TV + Movies

‘Being Mary Jane’ And The Black Female Experience

On the growing list of shows that tap into the world of the black female experience, BET’s Being Mary Jane would definitely make the cut.

The series, which featured Gabrielle Union as the shows female protagonist, Mary Jane Paul, was a hit and chronicled the journey of an intelligent, beautiful, outspoken, and incredibly successful black woman breaking barriers in her career as a journalist, while trying to find love and eventually a happily-ever-after ending (which spoiler alert: included a long awaited proposal and marriage and having a baby… all of which happened in unconventional-like ways) by the end of the series.

Mary Jane Paul was killing the game at work, even in the midst of challenging the ‘angry black woman’ narrative throughout her career when standing and speaking up against sexism, prejudice, and racism in workplaces and spaces where the majority of her peers and co-workers were white.

She also struggled with stretching herself to be there for her family and friends and all of their issues and challenges, all of which became burdensome and heavy weights to take on as the series continued.

She even had a moment a lot of black women can probably relate to when it comes to black hair, during an episode in which she took out her weave and needed her hair done because she had work the next day… except her stylist unexpectedly canceled at the last minute, which lead Mary Jane to enlist the help of her niece who knew how to do hair, to help her through her middle-of-the-night hair emergency.

And she experienced the tumultuous and sometimes painful woes of being a successful black woman in search of love with a quality partner who wanted what she wanted out of life too: to settle down and have a family. And she went about it as best as she could. She had a nice amount of makeups and breakups. Fell in love and out of love. Juggled a friend with benefits, and would eventually find love in the end, but the road to get there was not without many setbacks, detours, and plenty of rerouting.

One of the things that stood out in the series, in the beginning, was a quote from the two-hour film format of the show that read, “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 black female experience is different for every black woman, but I believe myself and many other black women could relate to Mary Jane in a number of different ways. Stretching ourselves for our families. Trying to find our voices in settings and spaces where we’re reprimanded or labeled angry for speaking up all while trying to excel in those same spaces to be considered seen and qualified. Many of us have had our own personal and sometimes very private battles about black hair too, and what is and isn’t deemed okay or acceptable in spaces where not a lot of other women look like us or share our backgrounds. And the highs and lows of finding love with a quality and successful partner and trying to start a family is yet another area that challenges our demographic in different ways. Every woman’s experience is different.

Being Mary Jane was an amazing series. Mary Jane was flawed and brilliant. Complicated and messy. Genuine and generous. And just another unapologetically black woman finding her way and keeping it real.

And for that, I’m inspired and grateful.

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Writer. Storyteller. Unconventional Believer. Read more articles from Simone on Thought Catalog.