We've All Been Mary Jane

by Raquelle Harris

It’s no secret that the representation of Black women on TV continues to lag behind our White counterparts. It speaks volumes that after almost 70 years of the Emmy awards’ existence, Viola Davis is the first African-American to win for Best Actress in a Drama. As Viola indicated in her acceptance speech, the opportunities for Black actresses remain limited. Characters like Annalise Keating (How To Get Away With Murder), Olivia Pope (Scandal) and Mary Jane Paul (Being Mary Jane) are examples that progress has been made, however, this ‘progress’ is constantly challenged and critiqued.

Recently, I saw a Facebook post that said, “Getting ready to watch Being a Successful Hoe oops I meant Being Mary Jane.” I immediately responded by saying that I disagreed and expressed my opinion about why I believe that Being Mary Jane is quality entertainment; it’s raw, realistic, and relatable. The lady replied, “I disagree. That’s your opinion and I have mines.” Several other ladies shared my opinion that Mary Jane is not a “successful hoe.” Her choices about her sex life make her a human being fulfilling her innate and carnal desires, not a hoe. Mary Jane, like many of us, simply wants to be happy. But, she is still figuring out how to achieve long term happiness.
Any woman who says that she can’t relate to Mary Jane in some shape or form is either lying or in denial. Whether it’s in our present or our past, we share many of the same experiences. Though we may not handle those experiences in the same way as Mary Jane, we can identify with her disappointments, her pain, her hopes and her victories. We’ve all been betrayed, we’ve all been vulnerable, we’ve all made bad decisions, and we’ve all craved the devotion and love that Shaft shows Shug Avery (they will always be their signature characters to me.) We all have dreams, we all deal with family drama, and we all strive to succeed in this white man’s world.

The complexity of Mary Jane draws you in, like bees to honey. She is a paradox, because she manages to be strong, shrewd, and supportive of her family and friends, while also being weak, messy, and judgmental. She is self-assured in her career, unafraid to challenge her employer, as she breaks through the proverbial glass ceiling. Yet, she is haunted by being unmarried and childless. And although she is a busy career woman with a housekeeper, she has penchant for baking cakes. Mary Jane is the epitome of contradictions and shenanigans. She is a woman working her resilient Black Girl Magic, despite her flaws. When she’s stopping a friend from committing suicide, exposing human trafficking, or mentoring her wayward niece, Mary Jane is Super Woman. But, when she’s trapping her ex into having a baby, being a self-righteous bitch, or downing too much tequila, that “S” on her chest disappears. Just as you’re ready to delete her from your DVR line-up, Mary Jane shows that she is a work in progress that deserves another chance.
Arguably one of the best shows on TV, Being Mary Jane is a true testament to the struggles and triumphs that not only Black women, but the Black community as a whole experiences. And it boldly highlights the voice of other underrepresented communities such as Latinos and Gays. The themes and storylines are thought provoking and stimulating, with some occasional humor that softens the blows of reality. This past episode, I realized that Mary Jane’s glass office at SNC and the many windows at her home represent her transparency; transparency that makes her a flawed beautiful creature.

We’ve all been Mary Jane at some point or another—some of us still are Mary Jane. How many are willing to admit that?

Photo: BET

Raquelle "Rocki" Harris aspires to be an on-air radio personality and an author. She has an immense love and passion for music, reading, and writing. Find more of her literary gems at: Rocki's Reality

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