Let me begin by saying that after hearing people talk (and blog) about the new show, I did watch the pilot episode last year and was pleasantly surprised. Unlike most of BET’s productions, I actually enjoyed the episode. Minus opening the show with a sex scene (I believe TV’s oversaturation of sex decreases the content’s quality), I thought the episode was very interesting and I also respected the way BET “humanized” Mary Jane by showing her doing “normal” things (e.g. sitting on the toilet while scrolling through her phone).
I’d heard people compare Gabrielle Union’s character to Kerry Washington’s in Scandal, but I was happy to see that Being Mary Jane was not the gladiator-love-affair-B-613 storyline; it brought its own unique plot.
So, then I watched the first episode in January 2014…and I was disappointed. Although very different from Scandal, we still had a woman sleeping with a married man. The fact that Gabby learned of his marital status in the pilot episode was like “Okay, we’ll see what happens; she didn’t know.” But, after not only finding out about his wife and children but exposing the affair to the man’s wife, in the following episode Mary Jane still ends the scene in the shower with him.
I know everyone says, “It’s entertainment, not real life,” but I for one am tired of the sleeping-with-a-married-man plotline.
So I took a step back from Miss Paul.
Fast forward to last week and I’m visiting my mother who was watching the season finale. So I joined her to catch a few snippets here and there, obviously confused by most of them because of my ‘viewing hiatus.’ But I did see that Andre (isn’t Omari Hardwick fine though?) returned home to his wife, so I began to wonder (in my best Carrie Bradshaw voice), Did I fail to give Being Mary Jane a fair chance?
And this thought continued to replay in my mind as I noticed BET show clips of “ordinary women” explaining to the world why they are Mary Jane.
So days later I decided to give Miss “Pauletta” another try as I watched episodes two and three (“Girls Night In” and “The Huxtables Have Fallen”). And after just a few minutes into episode three (and right around the time that BET decided to show a woman performing oral sex on a man), I re-concluded (I know it’s not a word) that I was fair in my previous assumptions: This show disappoints me.
Well, to be fair, not the entire show because I definitely think it has other interesting storylines. But I’m not here for Gabby, Andre and the raunchy sex they have all over her glass house.
It honestly disgusts me. Again, people will probably disagree with me and point out that it’s just a television show, but I’m like…dang. Are we at the point of such a seared conscience that we can so easily look past blatant and glorified adultery and unfaithfulness just because “it happens in real life?” Well, so do homicides but I don’t want to see that on my TV screen each day.
Whether or not you believe Mary Jane Paul’s “image” even matters because she is a fictional character can be debated, but I want to focus more on BET’s promotion of this show (and some of its themes/messages) via its #IAMMARYJANE” campaign.
BET says, “If you’re a powerful woman, upload your video and let us know why you are Mary Jane.” Apparently the winner has a chance to appear on the network.
I watched a clip and some women said they were Mary Jane because she is beautiful, she represents women and their friends, she’s not perfect but she’s relatable—and my absolute favorite—because she likes to have a lot of sex.
Now, while I don’t think Miss Paul is the anti-christ, I certainly don’t think her character is someone women should compare themselves with.
I am NOT Mary Jane.
I do NOT sleep with married men.
I do NOT pressure a man to tell his kids “the truth” that he is divorcing their mother for me, a woman who is not his wife.
I do NOT tell a man’s wife that he is a cheater and then go lay my body beside him, again and again.
Sure, I saw on the finale when she apologized to Avery and finally took responsibility for her role in the matter, but even that was not without BET highlighting the foolish concept of a mistress telling a wife how to sexually please her husband. That’s disrespect at its finest.
Mary Jane certainly has more to her storyline than this affair, but it’s pretty clear to see that (at least for season one) this was the show’s highlight.
A woman left an interesting comment on BET’s #IAMMARYJANE campaign page. She wrote:
I am Avery. I am a strong, independent, self sufficient, intelligent, beautiful woman. Mary Jane has good qualities too. However, there is nothing glorifying about her role/position. The show is hot & steamy. That’s what attracts the viewing audience. And, Gabrielle Union is an awesome actress. Nevertheless, BET, there needs to be some sensitivity for the Averys that watch the show. There’s nothing nice about a family falling apart, being a mistress or going through divorce. So, where can I upload my “I am Avery video?”
*Two snaps for this*
While I pray to never be an “Avery,” there are many women like her out there—real women who have watched their husbands destroy their marriage and family with other women.
And I’m sure it doesn’t encourage the unfortunate Averys of today to see the media (and sadly shows with Black-female leads) put the Mary Janes on a pedestal like their actions are deeds worthy of praise.
It bothers me that so many of us keep seeing Black women depicted as a side chick and a homewrecker and justify these images with “Well this is reality.”
How can we ever change the negatives of our reality if we constantly embrace and promote them? To be better we must do better. We can’t cry out that many in our community keep killing each other, but then support the movies, TV shows and songs that depict this very behavior and simply call it reality.
You always hear about how X amount of black women are not married (one episode even highlighted this), and the images that portray our community keep depicting us as man-hungry, mistresses, and reality TV characters.
Can’t we aspire to be (and project) more? Sure, White women have unflattering roles as well, but you better believe they also project an equal amount of positive images for these women as well. You may see a White woman leading as a mistress, but you’ll be sure to see another one leading as a doctor.
I’m sure many will think I’m taking this show too far, but I don’t believe there’s any such thing as “just” when it comes to how images and media influence people’s perceptions of Black women. I do think Being Mary Jane has the potential to be a great show if it redirects Gabby’s love-life storyline, and I don’t discredit how leading roles like hers and Washington’s will open doors for other Black actresses.
Yet, I do think that, if continuing down this side chick path, these roles will only afford Black women a small slice of the ‘#winning pie’. And as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explained in her TED talk, “…bottom power is not power at all.”
Service is her passion, writing is her platform, uplifting women and the Black Community is her purpose. Shala Marks is a writer, editor and soon-to-be author. Through her work, Marks aspires to demonstrate “The Craft of Writing, and the Art of Efficacy.” She has a B.A. in journalism from Arizona State University. Connect with her at: http://shalamarks.com/.