Black Roses Can Wilt: Reinforcing White Feminism with Faux Intersectionality in Don’t Worry Darling

Sarah Wagoner
7 min readOct 31, 2022

Note: This essay includes spoilers for Don’t Worry Darling. It includes discussion of death by suicide.

Olivia Wilde’s sophomore feature, Don’t Worry Darling, is yet another attempt to meld conventional feminist storytelling with contemporary concern with intersectionality which fails due to continued concern of white femininity over solidarity with women of color. The film takes place in Victory, a seemingly perfect suburban town, filled with housewives who are expected to never question their husband’s mysterious jobs. When Alice (Florence Pugh) encounters a crashing airplane, her world is turned around as she descends into an anti-feminist conspiracy. The plot itself makes way for intersectional implementation, as anti-feminism harms all women. Women of color tend to be particularly effected by it as anti-feminist figures such as Jordan Peterson include racist rhetoric which implies women of color as a social threat to men. However, the few women of color within the film are not given the same agency as Alice, nor any other white character.

Throughout Don’t Worry Darling, there is an imbalance of activity and passivity across characters. Some may excuse this with the twist (wherein Victory is not a real town, but a complex virtual simulation, created by the Jordan Peterson-inspired founder), however the twist implies over activity on the part of the men. They chose to put their wives/girlfriends in the simulation. They are the only characters with informed consent. They are the only party involved in the simulation who gain pleasure from it, again, with their consent. Yet, only two of the men have an active role in the narrative. This being Frank (Chris Pine), the aforementioned Jordan Peterson-inspired founder, and Alice’s husband, Jack (Harry Styles) whose activity is only found in his sexual actions until the twist is revealed. The lack of activity in the men could be a subversion of the active/passive binary in narrative cinema, however the twist itself necessitates activity on their parts. Thus, the activity makes it clear that only the characters who directly affect Alice are the characters the narrative deems of note. This primarily harms the narrative, as their interactions with Alice are equally ill-defined and passive. Frank has the strongest relationship to her, simply due to their mutual vitriol, but even in this case, it is based on her obsession with wanting to be seen and his general disdain for women’s autonomy, rather than a more complex or satisfying narrative battle. Still, the imbalance in activity within the men characters could be excused if the women had activity among themselves.

As discussed, the twist itself creates a narrative reasoning for the passivity of all characters, but this is especially true for the women. The only woman we see outside of the simulation is Alice, which establishes that her personality is wildly different on the outside. Outside of the simulation, she is an overworked surgeon who provides for Jack, as he stays home, listening to Frank’s podcast. When she arrives home, her response to Jack’s sexual advances are dismissive, due to her exhaustion. Within Victory, she nearly always accepts his invitation to a sensual dance. With this knowledge, the audience becomes aware that she and the other women in Victory do not have informed consent. They have lives on the outside and perhaps their own misgivings in their relationships. Victory becomes a secluded area wherein they have no reason to reject sexual advances. All romantic and sexual ties within the simulation are thus implied rape, as no consent can be given. Thus, the women have narrative passivity, except for Alice as she attempts to defy the simulated reality.

While there is much room for discussion of the passivity of all women characters outside of Alice, the most egregious example is that of Margaret (KiKi Layne), the only Black woman character with lines, and the martyr of the film. The first act is primarily composed of Margaret’s deteriorating mental health. At a neighborhood party, Margaret and her husband are the only couple who do not congregate to hear Frank’s generic speech about loyalty. She is seen sobbing in a tent as her husband begs for her to calm down. Alice approaches, as Margaret alludes to a break in the supposed reality of Victory. This baffling interaction jumpstarts Alice’s conspiratorial journey and the narrative of Black martyrs throughout the film. The illusion of Victory is a clear metaphor for patriarchal control, even before the twist is revealed. The very questioning represents feminist analysis. The first person to introduce Alice to these simple, but eye-opening questions is a Black woman. This is similar to how fundamental concepts to feminism are borrowed from Black activism, or how Black feminists originated feminist theories which white feminists use but rarely give proper credit.

Perhaps the most salient example of this is the theory of intersectionality itself. The theory was created by Black feminist, Kimberle Crenshaw, who theorized that identity politics leads to further oppression, as it does not account for the multiple axises of oppression a person can experience (“Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color”). In the last few years, the term has been adopted by a multitude of feminists, largely with good intentions. However, Crenshaw’s arguments against identity politics have been ignored, leading to intersectionality and privilege being diluted into neoliberal ideals of identity politics, which turns intersectionality and marginalized identities into a product, rather than a lived reality which must be analyzed in order to properly fight oppressive forces. There is also the fact that many feminists only consider issues worth combating when it affects all women (meaning, those with unmarked categories).

Don’t Worry Darling reflects the aforementioned phenomenon by turning Margaret into a Martyr rather than allowing her story to live in conjunction with Alice’s discovery. After discovering Margaret’s condition, Alice starts to ask questions on how her condition came to be, receiving vitriol in response to the question. The film only offers us a sliver of context to Margaret’s tragedy, showing her traveling to the forbidden desert with her son, who is then implied to die as a result of her treason. The tragedy is widely known, showing that performative punishment is a tool of Victory’s rulers. The primary punished figure is the sole Black women, reflecting how Black women are both socially punished and criminally punished for their relation to Blackness, as even our white lead is not severely punished until she acts in radical terms, despite often questioning the rules. As the film drags on, Margaret continually reaches out to Alice, often triggering visceral responses in Alice, reflecting how white women often reject the realities of women of color’s individual issues as they are too upsetting. Margaret simply is asking for someone to listen to her, something often paralleled in Alice’s later actions. The response to both pleas for help is isolation, showing that generally women’s concerns are ignored. But the sequence of the pleas, with Margaret’s calls being not only ignored, but sparking upsetting imagery in Alice, reflects how Black women’s pain are treated as a precursor to white women’s pain. The abusive actions taken against Black women are not treated as an oppressive issue in and of itself, its oppressive status is only taken hold by larger feminist movements when it harms the unmarked woman.

Ignorance towards Black women’s pain is furthered in Margaret’s death. The turning point of the film can be traced to Margaret’s death. She is shown continuing her mental breakdown as she dies by suicide, falling off the roof of her house. The only character to give concern for her demise is Alice, whose plot is then related to determining the truth behind Margaret’s death and the circumstances behind it. However, this is presented as not a full concern over her death, but as a preventative measure to stop her own death. Not only are Black women’s concerns treated as a precursor to white women’s concerns, but their pain is only considered useful when it may act as a precursor to white women’s pain. Even as Margaret enters Alice’s cacophony of visceral imagery, her death serves as a reminder of her potential death, rather than a tragedy of its own.

This is not to say that the film is racist because it has a white protagonist instead of a Black one. It is the minimal usage of a Black character, specifically used as an omen for horror in a white protagonist’s life. Margaret is a signifier, rather than a character to care for. She is a general representation of the consequence of oppression, but she does not have the luxury of fighting for her life. She does not have the luxury of the sexual happiness Alice supposedly has. Her marriage is shown as miserable. We never get to see who she was before the world turned on her. She is nothing beyond a Martyr. Intersectional art must strive to present the shades of intersectional existence. This is not to say that Margaret should’ve been presented as completely happy. Much can be gleaned from her tragedy, but we should not only see her as the walls close in.

Don’t Worry Darling fails in nearly any angle of feminist analysis and film analysis. It relies on over-simplified, neo-liberal solutions to complex, intersectional, patriarchal issues. Even when it turns around on the men, it does not consider the gender roles which may lead to misogynist violence within men, or even complicit masculinity (the film’s primary theme). Instead, it tells us that men are only concerned with their own pleasure. Yet, it inadvertently shows white womanhood as the primary concern over Black women’s pain. Rather than arguing for freedom across gender boundaries, it argues for the control of unmarked women over their lives, while vaguely hinting that women of color deserve the same. But ultimately, the films’ focus on Alice and its usage of Margaret’s death as a precursor to her plot, implies that white womanhood should take precedence over all others even under intersectionality.

Works Cited:

Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review, vol. 43, Iss. 6, 1991, pp. 1241.

Don’t Worry Darling. Directed by Olivia Wilde, performances by KiKi Layne, Chris Pine, Florence Pugh, and Harry Styles, Warner Brothers, 2022.

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Sarah Wagoner

Literature Major, GWST Minor, Graduate Student, She/Her, focus on politics in media, Professional email: sarahwagoner6@gmail