BET’s “Being Mary Jane” — Another “broken” black woman on TV

I literally couldn’t wait for the season premiere of “Being Mary Jane”, BET’s new one-hour drama series starring Gabrielle Union.  This summer, I watched the two-hour pilot/movie that BET aired and was so excited to see a young professional black woman on TV dealing with “real life” problems on a prime time television show.  I usually can’t do BET because, in my opinion, the programming has been crap.  What they did to “The Game” is a travesty.  And, so, when I watched the BMJ pilot and actually liked it, I was thrilled to be able to support a BET show.

It’s not often we get to see a fly Black woman anchoring a TV drama.  When Kerry Washington first showed up on our television screens as Olivia Pope in ABC’s hit-show “Scandal”, Black women everywhere did a collective happy dance.  We were doubly-ecstatic because the show is penned by Shonda Rhimes of “Grey’s Anatomy” fame, so there was a black woman behind the curtain writing a role for another black woman who took center-stage.  Initially, I was just as excited about “Scandal” as everyone else.  If for no other reason than to see a black woman “handling” her business on television, displaying intelligence and sex appeal in one very sharply-dressed brown body.  That said, I quickly lost interest in the show.  Why?  Because of her dysfunctional-ass relationship with Fitz, the show’s very-married President of the United States.

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(One of Fitz and Olivia’s steamy scenes.)

At first, I was attracted to the rapid dialogue of the show, and over-the-top story lines of the “cases” that Olivia and her Gladiators “handled” every week.  But then, I couldn’t get past the fact that outside of the professional realm, Olivia was a basic side-ho.  I also couldn’t stand the hundreds of posts flooding my Facebook and Twitter feeds, hyping up this crazy-ass relationship.  People were “#Team Olitz” (an annoying combination of the names Olivia and Fitz), and swooning over the steamy love scenes in the Oval Office where this woman was banging someone else’s husband.  These same Facebook friends posting these pro-adultery posts are the same ones quoting the Bible on any other day.  I was shocked that women who claim to have morals in tact conveniently disabled their moral compasses for an hour every Thursday.  Isn’t it ironic?  Well, I’m sorry, but homewrecking hos get no love on my TV, so as much as I wanted to support Kerry and Shonda, I started changing the channel.

Fast forward to July when the BMJ pilot debuted.  I was happy to see that Mary Jane was family-oriented (even if her family presented with some extremely stereotypical issues), career-driven, and frustrated with dating.  These are all things to which I can fully-relate.  I especially understood the pressures she was under to be all things to all people.  She felt the need to be Superwoman and had no one with whom she could curl up next to after she took off her cape for the day.  I get that, and I think many other black women know just what that’s like.  We’re all forced to be so strong and to appear that we have it all together at all times.  We can’t afford to show any cracks in our veneers  because everyone is expecting us to be half a woman anyway, and so we overcompensate, which can be totally exhausting.  We afraid to show people that we’re vulnerable because we’ve been told all our lives that we are supposed to be strong.  And for so many of us, we are the proverbial backbones of our family and can’t afford to take a break from saving everyone but ourselves.  We are constantly putting everyone else’s needs before our own, and when we do take the focus on others and instead focus on ourselves, we feel selfish and guilty.  It’s a terrible conundrum.  I felt her pain, her frustration, her loneliness, and her guilt.

So when the season premiere of BMJ aired last week, I was there for it.  I set a reminder on my phone and tuned in to BET to check it out (since I never watched BET, I had to Google to figure out which channel it is!).  It started off well, and I was sucked right in.  And then, things went south.  Mary Jane, on top of her other personality quirks (and we all have them, so no judgments here), is knowingly involved with a married man.  So… that went from sugar to shit in just under 60 minutes.  And here we go… AGAIN.  Another otherwise positive black female character sleeping with a married man.  Now, mind you, during the pilot movie, Mary Jane discovers that Omari Hardwick’s character, Andre, is married and she’s devastated because she thinks she’s finally found a man who’s worth her time.

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(Mary Jane and Married Andre)

What we see in the pilot is that she breaks things off with him.  But in the season premiere?  She is confronted by his wife in a meeting during which she shows NO remorse for the relationship that she has had with this woman’s husband.  The wife asks her whether he has performed oral sex on her and in response, she doesn’t say “yes” or “no”… she says: “It’s required” with a very smug sneer.  Really, trick?  Then, after she pretends like she’s going to leave the man alone, he confronts her in the gym locker room and during their exchange, she spies a photo of his family (yes, there are children involved) that she herself describes as “beautiful”.  And, yet, she f*cks him in the public shower (after he removed her shower cap, which I found hilarious).  So, look.  As I said before, I am not here for hos.  And that’s when BMJ lost me.

I was profoundly disappointed by the turn the show took.  Discovering that a man is a cheater and then using that to become a better person yourself, that earns my respect.  So, had the show allowed her to grow as a result of the experience, I would’ve been a supporter.  But to have her go from sidepiece-victim to sidepiece-sumbag turned me all the way off.

And then I had this realization: here we are with two beautiful, educated, professional, black, “independent” women as the main focus of primetime TV series and they are both f*cking married men.  This is problematic for me.  Having grown up in school districts where I was often the only black student in the class, I learned that in those situations, I was the representative of the black race in those rooms.  What do I mean by that?  Well, I might be the only black person that someone encounters, so I better be the best representation that I can be.  We don’t have many black women on TV these days, especially not in dramatic series on major networks, and when we finally get the spotlight on us, this is the kind of garbage we put out there.  For those people who already believe in the stereotype of the Black “Jezebel”, we are affirming those beliefs by making them integral to “our” story lines.  Why is this necessary?  Both shows would be just as good without the “side-ho” twist.  Can we get one whole healthy black woman representative on TV?  Just one?  Apparently not.

A few minutes after the Andre/Mary Jane public shower sex scene aired, Madame Noire posted a Facebook comment that said “Lawd Jesus the ending of #BeingMaryJane… Do we have to care that Omari Hardwick’s character is married?”.  Well, the answer is YES, we should care.  And now we’ve got outlets like this nurturing the next generation of homewrecking whores. Great. Just great.  It seems that moral compasses will get breaks on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:00 PM EST with our two black female lead actresses leading the charge.  We’re f*cked.  Listen up, ladies who want to pretend men they’re sleeping with are not married, heed the warning of that great oracle of reality TV, Nene Leakes: and “close your legs to married men“.

Maybe someday I’ll go into why it’s ironic that Gabrielle Union is even playing a character who “has it all”, yet ends up dating a married man.  Or, you can do your own research and discover the irony for yourself.  Art imitating life?  Perhaps.

Oh, and that reminds me.  There was another GTFOH scene in the show.  Mary Jane, in addition to sleeping with Married Andre, also rekindled her relationship with her college sweetheart, David, who is “affectionately” known as “Do Not Ever Answer” in her iPhone (we’ve all got one of those).  Look, we slip up and return to past mistakes — it happens to the best of us.  That said, not only is Mary Jane depicted as a desperate chick who is willing to do whatever just to have piece of a man, she is also willing to do whatever it takes to get a baby.  So, what does she do, when she and David finish doing the do, she secretly scoops the used condom up off the bedroom floor, takes it to the bathroom and uses a turkey baster to extract the sperm, puts it into a plastic container, and stashes it in the box of baking soda in the freezer.  This was a WTF moment for me.  Is it really that serious that you have to go around stealing sperm from old boyfriends?  That’s some trifling sh*t right there and shows that her judgment is clearly off.

I’ve had fans of both “Scandal” and “BMJ” tell me that the characters are flawed and messy for a reason — because “real” people are flawed and messy.  Um…  *side eye*  So, this brings me to my final thought: REAL people are flawed. A fictional character, which both Olivia and Mary Jane are, can be written any way we want them to be written. Since there aren’t a ton of black women on prime time TV, it would be nice if the ones we DO see weren’t all falling apart at the seams, which is what the mainstream thinks of us anyway and now here we go perpetuating that mess.

After I went all the way in on the show, I’ll leave you with this final thought.  To me, “BMJ” was another disappointing show in its representation of black women.  The pilot was great, but the season premier took Mary Jane in a direction I wasn’t expecting. It was like having a great first date and then on the second date the dude farts at the table, flirts with the waitress, and stiffs on the tip… but, believe it or not, after all that, I’m still willing to go on a third date.  It was only the first episode, so I’ll watch to see where she ultimately ends up.  I hope her final destination is a therapist’s couch or a confessional.

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