The White Lotus Did Belinda Dirty, But Natasha Rothwell Shined Anyway

Welcome to “What’s Good,” where we break down what’s soothing, distracting, or just plain good in the streaming world with a “rooting for everybody Black” energy.
This column includes spoilers for The White Lotus season one finale. 
What’s Good? Natasha Rothwell’s performance as Belinda in HBO’s The White Lotus. In six episodes, Rothwell painstakingly draws nuance and depth out of a character that could have easily had neither. 
Who It’s Good For: The era of peak prestige TV may be over since every new television drama series seems to be stacked with an all-star cast, a slow-burning smart script and oozing with satirical cultural critique. It’s no longer a flashy moment when it becomes the standard. While The White Lotus may not be an outlier (put it in the “rich white mess” category of Succession, Big Little Lies, The Undoing and Billions), it is doing something special. Like the resort in which the satire is set, The White Lotus isn’t as idyllic as it looks. Appearances are not only deceiving, they’re only just the beginning. The happy young couple on their honeymoon aren’t so happy after all. The perfect family vacation is a disaster in the making. The single rich lady is soul searching instead of just reaching for another piña colada. And the resort’s wait staff, the ones who are meant to be barely seen and never heard, are the show’s real stars. Underneath The White Lotus’s facade of pretty people, the sheen of beautiful cinematography and a stunning score is something more sinister: the underbelly of the wealthy white elite and what happens behind the closed doors of people who flee to “exotic” locales to escape their lives and, consciously or not, exploit the locals. But the show isn’t just a preachy takedown of privilege, it’s a commentary on humanity itself and what it means to be a good person. (Like if The Good Place was set in Hawaii and written and directed by, well, Mike White). 

Rothwell shines in a show that isn’t really for us, but she’s so good it almost feels like it is.

That’s where Natasha Rothwell’s Belinda comes in. Belinda, the resort’s spa manager, is an unequivocally good and decent person. She’s a Black woman whose sole job is to cater to white people — physically with massages and facials but also emotionally through Reiki readings and unofficial therapy sessions — and smile through their many microaggressions. On the page, Belinda is just another exploited member of The White Lotus staff. She’s not given as much screen time as her boss, Armond (Murray Bartlett), the resort manager who’s recovering from addiction and quickly unraveling. She’s not given any real opportunity to stand up to Tanya McQuoid (the perpetually brilliant Jennifer Coolidge), a neurotic, depressed, insecure hotel guest who promises Belinda the world (to fund her own wellness centre) only to rip the offer away after she’s taken what she wanted (her time, her patience, her energy) and turned her into nothing but a magical negro (Belinda helps Tanya figure out her issues only for Tanya to use therapy speak to squash her dreams and ride off into the sunset healed and with a new man). All of that to say that Belinda acts as the audience’s outlet for the frustrations of the resort guests’ wrongs. Rothwell’s performance is for any Black woman who has been taken advantage of and disappointed by Well Meaning White Folk. Rothwell is underused but it feels like she’s doing every read and giving every mannerism for us, for the Black women who have ever been fed up in white workplaces but also for those of us who tuned in just for her name in the credits and who love her as Kelli on Insecure. Rothwell shines in a show that isn’t really for us, but she’s so good it almost feels like it is. She really didn’t have to do all that but she did. She did that for us. 
How Good Is She? For those who know Natasha Rothwell best as Kelli, it’s most impressive to see her go from a comedic powerhouse who steals every scene to a muted, understated character who maybe isn’t supposed to stand out, but she does anyway. That’s a testament to Rothwell’s skill as a performer. 
The bottom line is that Belinda could have been a one-dimensional trope. And in some ways, she still is. Aside from one scene where Belinda has a hushed call with her son about Tanya’s offer to fund her wellness centre, we know very little about Belinda’s life beyond the walls of The White Lotus resort. Again, her screen time is lacking. And through her many soothing conversations with Tanya, and later Rachel (Alexandra Daddario doing her best with a baffling character whose motivations are never fully cooked), Belinda is set up to be just another Black Lady Therapist caricature. She’s there to comfort white characters and ease them of their burdens while we never learn about her own. These roles are usually given to the Black women we don’t typically see in lead roles on screen: bigger, dark-skinned Black women. At first, I was worried Belinda was going to be another addition to the list of the evolving stereotype we’re seeing in so many recent series, but I should have had more faith in Rothwell. I don’t know exactly what was in the script for Belinda’s scenes in The White Lotus but I do know that the material — whatever it was — was elevated by Rothwell. 

With an eye roll, Rothwell lets us in on the joke and these clueless privileged white people are the punchline. Rothwell did all that with a look. Yes, she’s that good. 

Take, for example, the scene in episode 6, the season finale, where Rachel meets Belinda. Rachel is having an identity crisis, worried she has signed up for life as a trophy wife (did this woman not meet her husband before this honeymoon? I have questions!) and is crying uncontrollably in front of Belinda. Her audible sobs are unavoidable. Before going over to Rachel, Belinda rolls her eyes. It’s a small throwaway gesture but it also speaks volumes. Belinda isn’t the usual magical healing Black woman we are used to seeing. She is doting on these white people out of duty and necessity, not blind generosity. With that eye roll, Rothwell lets us in on the joke and these clueless privileged white people are the punchline. Rothwell did all that with a look. Yes, she’s that good. 
Later in the episode, when Rachel seeks Belinda’s advice, Belinda has just been told by Tanya that she isn’t getting a big investment into her business and that all of the energy she put into catering to this woman was for nothing. Rachel launches into a speech about the woes of being married to a rich white man and Belinda delivers the line that made me jump off my couch and cheer. “You want my advice?” Rothwell comes through with an Emmy-worthy pause for effect. “I’m all out.” With that, Belinda turns into that gif of Viola Davis taking her purse and leaving behind bullshit as she exits the room. 
As satisfying as that scene was, we the viewer know that Belinda still has to go back to her thankless job. We’ve watched Rothwell throughout the season play the smiling spa manager and the exasperated exploited worker. We watched her break down into tears and recover seconds later to answer the spa’s phone with a chipper tone. In all six episodes of The White Lotus, I wanted more Natasha Rothwell. I wanted her to get a big “FUCK YOU” monologue. I wanted more for Belinda who, like all of the characters of color, are left dejected in the end. But that’s the point. In The White Lotus, like in real life, rich white people get away with no consequences. Things usually work out for them. They get to be the stars whose mistakes are just fuel for future anecdotes and personal growth (insert the Insecure Kelli “Growth” gif). 
The series rises and sets on Belinda waving to the resort’s incoming guests on a beautiful boat on a stunning backdrop. As writer Melanie McFarland put it in Slate, “Belinda is a woman caught in a nightmare that looks a lot like a dream.” 
I already know that Connie Britton, Murray Bartlett and Jennifer Coolidge will probably get the award season love for their roles in The White Lotus but it’s Natasha Rothwell who took the series from another prestige drama about messy rich white people and turned it into a seething exposition of privilege, whiteness and what Black women have to put up with in world that prioritizes both. 
What Else Is Good?
• Not that this has anything to do with her spectacular work onscreen but Natasha Rothwell’s Twitter account is giving what it needs to give offscreen too. She’s funny and smart and constantly making a strong case for celebrities being allowed wifi privileges. 
• Getting vaccinated.  
• Netflix’s Untold: Malice At The Palace documentary about that infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl that shook the NBA which proves, like The Last Dance, that basketball players are excellent at gossip.
Season 2, Episode 3 of Ted Lasso, written by Emmy-nominee Ashley Nicole Black and starring Toheeb Jimoh as Sam Obisanya. My favorite episode of the series so far, which is really saying something since I love this goofy, overly saccharine yet pitch perfect show so much. 
• Logging off to protect your peace!
• As always, defunding the police.

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