Ever noticed that there have been very few series with a Black cast of women, if any, where the focus is mainly on the characters’ professional lives?
While there are plenty of projects in general that are all about the romantic pursuits and friendship ups and downs of the people on them, Lena Waithe‘s latest comedy, Twenties, is centered around a queer Black woman named Hattie and her two girlfriends, Marie and Nia, hustling to make their dreams a reality in Los Angeles. That doesn’t mean love stories aren’t presented, but what it does mean is that the show is aiming to to present its characters as well-rounded, anti-monolithic women, just like Black women off-screen.
“I just feel like in this day and age, we see more and more that women are a lot more complex than what we originally saw in TV shows and films,” said Gabrielle Graham, who plays Nia, when I met up with the cast at the Viacom building in Manhattan. “This is definitely one of those shows where it’s about more than just being in a relationship. We have careers, we’re go-getters, we have dreams, and they sometimes don’t always happen, but we persevere.”
That unique story angle was one of the things that drew all three women, Graham, Jonica T. Gibbs (pronounced John-eeka) who plays Hattie, and Christina Elmore who is Marie, to the BET project. Other draws included the opportunity to work with showrunner Susan Fales-Hill, who was lead writer and producer for the classic NBC sitcom A Different World.
“I mean, A Different World is a show that is forever in everyone’s top five shows, because it really was the first time we got to see young, Black people living their young Black lives,” said Elmore. “For me, that’s always been a touchstone show. So to be working on this one, which is awesome, about young Black people trying to pursue their dreams and have her at the helm, it’s a dream come true.”
As for Gibbs, who plays a heavily Waithe-based character on the series, inspired by the Emmy winner’s webseries of the same name, the relative on-screen newbie was excited about the chance to tell a different story in a different way. Her character of Hattie, a struggling writer, is the first masculine presenting queer Black woman to be the lead of a show.
“We’re in a time and age where you can be more confident in presenting a masculine presenting female to the world, whereas the character [on the webseries] was tomboy-ish before. That was something that was significant, probably for Lena, too, this idea that we’re going to do this and do it in a way that’s different, showing a different type of gay woman,” Gibbs said.
“Lena was gracious enough to give me the autonomy over how I wanted to present the character. I did hit her up and was like, ‘Can we have dinner? Can I feel out your vibe?’ I wanted to get to know her in person, one on one, and she was like, ‘Do you,'” Gibbs added. “She was like, ‘Yeah, it’s loosely based off of me but we chose you for a reason. I know that what you’re going to bring to the table is going to add to everything the character is supposed to be.’ She really gave me the free reign to do my thing, which as an actor, you appreciate.”
Altogether, the women say they were most attracted by the opportunity to be part of a show that is really good, really funny and really relatable. Though we are in a great period for television where we’re seeing more and more variety when it comes to depictions of young Black women living their lives (Insecure and Sistas for example), Twenties stands out. They also note that even if it does feel similar to other shows on TV right now, the opportunity to provide an array of options is an added bonus when you consider how many shows featuring white people get to be all over TV.
“For so long, white people have had all kinds of shows,” Elmore said. “There’s a show with white people where they’re all living in the same apartment. Then you go to the next network and there’s a medical drama on CBS. They’re all different and people can watch them all. I think for Black people, we’ve gotten to the point where we feel like we have to be siloed off. This is the show about young Black women, so we can’t have any more shows about Black women, even though in this show they’re pursuing something different and there’s a whole different world of the story.”
“I’m just interested in having good shows on television,” she added. “I’m interested in mediocre ones, in soap operas and reality TV and shows that are Black women pursuing their dreams in Hollywood and shows about them being a hairdresser and so much more. I think it’s time for us to have all kinds of things on television, even when they might look like they might be similar. Living Single and Girlfriends, I’m glad they both got to exist. It’s time for us to be represented in more ways than one at once. There doesn’t have to be just one of us.”
The trailer alone shows the great promise the comedy has going into its first season. And in addition to these three ladies, there are also appearances by Big Sean, Iman Shumpert, as well as Vanessa Williams, her ex-husband Rick Fox and an always hilarious Kym Whitley. Check out a preview of what’s to come below and tune into the show when it premieres this Wednesday at 10/9c on BET.