Little Fires Everywhere, Hulu’s new adaptation of the novel by Celeste Ng, shows what it’s like to be a lesbian in a conservative family. Teenage Izzy struggles to navigate her sexuality in a community that isn’t so accepting, including her mother and girlfriend.
In Hulu’s adaptation of Little Fires Everywhere, there were a few major changes from the original novel. One of those changes was the Izzy Richardson’s sexuality and how it develops her character arc. While the novel never hits on Izzy’s relationships, in the Hulu mini-series, it becomes a running theme throughout. While she’s not out, she’s having trouble hiding who she is. Izzy is made fun of by the other kids at school, often referred to as “Ellen.” Similarly, at home, Izzy is made fun of by her siblings and dismissed by her mother Elena as just being a troubled child. Keep in mind that the show and novel take place in 1990s America. Yikes.
Izzy is considered to be the family rebel, as she is constantly acting out. Similar to the novel, Izzy highlights the hypocrisy of Shaker, her hometown, through her artwork and pranks. She has a strained relationship with her mother, who does not accept her, and her oldest siblings, who do not seem to care about her at all. It’s no wonder she would act out, but it’s not just because she’s an angsty teenager. It’s clear that Izzy wants to be seen and accepted for who she is.
In keeping with the novel, just before Izzy’s orchestra performance, she writes “Not Your Puppet” on her forehead, which sends her mother reeling. This little prank makes a rather large statement to her community. Izzy desperately wants to break free of her chains and craves freedom and acceptance as she struggles to be herself in a town that is filled with traditional, straight people. If there’s an LGBT community, they’re neither seen nor heard, at least not by Izzy.
Izzy’s story was not uncommon in the 90s, and for however far we’ve come as a society, it’s not uncommon now. Not in conservative, white, and rich families like hers. She’s scared of not being accepted, and she’s constantly confronted by not belonging at home and in town.
In episode three, the classic lesbian predator trope comes for Izzy when one of Elena’s friends accuses Izzy of sexually assaulting her daughter. Elena pretends that the accusation is just a horrible rumor. However, later when Elena mentions this to her husband, he admits to her that Izzy confided in him that she is gay. Elena refuses to believe this and continues to make Izzy feel isolated and alone. Later it’s revealed that Elena did not even want Izzy and is harboring resentment around her fourth child.
April, the girl that Izzy was accused of assaulting, turned out to have been Izzy’s secret girlfriend all along. April’s internalized homophobia wreaks havoc for both of them. April thought something was wrong with her for being attracted to Izzy. She makes fun of Izzy publicly at school and cuts ties with her completely. Ugh, poor Iz.
Izzy becomes more and more isolated from her friends and family. While Izzy knows she’s gay, she continues to attempt to hide it by attending a school dance with a boy and making out with him on the dance floor. Izzy’s friends quickly see through her facade, and Izzy leaves in an emotional huff.
For anyone who’s grown up in a conservative environment, all of these incidences probably seem very familiar. Put a finger down if… The series hints that Izzy may have caused the fire that burned down her family’s home, and Hulu sets the stage for an angry teenager in an inhospitable environment. Izzy feels trapped in a conservative town that does not seem to have a place for her. She was shunned by her first girlfriend and dismissed by a mother who is supposed to accept her for who she is.
However, Izzy does find solace in the show’s main character, Mia Warren. Mia tells Izzy that her first true love was a woman. This ignites a fire in Izzy, as she finally feels like she has found a home. Mia accepts Izzy in ways her own mother could not, and Izzy takes to Mia immediately. They bond over art and sexuality, and Izzy feels less alone. Finally, there is a place for her in a town that does not accept her. This makes it even harder for Izzy when Mia finally leaves Shaker, and it sets the stage for Izzy to be framed for her family home burning to the ground.
Mia and Izzy’s sexuality was not touched on in the book but in the Hulu adaptation, highlighting these sexual undertones becomes key to both of their characters’ development. By adding these changes, Hulu creates more dimension in the characters which explains their behavior. Mia, for example, fell in love with her female photography professor, and their love affair set the stage for Mia’s motives later in the series. Mia keeps a photo of her while pregnant with Pearl, taken by her professor, and eventually has to sell this photo, risking her custody of Pearl. Sorry for that major spoiler! My bad. By creating this tension around lesbian sexuality, Hulu takes Mia’s character development to the next level and highlights what it’s like to be a black lesbian in a conservative white town.
Speaking of the lovely Shaker, Izzy so desperately wants to find her place in the world, and feels like the community she lives in will never accept her because she’s gay. Her own family dismisses her, particularly her mother Elena. Elena tells Izzy that she never wanted her, which is the last straw for Izzy, as it cements the idea that she is not worthy of love.
As a character, Izzy represents what it’s like for young women who fear coming out to their conservative community. She acts out in order to be seen. She finally finds comfort with Mia who is the only person who seems to accept her. All Izzy wants is to be loved, and to be free to love whoever she wants. Feeling isolated and unaccepted is typical, especially in towns like Shaker that never shake things up, despite saying they do.
#JusticeForIzzy, that’s all I’m sayin.