Cinematic Releases: Identity Politics in Late Night (2019) - Reviewed

Late Night is a film wrapped up in identity politics, and that’s what makes it great. Whether you’re someone who views identity politics as an arbitrary assignment of value based on one’s sex, race, age, etc., or by a lens through which someone sees and experiences the world, or somewhere in between, this movie’s got something for you.

Late Night is set in New York City, wherein an older, female, white, and British talk show host, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), in an attempt to keep her late-night talk show, seeks to hire a woman writer for her staff. The new writer, Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), who is perhaps too naive and idealistic for the status quo at her new job, shows occasional flashes of brilliance early on.

In hiring Molly, Newbury looks over more “traditional” and more pedigreed candidates. In the film’s showcasing of several gradations of attitudes towards “diversity hires” like Molly’s, the looked-over candidate, with family connections and a Harvard Lampoon’s background congratulates Molly on the new job, stating that “it’s really important that did that”.

Even Katherine, Molly’s boss, is direct in acknowledging her as a diversity hire, but she implores her new writer, that if she wants to be seen as something more than that, she’ll have to make people see her that way. This successful navigation of the identity politics argument, one which simultaneously recognizes the “two-wrongs-to-make-a-right” line of thinking, while also insisting that people of color, women, and other underrepresented groups can survive (and thrive) in privileged spheres.

One part of the argument that is being ignored, however, is if a diversity hire like Molly didn’t outshine her white and male counterparts, would she have been someone worth taking on? What Newbury brutally acknowledges is the unfair truth that, in order to prove yourself worthy of something, you often have to prove yourself beyond worthy, especially if you have a mark against you at the outset, in this case, Molly’s identity.

Although Late Night is also a film about comedy, it’s more dramatic in its share because its satire is not always glossed over with humor. Instead of a drawback, the restraint in going for laughs is a feature; it allows the subject matter to be treated more seriously, and substantially. It’s the kind of movie that not only acknowledges multiple truths, but still manages to have a cogent thesis: identity politics are not going away anytime soon, and if you give others a chance, they might surprise you.

--Blake Pynnonen