When I first heard BET had a new show about a 30-something professional black woman struggling to keep her personal life intact, I’ll admit I was underwhelmed. Another emotionally suppressed black woman barely staying afloat as she juggles work, family, friends and love. Yay. But after watching the two-hour movie special and Tuesday’s premiere episode of Being Mary Jane, I, like many of you, am hooked.
The racy BET drama, made for us and by us, tells the story of Mary Jane Paul, a successful, single news anchor with a sick shoe game and a penchant for no-good men. Oh, and she has a lot of sex. While the majority of the country, #BlackTwitter in particular, gave the show two thumbs up, not everyone is loving MJ.
In what’s become standard protocol with hyped black primetime shows (the handful that exist), the show’s come under scrutiny for what some critics are calling an inadequate depiction of powerful black women. In a recent Black Enterprise article, writer Janell Hazlewood argues that BMJ and similar shows “add to that age-old stereotype that black women in general are objects not of a man’s highest devotion and respect, but only worthy of lust and love’s table scraps.”
I get it. I promise I do. As black women we’ve been the stoic, lonely, hypersexualized, ghettoized, hand-cemented-to-the-hip sistah-girl for decades, so of course we have to be mindful of how we are portrayed on a national platform. But where does it stop? When does the obsession with putting our best foot forward deter us from telling the good, the bad and the everything of life? If we spent all our time attempting to right the wrongs of history with each black female lead that came across our screen, heroines like Olivia Pope and Mary Jane wouldn’t even be a thought on the cutting room floor. Nola Darling or Foxy Brown? Forget about it.
While it’s never morally entertaining to see a woman carry on an affair with a married man or get peeved when her booty call has another side chick, there’s something to be said for an unapologetic look at a flawed protagonist whose interior drastically conflicts with the perfectly manicured exterior. It’s relatable, obsessively entertaining, and necessary for black women longing to unleash their vulnerability. Olivia Pope is far from perfect, and that’s why we love her. She can rendezvous with the president, stop a terrorist attack, and cry on the bedroom floor all in the span of a few minutes. Whether it’s Liv, Mary Jane or any other not-quite-perfect brown-skinned woman on TV, despite their imperfections, they still manage to be pretty bad chicks — that’s the big takeaway, and it’s something we as black women have mastered.
Maybe we’re all not having steamy shower-cap sex in the gym locker room with a taken man, but darn it, we all have our issues. And personally I don’t mind seeing those issues played out against a well-crafted fictional backdrop complete with eye candy and a great soundtrack.
Yes, Clair Huxtable will always be the epitome of a professional, put-together, I’m-every-woman black female lead, but I like to think that prior to meeting Cliff, Clair lived a pretty happening single life and even made a few mistakes along the way. (That’s a show I’d definitely be DVRing.)
It also goes without saying that Mara Brock Akil is a rock star with the pen and has proven time and time again that she knows how to tell a good story about black women. So relax, folks. We’re in good hands. There’s a fine line between honest depictions and exploitation, and this is far from the latter. Besides, it could be worse. I Love New York, anyone?