“What is it about Olivia Pope that makes her a role model to today’s [black] woman?” from What a Great Story Line part one
It was the above quoted question that began a hail storm of commentary and debate recently. Upon reading part one of this two-part series several people weighed in on the topic, which gave me much insight for the follow-up to my previous post.
There was a time not too long ago when “Girl Melanie” was one of our favorite characters to love to hate. The hit show “The Game” derived as a spin-off from “Girlfriends”(which was created by Mara Brock Akil and executively produced by Kelsey Grammar which was one of the highest rated African-American women ages 18-24 during its eight year run) initially debuted as a show about a medical school student and her rookie football player boyfriend. Throughout the first few seasons we watched Melanie (and the other women of The Game, Tasha Mack and Kelly Pitts ) evolve into characters we all at some point could relate to. We watched them make sacrifices for the men they loved, all while still taking care of themselves and each other.
Unfortunately, Tasha Mack was always the stereotypical , bitter, angry black woman raising a black man by herself. We learned to love Melanie for her dedication to her education, her relationship and being a strong woman. It was like we knew these women, they were our sister, cousin, auntie etc. That was up until the show was dropped from the CW and moved to BET it was like watching a train wreck, we saw a shift in both Melanie (played by Tia Mowry-Hardrick) and Tasha Mack (played by Wendy Raquel Robinson). Melanie lost herself in the money and the madness, and Tasha found herself jumping from man to man; bed to bed looking for love in all the wrong placed. (Instead of having her make a fool of herself the creators wrote Kelly Pitts; the token white girl off the show) Are these accurate portrayals of women of color? Possibly.
In late 2013 BET aired the pilot episode for the new drama “Being Mary Jane” (created by Mara Brock Akil) starring Gabriel Union. The show follows Mary Jane Paul, a successful black woman who attempts to juggle her demanding career, supporting her family and trying to find a love to call her own. In just three episodes; including the pilot which aired as an original film we have seen Mary Jane sleep with a married man (who she didn’t know was married), confront his clueless wife about their affair, sleep with her ex and steal his sperm to freeze, be confronted by her lover’s wife only to sleep with him again. (there is so much more that I care not to share because you get the point.) Successful, yes. Beautiful, no doubt. A tramp, maybe. When did the African-American community become so accepting of roles such as Mary Jane’s and Candace Young’s (Tyler Perry’s “The Have and The Have Nots”) When did we stop wanting to see positive portrayals of women like that of Claire Huxtable and Vivian Banks and start wanting to see mistresses and home wreckers? Do we condone these roles because they are written by women of color? (Mara Brock Akil and Shonda Rhimes)? Or is it that this is an accurate depiction of what we have become? These women are successful, powerful, beautiful and smart; yet they settle for second best. They sleep with the husbands of other women. Are these roles in some way saying that a woman who has a great career, her own money and a little power can’t have a man of her own? That she has to find love with another woman’s man? Are these roles not degrading?
In real life conversation we turn our nose (at least in public) to this behavior (Fornication and adultery). Yet, we applaud it and can’t get enough when it’s on the silver screen. Hypocrites? Maybe.
Our judgement may have become a little clouded a midst the excitement of the shows being written and created by black female writers and having black female leads. I doubt these shows would have such high ratings if the main characters were any other race if Mellie (Scandal) was the mistress and Olivia was the wife. I tried to think of a current show with ratings as high as Scandal where the lead was white and sleeping with someone else’s man. ( I drew a blank) Are the shows we love so much a new form or blaxploitation?
Can we get that old thing back, when tv women were role models? Maybe the days of Whitley Gilbert and Gina Payne are long gone.