A Goodbye to the Black Bisexual Messiness of “High Fidelity”

Zoë Kravitz as Rob, a light-skinned Black girl with long braids who stands behind the counter of a record store, in High Fidelity

Zoë Kravitz as Rob in High Fidelity (Photo credit: Phillip Caruso/Hulu)

Bisexual stereotypes are pervasive in pop culture: We’re portrayed as slutty, indecisive, and greedy. We’re unable to pick a side because we want too much. We’ve seen the way that these stereotypes play out onscreen, and, in an attempt to combat said stereotypes, some series and films have flung themselves in the opposite direction, presenting bisexual characters as monogamous, reasonably sexual characters in long-term relationships. But the simple truth is this: When you try to make a marginalized character perfect, you’re missing out on the good stuff—the stuff that makes us human. All people, including bisexual people, can be messy sometimes, and with the rise of bisexual characters like The Good Place’s Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), Broad City’s Ilana Wexler (Ilana Glazer), and How to Get Away with Murder’s Annalise Keating (Viola Davis)—with each of these shows now off the air—it seems like television finally created thoughtfully written bisexual characters.

But what does that mean, specifically for Black bisexual women? “There’s recently been a much-needed shift in television’s approach to portraying Black lesbian relationships,” Jaelani Turner-Williams wrote in a 2019 article for Bitch. “Characters are being given more complexity onscreen, as they are offered the chance to explore their queerness in ways typically reserved for white queer women.” One such character is Rob (Zoë Kravitz) in Hulu’s 2020 adaptation of Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel, High Fidelity. Unlike the movie version’s protagonist, Rob is a biracial, bisexual woman who’s relatable in her messiness: Following a traumatic breakup, she decides to hunt down all of her exes and figure out what’s “wrong” with her. It didn’t hurt that Kravitz herself is bi, offering viewers a rare form of representation onscreen. So I was crushed to find out that Hulu isn’t renewing High Fidelity for a second season.

What makes Kravitz’s Rob so real is that everything from her character to the universe she exists in is so delightfully queer. Things get especially so in episode five, “Good Luck and Goodbye,” in which Rob gets in touch with her-now Instagram famous ex-girlfriend, Kat (Ivanna Sakhno), who dumped her for another girl. She agrees to go to her house to catch up, not realizing it’s an influencer party. “Kat made me feel not enough. She also made me feel special,” Rob reflects. Rob spends the entire party lying—about enjoying the jacket that Kat asks her to wear, about the cheap beer she brought as a hostess gift being a joke, and about being comfortable mingling with all of Kat’s well-dressed, wealthy-looking friends. By the end, Rob is slumped in a chair, drinking her cheap beer and wearing the puffy coat she hates. “So Kat, why’d you leave me for Caitlin?” she finally asks as she strips the coat off. The conversation that follows is very gay. “Oh my god, Fuck. I fucking knew it, I fucking knew motherfucker. I fucking knew you were going through one of those what-does-it-all mean things,” Kat says.

The stereotype is that sapphics can’t resist processing relationships, so they do so together. In High Fidelity, we see this onscreen, with Rob, a Black bisexual woman, and Kat, a white lesbian, reviewing what went wrong in their relationship. While Rob, and the bisexual representation within High Fidelity, aren’t perfect, it did offer bisexual Black people, myself included, an all-too-brief flicker of ourselves onscreen. Now, with the loss of the reboot, and with shows like How to Get Away With Murder wrapped, it’s not easy to let go of these characters, and the feeling of being seen, that they brought bisexual viewers of color. In honor of Rob, I spoke to a few bisexual people of color about Kravitz’s portrayal of Rob, and the state of Black bisexual characters on TV.

Gabrielle LaRochelle, 22, journalist and queer Black woman in Maryland

I honestly thought Rob could be a bit self-centered and a very lovelorn jerk, “woe-is-me” teas with little regard for how her actions affect people who care about her. But I know that she’s a 30-year-old flawed woman (which is normal!) who’s just trying to navigate through life and love with all its quirks and bumps. However, I admire her for being so brash and bold with her decisions. Her messy dating life also reminded me of mine in a way, and the way she owns it and reflects on it is similar to how I reflect on my past loves. She comes across as super cool, super stylish, dangerously gorgeous, and she has an amazing taste in music.

In losing Rob, I feel that the state of bisexual Black women in mainstream television has hit a wall in its slow building toward visibility. Now that the show has been cancelled, I feel that Hulu and mainstream media took away something that could’ve [encouraged other] show writers to create more beautiful, messy, enthralling stories of bisexuality. We could’ve seen Rob’s growth in maturity by navigating her relationships in a healthy way for Season 2, but sadly we’re just going to have to imagine it. I would love to see more darker-skinned representation, more fatter representation, and more disabled representation of Black bisexual women. The stories are there; they exist.

Carmen Phillips, deputy editor at Autostraddle

I loved Rob as a character. She proved to be the role of Kravtiz’s career thus far—not only because of her sarcasm or neurotic humor, but also because of her palpable anxiety and somehow, through all of that, charismatic warmth. More than any of that, I deeply appreciated that Rob was a woman in the process of growing. She wasn’t necessarily “put together”: She made huge mistakes and she’s often selfish, but she was constantly questioning and looking to put together the puzzle pieces that life had left her with. That’s infinitely relatable and the kind of character we never get to see young, Black [actors portray]. I was less impressed by High Fidelity’s depiction of her bisexuality. Of course, I appreciate that it existed, and High Fidelity purposely didn’t make Rob’s bisexuality a point of discussion. Rob dates girls sometimes; it’s just one casual facet of her life rather than a defining personality trait. That was refreshing to see.

I was looking forward to seeing Rob’s bisexuality further develop in Season 2, perhaps with her meeting another girlfriend. Now we’ll never get the chance. High Fidelity worked so well because we journeyed with Rob through a coming of age that wrapped itself into a quintessential millennial quarter-life crisis. It earned her loyalty from an audience that rarely gets to see those types of existential crises mapped onto a young Black woman. That same audience deserved the opportunity to watch Rob continue to messily figure herself out, if only so that we’re reminded that we’re not alone as we messily figure ourselves out.

Yazz James, 21, writer, student, and bisexual in Brighton, United Kingdom

I was head-over-heels in love with the show. It was my first time seeing myself (looks, style, and interest-wise) [onscreen]. It’s rare to see women who are so knowledgeable about music, and it was so exciting to feel represented in that way, especially as the character and I have so many artists in common. I may have seen this side with a few white women onscreen (Juno, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, 500 Days of Summer) but even then, I don’t think the characters got the opportunity to ramble on about music throughout. I’ve read the book and seen the film with John Cusack, but I definitely warmed to Kravitz’s Rob the most.

I felt empowered [seeing a bisexual woman onscreen]; it seems like a cliché thing to say, but there aren’t many of us onscreen. I also appreciated that being bisexual wasn’t made out to be a big deal; dating women is just part of her life. I liked the range in all the people she dated too; it reinforced the idea that she didn’t necessarily have a set “type,” and I think this is emphasized through Clyde (Jake Lacy) too. Her sexuality wasn’t passed off as some phase, though I would’ve loved it if there’d been one other woman she was involved with—even if it was just another date. I’d have liked to see more of her romantic interactions with women in general.

Jemie Fofanah, 25, law student in New York City

I really enjoyed the first season. The soundtrack was expertly curated, and it set the mood for getting inside Rob’s head. Seeing an outwardly Black bisexual woman falling hard onscreen was thrilling (especially the makeout scene on the dance floor because hello, lockdown). But having Rob’s love interest still be a thin white woman who couldn’t fully return Rob’s affection made me eager to see more backstory. If Rob ever came out as bisexual, at what point in her life did she do so? Was her taste in women as white gaze-y as her taste in men? How did Kat make Rob’s Top 5 list without us having answers to these questions? I appreciated the representation, but at times it felt like we were being given a queer character in aesthetic only, with none of the intimacy and nuance that queer love stories deserve.

I’m devastated about the cancellation. Watching High Fidelity gave me the same high I felt when I saw Maya (Bianca Lawson) on Pretty Little Liars and when Annalise Keating’s queer relationship became a focal point on How to Get Away with Murder’s second season. These shows shows gave Black bisexual girls a taste of what it’s like to be centered, but they ultimately left us yearning. High Fidelity explicitly focuses on Rob’s love life, and I trusted the showrunners to explore her bisexuality more in the second season. If I could ask screenwriters for anything in the future, it would be to resist sanitizing us in efforts to be more palatable for mainstream consumption. We exist, we’re watching, and we deserve to live our best mediocre, selfish lives onscreen and in broader pop culture.

While Rob, and the bisexual representation within High Fidelity, aren’t perfect, it did offer bisexual Black people, myself included, an all-too-brief flicker of ourselves onscreen.

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Gabriela R., 22, writer and grad student in Atlanta

I didn’t like the season per se; I found the pace incredibly slow, but I loved Rob as a character. I hadn’t seen the 2000 film, but I knew enough about it to be excited at the idea of a Black woman playing the kind of role that seems reserved for white cishet men. The fact that Kravitz was cast was even more exciting. I think she’s a fantastic actress and I was sure she would play this messy, complicated, unambitious music lover perfectly. When I read about Rob being bisexual, it pushed me to finally watch the show. I’m always excited when there’s a bisexual character on any piece of media. I thought it also meant I wasn’t going to see Rob pinning over guys the entire season (which she did kind of end up doing that for 90 percent of it). However, I was pleased with the casual way her bisexuality was portrayed.

It wasn’t her only defining trait, which is often how queer characters are written. The fact that one of her heartbreaks was a woman isn’t scrutinized, but it wasn’t erased. Her relationship with Kat was just as valid and heartbreaking as the other Top 4. When she revisited this breakup, there were no questions about her attraction to Kat and potentially other women. Since Rob doesn’t end the first season in a relationship, I was excited at the prospect of seeing her dating more next season and having less of those dates be with cis men. Unfortunately, the cancellation eliminated that possibility. I can’t help wonder how it could’ve turned out if the show was a completely original story about a Black bisexual record store owner, instead of an adaptation that didn’t seem to garner enough enthusiasm from viewers of a 20-year-old film.

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Rachel Charlene Lewis, who has light brown skin and dark brown curly hair, wears a white button up and gold jewelry and gold glasses.
by Rachel Charlene Lewis
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Rachel Charlene Lewis has written about culture, identity, and the internet for publications including i-D, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, Greatist, Glamour, Autostraddle, Ravishly, SELF, StyleCaster, The Frisky (RIP), The Mary Sue, and elsewhere. Her literary work, reviews, and interviews have been published in Catapult, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Normal School, Publisher’s Weekly, The Offing, and in several other magazines. She is on Twitter and Instagram, always.