Jessica Williams will easily make you fall in love with “The Incredible Jessica James.”
Williams stars in the original Netflix film, released Friday, as a 20-something city-dwelling theater lover who is navigating life, love and womanhood. She is witty and effortlessly charming in the movie, but leave it to her to describe her character best.
“I’m freaking dope,” Williams boldly says as titular character Jessica James in one unforgettable moment from the film. In that scene, she stops arguing with a guy she’s sorta seeing to remind him just how magical she truly is. It’s undoubtedly one of the film’s most striking and “yasss”-inducing moments.
“That line was really dope to deliver because she is a badass woman,” Williams told HuffPost in July. “It’s refreshing to see a woman who knows what she’s capable of and stands in her own skin.”
Williams is right ― she truly is refreshing to see and her affirming portrayal of black womanhood is part of what makes “The Incredible Jessica James” one of Netflix’s best original summer releases. It’s a feel-good romantic-comedy in which Williams depicts a young black woman being uninhibited, unafraid and unapologetic about who she is and what she wants. She’s multidimensional and dynamic ― and considering that black women are too often shown in an unflattering light on screen, that matters.
“She is not someone who is obsessed with getting a man, she has her own ambitions and her own drive,” Williams said of her character. “She’s a woman, she’s black, and she’s unapologetic.”
“Sometimes women are written to be like, ′Sorry for existing, sorry, I’m sorry I’m alive,’” she added. “And it’s like, ‘No, you can just exist.’”
It’s hard to ignore how much Williams, a former correspondent on “The Daily Show,” has in common with her character. Williams is sharp, snarky and full of wit as Jessica James, a millennial who is trying to move past her last relationship to pursue a career in the arts and find new lovers.
Her best friend introduces her to a recently divorced white guy, played by Chris Dowd. The two bond over dry humor and drinks while their connection, which seems dull at first, begins to bud. And while their relationship plays a large role in the film, the fact that it is interracial is intentionally not overstated. Williams said representing a mixed-race couple on screen was important because it adds to the diversity around how narratives of black people are usually told.
“My friends are dating people of all races and all genders and it’s fine. It rules. It’s really important to see that and it’s especially important to promote black women, especially at this time,” she said. “And I think that with shows like ‘Atlanta,’ and ‘Insecure,’ people are more open to different narratives about black people in their 20s.”
“It was really important for me to reflect in this movie the experiences of my friends, and women that look like me and are similar to me,” she added.
But, above all, what makes Williams’ character so special is that she can seem so damn relatable. She is honest with herself (she tapes rejection letters from theater schools to her door), prideful of who she is (she calls herself the “Coco Queen”) and is extremely passionate about life (she adores the kids she teaches).
It’s this same forthright and shameless behavior that makes Williams so entertaining to watch. Her quirky and lively spirit helps to carry the film, and her humor allows her to seamlessly deliver some incredibly funny moments.
As for her take on what makes her happy, Williams, who also hosts the popular podcast “2 Dope Queens,” said that it is knowing that the film is uploading to Netflix and that viewers can relax while watching it from the comfort of their own homes. She said she’s excited by the idea of people “chilling on the couch, undoing your bra … putting on your cocoa butter, curl[ing] up on the couch and watch[ing] ‘The Incredible Jessica James.’”
“I don’t really have an agenda, I just want people to enjoy themselves and enjoy the movie,” she added. “I really did have a lot of fun making it and it’s really an honor to have a little bit of your time for an hour and a half.”