Welcome Back Dear Readers!
In the vein of Sofia from Color Purple, DBW is home ‘nah. And, as particular to how my people understand my people, I have been on CP time with finishing the first season of BET’s Being Mary Jane (BMJ). Listen, there were too many shows around that time. Bumper to damn bumper shows and between that and, you know, a job complete with all the writing you can stand and I just didn’t have the wherewithal (I’m classy thus I use classy words) to finish the show. I was three episodes from completion. And every week my recollection that I needed to catch up got filled with other things. Like Chipotle. And Haribo Gummi Bears. And occasionally: sleep.
But Jesus be a short summer break (I still have ALL the writing to do) and some insomnia: I FINISHED THE SHOW. (The caps are for me. I’m tryna do like Iyanla says and live my truth and stuff.)
And while my doomed shipper heart suffered as per usual (I ain’t spoiling ish so don’t come here fussing at me about that), I mostly enjoyed the series overall.*
But this ain’t a review so I’m not spending time delineating what about the show I liked—not necessarily.
Here at DBW y’all know I have ONE mission. I talk about Black people.
I talk about Black people…alot. You’ll find nothing different on this inspired occasion. Why inspired? Cause of this:
Let’s get a better shot shall we:
So much white! So much…Blue. So. much. blush.
Okay, let me put some things out here first before y’all forget who you’re talking to.
Disclaimer 1: DBW LOVES most all of these shows represented on this cover. DBW does not watch Bates Motel because DBW is not interested in refreshing her skills of psychoanalysis thus she will not be watching Vera Farmiga have a bad love relationship with her child. DBW also does not watch The Americans as DBW tried to watch it in its first season and often felt fatigue more than excitement. Also, I don’t really find Derek Luke all that attractive so that wasn’t a pull. I mean when I see Black people on FX shows–even in secondary roles, I’m looking at YOU Justified. I’m on the RAY-CHEL ship and I will go down with that little pirogue you hear me– ahem, I try to pay attention.
American Horror Story: Ain’t enough hours in the damn day to justify why I can’t be bothered. Suffice to say? I can’t be bothered. Also, Sarah Paulson ain’t friendly and she can go
jump off a water slide.
But The Good Wife? Hell yes I watch. DBW is still wearing her funeral black after this damn season.
I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget.
See? Now I’m chanting the lines from A:tS “I Will Remember you.” That’s how much damage Robert and Michelle King inflicted upon me.
(MY FAVORITE EPISODE OF THAT SHOW EVER. EVER. COME FOR ME.)
:clears throat again: Homeland? Yes indeed I watched that foolishness. I went from a Carrie and Brody fan to a Carrie and Quinn fan and WOULDN’T HE MAKE A WONDERFUL DADDY TO SILLY ASS CARRIE’S BABY?! TELL THE TRUTH. I MEAN HE SHOT HER AND THE TUMBLR SHIPPERS SWOONED LIKE THAT WAS A LOVE LICK.
DBW still ain’t let go of Claire Danes and Billy Crudup breaking up Mary Louise Parker’s [seemingly happy] home and yet I sit down to watch that show and fuss about them white people ‘er week.
Mad Men? Chile. That show has been my bedside companion since 2008. When folks didn’t know what AMC was I was sitting down watching little Sally Draper put that plastic bag over her head. The Angels was watching over her silly ass even then. #blessed
But Mad Men is where I want to start this conversation because you know, of all the women who could have been on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter’s [Leading] Drama Queens edition, the one none of us was checking for was Jessica Paré, aka Megan Draper…er….what was her name before she married “DOHN” as she says it?
I got no issues with Paré. Not a one. Well, I got one. You ready?
SHE AIN’ T THE LEAD ACTRESS.
The lead actress is the one whose name appears earlier in the credits. That person: Elisabeth Moss. Do y’all know where Paré’s name is listed? 10th. Tied with Kiernan Shipka.
:sips Simply Limeade and bites dill pickle and lips purse from the salt:
What is DBW trying to wait for you to pick up on? Well…that she ain’t lead.
And why would DBW come out of hiding to bring up that little fact? Well, we’ve been here before. Walk with me through memory lane. Remember this? Then (Lord that was 4 years ago…WHERE HAS THE TIME GONE) I tried to describe the context around which, if any, BW would be allowed to be cover material for a magazine like Vanity Fair.
Well…since then…little has changed. Last year Kerry Washington (I’m getting to her in a minute too) was allowed on cover because she’s THE BLACK WOMAN on television that we all must recognize, respect and admire because she’s beautiful according to a number of cultural registers including the most dominant one–the Eurocentric one (listen), well-educated, articulate (these are always criteria for BP to exceed their racial status) and EXCITED ABOUT LIFE (have you watched her interviews? She’s SO excited. And let’s not begin to chat about how her Neutrogena sponsorship ain’t gon work for all us BW. Neutrogena has always been just a shade or THREE too light for many of us. Carry on though, girl. Carry on.)
Disclaimer 2: I ain’t knocking Washington.** I like her fine. But she’s got herself in an interesting pickle not of her own design. That pickle being that when you’re the only one all expectations, joys, worries, responsibilities and burdens fall to you.
And folks, BW on television is a lot like being a Highlander. There can be only one. :Cue “Princes of the Universe”:
I know, I know, you’re gonna say,”but there’s 6 coming this year to television DBW. Viola, Halle, Taraji, Octavia, Regina, Jada. Not to mention the ones already on tv: Kerry, Taraji (when she was on Person of Interest….my heart goes out to you CaReese fans), Nicole, Gabourey, and Angela.”
It’s true, it’s true. There’s no better time to be a negress on television. And, yet, based on the cover of THR? It’s almost as if it doesn’t matter.
Here’s the thing that rubbed me wrong folks: THR would rather put an actress with 10th billing on the cover of its magazine rather than a lead Black actress (I’m not even going to expand to other women of color because I’d be here all day. I mean, Lucy Liu? Archie Panjabi? I could go on…) with first or second billing.
Kerry was on the cover last year and she had a baby this year so she was unavailable. But again: She wasn’t the only one of us on television. She’s just the only one visible. I mean, let’s take a looksie over the last three years and see if there’s a pattern:
And this is why, while I’m terribly curious about what this upcoming television season will do for Viola and Halle and their own visibility despite being lauded with more nominations that you know…Kerry ever got…ahem…I know this industry doesn’t always think about those who don’t fit their models.
Because, why has no one done a cover of Halle for CBS’s Extant? Why is there no slow rollout of her as there was for Kerry?*** I’m sure there will be. I’m sure it’s only just May.
But folks: It’s Halle Berry. Oscar award winner Halle Berry…Coming to television. That’s a pretty big deal considering how excited we all were to see a successful film actress like Kerry Washington enter a primetime series–and rightly so! Again, no shade.
But Jessica Paré.
Academy-Award nominated Angela Bassett in a season of television where all DBW heard was that her performance was wonderful and fierce with them giant ass dookie braids. Can’t be on the cover.
Not unless she’s with the rest of the AHS cast and Ryan Murphy.
Then she can have a photo.
But Jessica Paré.
Nicole Beharie and her gorgeous-used-to date-Michael-Fassbender-and-got-me-all-in-my-feelings-after-they-broke-up-but-now-is-on-a-hit show-self that’s just as strange as whatever Sarah Paulson did on AHS.
But Jessica Paré.
There’s one name I haven’t mentioned in this section and it’s the one I started this whole thing off with: the lead actress of Being Mary Jane, Gabrielle Union.
This show is important for a number of reasons: 1) It’s a huge success for BET who finally got their ish together and decided to back their original programming with real money and not that Monopoly money they been trying to pretend is real currency for years. 2)It gives us glimpses of complex Black sexuality that has been held back from us for a good long while.
I mean….this scene of Mary Jane’s married dude Andre diving into her pool to fix her broken light, because she ain’t getting in (HAIR), resulted in him looking like this:
Which resulted in this wonderful moment. Shivers at that moment she curls and uncurls her toes. Even Seasoned Saint sexuality with Mary Jane’s Mama and Daddy having a moment!
3) It provides a formidable counter to much of the race-neutral characterizations many BW have to take on in this current television era. From the first episode where Mary Jane is in bed wearing a headscarf because she wears an expensive weave that requires she not lie on it without a covering, DBW fell in love with the show’s cultural specificity.
Again, specificity is not the same as stereotype. Stereotypes are reductive attributes, fixed, immutable, and naturalized. Specificity suggests cultural characteristics that resonate within specific populations. For example, the idea that Scandal’s Olivia Pope can lie on a pillow without a head scarf and wake up with it magically laid to rest is not accurate; neither is it specific.
BW’s haircare is EXPENSIVE. I don’t care HOW down you may feel about your boyfriend married President not being there for you. Before you go lay down in your bed and cry while listening to the best of Anita Baker and Sade (or if you’re classy inclined—Nina Simone), you BETTA tie yo’ damn hauh (read: hair) up so you can be ready for work in the morning.
You can tell I still ain’t forgave Olivia for that ish in season 2. Still ain’t. Only thing could make it right is a jar of coconut oil and a large widetooth comb on her bathroom counter.
Anyway…Mary Jane did. It was REFRESHING to see a BW do what I do at night. It is nice to know you are seen. Not just ideal. Not a glorious, glamorous, fierce, impervious, always über fashionable but a woman who if she ain’t got no company over, ties her hair up with a silk scarf so it won’t be crispy, crunchy, wavy (in the wrong places) the next morning.
I ain’t saying the show is perfect. The only consistent storyline is the romance arc. There’s no big goal to work toward. It’s much more a case study of a neurotic/narcissistic/bourgie/well networked Southern Black cable news anchor.
Neither perfect are the performances. Union is good; great could be if she works on it. She needs more practice in her dramatic levels but she’s a Black girl I recognize. A Black girl that helps create a continuum of Black womanhood on television. Olivia Pope, much like the woman who portrays her, cannot be the only one because there is only so much that character can represent.
Moreover, while I understand that Pope has to be identifiable to a mainstream audience (read white) and while I certainly believe that BMJ can also connect with non-BF, that’s not its premise and neither should it be. Contrary to this article (and its own very strange ambivalence about the place of “universal” identification), DBW doesn’t frankly care if everybody connects with the character. And here’s why: no one cares if everybody connects with the average white character on a show. It’s just assumed they are so normative, why wouldn’t everyone try to relate, identify and be familiar. Universality is typically only applied to cases of non-white media. You know, the non-normative.
One of the great things about a possible spectrum of BW characterizations is that while they can all be different and all be relatable to mass audiences if need be, they can also be SPECIFIC. Specific, like a WASP-y yet agnostic female attorney forced to return to work after years of homemaking when her asshat (at the time) husband goes to prison and eventually decides to end a relationship with her new lover because she feels it has deleterious effects on her as a parent (BS but that’s what that heffa did. SOBS. :rocks self and sings “Rollin’ in the Deep”:) .
Specific, like an overly teary yet brilliant CIA agent with a chemical imbalance and daddy issues who falls in love with a man who may or may not be a terrorist sleeper agent.
Specific, like a French Canadian with a deep love for spaghetti, who takes a job as a secretary, falls in love with her taciturn, mercurial boss, shows it by performing a New wave French song with illegible lyrics at his birthday party, becomes a copy editor and then realizes her dream as an actress on a soap opera who occasionally enjoys threesomes.
That kinda specific. But back to Union, again, I don’t think this is the performance of a lifetime but…
How much good faith would it have earned THR to demonstrate that they read their own articles about the success of Being Mary Jane and realize that including the lead of one of cable television’s hottest shows would not only help it get recognition from those Television Academy members who don’t realize BET still exists but also prove once again that Black viewership is REAL?
Again, DBW can anticipate the counter arguments: BET is not on the radar. Union isn’t that great. It’s not a critically acclaimed series.
And as many rebuttals to those points as I can make, I’m just going to go with the simplest one: Optics are everything. Contrary to popular belief, Lupita Nyong’o is not the only other BW available to work right now. Don’t EVEN get me started on her because her issue is the opposite side of the visibility spectrum where she gets lots of mediated attention/fetishization but ends up with little employment aside from a makeup endorsement and a role in the goddamn Jungle Book. But I won’t address it because y’all still believe and are praying against her working with Tyler Perry and I ain’t got the strength to fight…today. The magazines are suffering a post-Nyong’o sugar coma right now but, again, it’s that Highlander thing. In addition, just because she’s the Most Beautiful Woman in the World doesn’t mean it’s not still important to PRETEND like you notice that there are other BW who are on television and are in lead roles. One≠ALL the BW.
I understand that the stylists had a particular kind of look in mind that only pale could endure but I mean, BW can wear blue! So what, you want to do this weird Big Love-esque style look?
BW will work it out. We always make do.
But putting Jessica Paré on the cover instead of one of those other women I mentioned—especially Union—illustrates one big point: they gave NOT. ONE. EFF. (excuse me mama)
At the end of the day, it’s just a magazine cover. It’s just agents and managers vying for their clients to be on the cover of THR. DBW gets it. However, as per usual, the minute we assume that business is ideologically (yes, yes, big word) neutral and is not operated by humans with perspectives, beliefs, and hierarchies, is the minute we lose sight of what this is about. Is it about a diversity count? No. But is it about acknowledging that whatever difference is occurring on-screen, it be illustrated and seen as important.
Because relying on Kerry? That ain’t gon sustain.
Oh FFS: Let’s listen to the Highlander theme. It’ll cheer us up.
*I mean it wrapped up a little too neatly and with few things unresolved as if they questioned being picked up for season 2. SPOILERS: And neither dude in the running?! And one of ‘em got a baby coming? And they got Whitney singing “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” over her handing the dude back his sperm and it’s sposed to symbolize something but we ain’t sure since I don’t think Mary Jane changed all that much but I mean what I know?
**Not knocking but she did sorta magically jump the there can only be one Black lady famous at one time velvet rope. She jumped right on past Sanaa, Nia, nem.
*** I’m fully certain that Halle has…issues. But still…