I’ll admit that despite the hoopla surrounding the show, I did not watch the movie special/pilot for Being Mary Jane until a couple of months ago. Though I’ve been a fan of Akil Productions since Girlfriends, BET’s original programming has often left me a bit befuddled. Still I’ve always enjoyed Gabrielle Union, and Omari Hardwick is hopefully on his way to being recognized as a great actor. (Please check out his performances in Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere and I Will Follow, if you have not done so already.)
I’ll admit that I was SHOCKED by just how good Being Mary Jane is. As a twenty-something Black woman, I feel that I am personally confronted with the supposed “plight” of the dating lives (or lack their of) of Black women. However, the Akil’s Being Mary Jane doesn’t look down on the main character with pity. Instead, I found that it was a fresh perspective on a highly successful career woman (who just happens to be Black), who is secure with her sexuality and has a desire to be in a loving and fulfilling relationship.
Mary Jane is not saint. She’s very aware of the choices that she makes and some of them are unfortunately very poor. What’s important about the show however is that Mary Jane is so much more than her relationships with men. We also get to see her struggle to stay afloat in her workplace.
Mary Jane is a news anchor and we discover that she once held a position at CNN that did not pan out. Despite the name that she’s built for herself it has not been without compromise. She seems to understand that her platform is tenuous.
Mary Jane’s family is also rather dysfunctional. Her deadbeat brother is living with her parents, her mother is rather overbearing, almost to the point that it seems unreal, and her teenage niece is pregnant with her second child.
The premiere episode of Being Mary Jane certainly began with a bang. Broken glass, pill overdose and blood. It picks up right where the movie special ended. I will say that the opening scene, dramatic and fast paced, was extremely confusing. We discover that Mary Jane is helping a friend in need, but other than vague notions that this friend is depressed, we do not find out any more about her in this episode. I’ll admit that was a bit off-putting.
As the episode moves forward we meet Mary Jane’s love interests. There’s a near confrontation between the men in her life (her ex-boyfriend who she’s just discovered is married and her ex-boyfriend who she’s rekindled a sexual relationship with). Personally, I’m glad this did not pan out into a full-on disagreement, though I’m sure some other viewers were disappointed.
There are some things about the episode that I found questionable. For example, Mary Jane’s producer Kara is painted as heartless, which I'm not certain was the intent of the show's creator. Initially, we see her sacrificing her time with her children to chase a story. (Only women are ever questioned and criticized for choosing their careers over family.) In the episode the newsroom is following a hurricane. After trying to force the crew to stay on location Kara has them leave behind a camera with an elderly couple who are trying to stick out the storm. As Kara cheers and gloats about receiving an Emmy, the camera feed is lost and we are unsure if the couple have survived or not. Mary Jane is clearly uncomfortable with the direction of the story and she struggles to continue reporting on air. This scene in itself makes Kara thoroughly unlikable, which, again, may not have been the intent of the show’s creators.
Some scenes felt a bit too unnecessarily overblown. For example, after having to break a date with her rekindled flame due to work, the man informs her that he’s headed out with another woman. Mary Jane flips out on him, slamming down her phone only to call him back seconds later. This scene was over the top and irrational in my opinion, especially because she calls him right back. I should point out that the man is listed in her phone as “DO NOT ANSWER”. It’s understandable then that Mary Jane is irritated that she’s allowed him back in her life. However, what was confusing to me was her visceral reaction to his behavior. From what I understand, he was not doing anything different from what he’s done in the past. Mary Jane’s “fit” disturbed me because it made her seem silly, which she is not.
Still, despite its flaws, the show is engaging and entertaining and if you are unsure of if you want to watch it, you should, if only for one scene in particular. Mary Jane’s ex-boyfriend’s wife shows up to her workplace. The conversation that ensues between the women is like NOTHING I have ever seen before. The wife, fires off question after question, asking Mary Jane the extent of her relationship with her husband, as well as some very detailed and personal questions about her body and her sexual activities with him. As I watched my jaw literally dropped to the floor. I won’t give any more details for those who have not had the opportunity to see it yet. All I will say is WOW, the show’s creators certainly went there.
What was clear to me throughout the episode was that Mary Jane is a fully fleshed out character. Her imperfections (both plausible and at times heart wrenching) give her the humanity that has often been sorely lacking for Black characters on primetime television shows. Gabrielle Union is stunning and fantastic in the role. I say kudos to Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, to Gabrielle Union and to BET Networks. I will most certainly be tuning into next week’s episode.
Aramide A Tinubu just finished her Master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema at Columbia University in Film Studies. She’s a Black Cinema geek and blogger. http://chocolategirlinthecity.blogspot.com/