When the name Mary Jane is said, two things often come to mind: those classically girly, Americana flats with a strap across the foot, or the most carefree hallucinogen on the planet.
Being Mary Jane, the original BET film that serves as the launching pad for the upcoming series of the same title, does not bring to mind anything that’s wistful or tranquilizing. In fact, Being Mary Jane was anything but for almost its entire hour and half run.It was The Mary Tyler Moore Show on the edge.
Gabrielle Union, who plays MJ, has never responded to the screen so emotionally volatile. MJ is the new edition of the around-the-way girl for the 21st century: overspent on trying to be superwoman. Being beautiful, successful, and perpetually calm are junctures that a leaving quite a lot of chips on MJ’s brown-skinned shoulders. And speaking of a beautiful brown-skinned woman that’s got her own, there’s quite a lot of bones to pick with as far as the film’s handling of being black in America.
While clearly BMJ is meant to add to the conversation of the new alpha black female, the dialogue was highly overwrought with the constant lamenting of being a black woman. The regular inclusions of racial discomforts that sound more pretentious than revolutionary (“Black women aren’t ugly, we’re invisible”) did nothing to elevate the script or its well-selected cast (that includes the always welcoming presence of Lisa Vidal and Tika Sumpter in supporting roles). As a viewer, you become as angry as Mary when watching it, and her afflictions become your rage.
The stereotype, the reality, the half-baked truths of the angry black woman will arise from scene to scene, and it doesn’t do as good a job in exploring this ostensible phenomenon as the appropriately titled Diary of Mad Black Woman (by Tyler Perry). Possibly, this could be due to the maturity factor that is lacking from Mary Jane’s character despite her achievements as a college-educated, well-known talk show host. She still has a lot to learn about life and its at times extremely disappointing circumstances. In comparison to the lead in Perry’s film, Mary Jane is a work in progress, not a woman of the verge who realizes she damn near had it all.
Created by the talented Mara Brock Akil, who’s behind The Game amongst other black culture favorites as The Jamie Foxx Show and Girlfriends, did accomplish the utter confusion of trying to figure it all out (love, professional success, stability, self-love) and conveying how quickly it all adds up to being one mess of a labyrinth for the individual at hand. MJ’s age is ambitious for now, but we can guess she’s roughly in the late 20 to early 30s bracket (pick and choose a specific #, it’s all relative).
As cringing at times the garrulousness nature of discussing the hardships of black womanhood became, there were definite scenes of authenticity that were highly appreciated and showed good faith that BMJ was still in good hands, as Akil remains a maverick at displaying the life and times of the everyday black woman. For examples, there is the living room scene in which Jane expresses frustration at being the sole breadwinner in a family of under-achievers. Her family is hapless (though Raven Goodwin is absolutely charming Niecy, her decidedly aloof, pregnant again niece. She could be the breakout star). And then there was the added drama of MJ discovering her current fling is married, and then by the very end there is the slight shocker of what she decides to store in her freezer.
So there was definitely some flaws during the first encounter with Mary Jane. She’s cantankerous, fed up (sometimes appearing actually bored), and inundated with responsibilities that go beyond her single life, but once the film got rid of his double whammy, woe is me parade of being a black woman, it excelled in showcasing the absurdity of life expecting you to always be on in having the answers to everything. Its ebb of an at times pessimistic outlook on life isn’t enough to write off Being Mary Jane as a future hit for BET, the cast, crew, and Akil. Despite yourself, there is a little bit of Mary Jane agitation at life in all of us, black or white, male or female. The word for Being Mary Jane right now is potential.
–C. Shardae Jobson (@lavishrebellion)
Being Mary Jane, originally aired on July 2, 2013 on BET. Look out for re-runs of it on the channel as the original series is set to premiere in January 2014