BET's original film Being Mary Jane, which premiered on July 2nd, opens with this quote: "42 percent of African-American women have never been married... This is one black woman's story not meant to represent all black women."
The drama tells the story of Mary Jane, who is played by Gabrielle Union, an upwardly mobile African-American anchor-woman experiencing career woes and troubles with love. It is a plot all too familiar to many African-American women. I myself admit, however hesitantly, that I identify with many of the themes laid out in Being Mary Jane. I'm a successful, well-educated woman, a mid-career professional, a homeowner, and I am God-fearing and attractive. Yet, I am unmarried and without children.
What single woman hasn't wondered when her Prince Charming would show up and why we've been single for so long? We were reared on Disney tales and societal expectations of mating, marriage and family. Like Mary Jane, I too have thought: "I am the exception to the rule in every aspect of my life, except that... I'm running out of time." For me, different dynamics have contributed to being single.
You know the stats: Many more African-American women are in college and in the professional world then black men; one-third of black men are in jail; add to that a population of young black men who have been shot in gang wars due to drug violence, etc. Add in black men who don't date black women, are gay, or consistently unemployed and the pickings become slimmer and slimmer. While many black women feel an overwhelming pressure to up their game and become more desirable in the effort to increase their chances, many black men feel the numbers are in their favor and can (though not always) have a tendency to either date multiple women, or put off commitment for later, which is actually an overall trend, no matter the race.
However, behind the statistics are real single ladies, with feelings, desires, dreams and goals. And life has a way of throwing unexpected curve balls that we don't always know how best to deal with. Such is the case with Mary Jane.
At a screening last Tuesday followed by a Q & A panel, creator and writer Mara Brock Akil addressed the tendency to think of people involved in morally deteriorating circumstances with judgmental eyes, when in reality they are often good people and things aren't that black and white.
That statistic has been played. So when ever there is a conversation about women being single, particularly, there was a Sex and the City article, [in Time Magazine with] a sidebar about black women, [they mentioned] the 42 percent. Then... CNN did Black in America, and the number kept coming up. Black women, I felt, were upset because they felt like, 'stop treating us like we are an endangered species [or a statistic]' and there wasn't another voice to it. So this is my attempt to be a part of the conversation.
When the load becomes heavy and Mary Jane is weighted down with more then should be expected for one person, she reacts negatively. There is no safe place to be rightfully indignant, or to express her fears, concerns, and anger without being seen and classified as "an angry black bitch." She is carrying her own load as well of those of multiple family members; she deals with a sick mother, a depressed father, an unemployed niece who is pregnant with her second child and the list goes on. To make matters worse she not only has no spouse, but the man she thought was her most promising prospect is not who she thinks he is. It would be a lot for anyone to shoulder, but what is more disturbing is how realistic and common the story is.
BMJ begs many important questions.
In the film, Mary Jane makes a choice that left Akil wondering how she could be so morally deficient in a choice and still have the audience root for her, which was brilliantly done. But also asks/begs a very real question: What do you do when you feel you've done everything right and your life is not turning out the way you'd hoped? To what ends will you go to ensure the life of your dreams and what are the societal implications for both family and relationships? What does all of this contribute to the makeup of the emerging black middle class and what it looks like now, and how is that changing?
I feel that any ills of America like welfare, teenage pregnancy, drug use, the poster child is often either a black woman or a black man. And I even want to talk about what's happening to our relationships. When the divorce rate is at 50 percent and... affairs are not that taboo anymore... I look at those numbers and say, 'all those people can not be bad.' So I want to know why? But my point is, that's not just a black woman's story. It's an American woman's story.
Viewers willing to tune into BET and allow the network the opportunity to entertain them with this series won't be disappointed.
BET Chairman and CEO Debra Lee had this to say: "It is such a realistic view of what all women and especially black women deal with everyday as we multitask, as we deal with our families and our work life and our love life. It's just a perfect mix of all of that."
Like Sex and the City, Being Mary Jane deserves the opportunity to be consumed by a wide audience and has found the perfect platform in BET Networks. BMJ is social commentary in creative form and therefore television writing at its best! It should be viewed with girlfriends and widely discussed.
In addition, with Akil (Sparkle, Girlfriends, The Game) at the helm and Union (Think Like a Man, Bad Boys II, Deliver Us From Eva) leading the cast and the movie, which will be an hour-long series returning to BET in January 2014, suspicion of the film's credibility should be void."
Despite the tendency to shed negative light on BET productions in the past, the quality is high, the music is amazing and the story is believable. Making one think the brass have heard the voices of the masses.
Says Debra Lee: "Our audience expects so much from us. The last thing I want to do is give them low quality programming and expect them to accept that. I want to do the highest quality programming. I want it to be well written, well directed, everything about it and being Mary Jane is that."
I am happy to see that the network is embracing programming that does represent my demographic. While I can't relate to all of what Mary Jane goes through, I must begrudgingly admit that I too am Mary Jane!!!
Anybody feel me?