Black girl, and I was born in January in Chicago. I knew damn well that a lifeguard couldn’t even begin to challenge a drug cartel, and I have actually never found David Hasselhoff to be attractive. In the golden age of Black television, when titles like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Martin, All That, and Family Matters captured my attention, Baywatch never stood a chance. It doesn’t look like the 2017 film version, which hits theaters today, is going to make me a believer.
The detail about Baywatch that stands out the most to me was its overwhelming whiteness. From the vignettes of the show I caught while flipping through the channels or waiting for a show I was actually interested in to start, there was always an abundance of white faces with a few notable exceptions. I am totally open to a diehard Baywatch fan correcting me on this, but I only remember seeing people of color in villainous roles. Criminals hailing from some “other place” stand out in my vague memories of the show.
Unfortunately, the movie seems to have picked up on this bit from the original series. Early information about the film’s plot revealed that Indian actress Priyanka Chopra is cast as Vitoria Leeds, a drug smuggler who is responsible for murders happening around the beach. Asian women are often typecast in Hollywood as slick criminals and untrustworthy con artists. It’s a bit disheartening that the film’s creators couldn’t come up with an alternative for Chopra’s live-action debut.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II — you might recognize him as Cadillac from The Get Down — plays Sgt. Ellerbee, a Black cop whose overhyped sense of duty gets in the way of the Baywatch team fighting against crime. Thanks to Ellerbee, race takes a front seat as he often chides Zac Efron’s character for being… well, white.
But I’m still not moved to watch Baywatch — at least not on purpose. I’m not sold that it's updated problematic racial politics. Not to mention the fact that it looks like it could be alternatively titled The Fast & Furious Go to the Beach.