It took me months to watch the movie premiere of Being Mary Jane late last year — not because I didn’t want to see it but because I missed the first showing and BET punished all us latecomers by making us wait several months later until the next TV airing. Nevertheless, when I finally had the occasion to watch the precursor to the series which debuted this past Tuesday, I ate it all up.
Though on first observation of Mary Jane (played by Gabrielle Union) I got the feeling she was a character I’d seen before — something of a mix of her role as Julia in Daddy’s Little Girls and every other type-cast part she’s ever played — there was a vulnerability about Mary Jane that I felt Gabrielle had never truly showcased in prior roles (perhaps I was reading into things given her personal life) and I most certainly had never seen Omari Hardwick in that way (thank you Mara Brock Akil and BET).
I was granted the opportunity to watch the series opener at the end of November and as soon as I walked out of the screening I knew I’d found something to do with my Tuesday nights. I felt every single up and down Mary Jane did, as “Never Answer” kissed her neck, invited her to attend a concert with him, and then made plans with another woman he would surely sleep with when MJ was busy, and I only hoped one day I would be so blessed to feel a man of Andre’s (Omari) physical excellence ravish me the way he did Mary Jane at the gym — minus the wife and kids. That’s why when the screening was over, I was so deflated when my coworkers’ main takeaway from the season premiere was that they wished Mary Jane hadn’t slept with Andre because her decision to do so makes it seem like sleeping with married men is something all black women do.
I was met with similar sentiments at the office yesterday when everyone else had the chance to catch the episode, and many comments on Twitter and Facebook echoed the same disgust. The Olivia Pope comparisons rolled off people’s tongues and keyboards without hesitation as everyone labeled Mary Jane a “ho,” said she was “nothing but a mistress,” and worst of all a “poor representation of black women.” Oh word? Y’all really gone act like you’ve never been messy?
Every time I hear an accusation to that affect I fight the urge to request the accuser provide a handwritten expose of their past romantic trysts and ask them whether they would categorize their mistakes as “ho-like behavior” or representative of an upright black woman. I can almost guarantee the response will be, “I’m not all black women.” At which point I’d offer this newsflash: Neither is Mary Jane.
Black female audiences have got to get past the idea that they are ever going to turn on the television and see a character that totally and completely represents them — not because no one cares enough to try, because it’s simply not possible. And you know why it’s not possible? one, we’re all different (duh) and two, every time someone tries to think outside the box with a black female character backlash like this happens.
Aren’t we the same ones who complain about all the black women on TV who don’t have love interests? Mary Jane gets two and suddenly she’s relegated to nothing more than a ho? Sure, not many of us may have found ourselves in the bed of a married man, but don’t act like you’ve never slipped up? That’s what Mary Jane did y’all — slip up. Once! And that’s what makes her human. And relatable. Even if your exact transgression isn’t the same, I would bet my absolute last dollar that every one of you out there has gone back to a man who you knew was no good for you in a moment of weakness. Would you indefinitely label yourself dumb, stupid, or an idiot for that one mistake?
Of course when a character as bright and accomplished as Mary Jane hits our television screens we want the best for her and to see her make the best choices, but let’s be honest, that’s not realistic and if there wasn’t all that sexay drama in the series half of y’all wouldn’t be watching. The purpose of “Being Mary Jane” isn’t to serve as a mirror of black female morality; it’s an exploration of the desperation some single, successful black women feel and the choices they make as a result of said desperation and feelings of hopelessness. Off the bat, not everyone is going to relate to that concept, but surely there are elements of the storyline everyone can understand and it’s those things you can take with you and cherish and the mistakes you can vicariously learn from and make sure you don’t commit them in your own life, lest you have your perfect black woman card revoked.
We can’t abhor the fact that the mammy-Jezebel dichotomy still very much exists in terms of black female sexuality and then ourselves act as though there is no in between. And though we know a lot more rides on the reps of black women than white women, let’s free ourselves of some of the mental shackles. Was anybody out there as disgusted with Carrie when she began an affair with Big while they were both in relationships on “Sex & The City”? Doubt it. For some reason, we can so clearly see and accept white characters on television as just that, characters, but when it comes to black ones they always turn into the be-all end-all of the black experience. I have news for you all, it’s just entertainment. And chances are you can relate to the messiness a little more than you’re willing to let on. So why not turn down your nose just a bit and take the show for what it’s worth to you as an individual instead of worrying about how it makes us look? Truth be told, you’re more likely worried about that issue than anyone else you fear is drawing said comparisons.