“Uncertain”, “P-völgy” and many more shows worth highlighting.
Respect has been a pillar of black American culture since emancipation. Ever since blacks arrived on America’s shores, we have been subjected to hardship and cruelty solely because of the color of our skin. For centuries, we have fought against the terrible stereotypes in our daily lives and in our American popular culture. For black women in particular, anything outside of docility and likability meant being seen as masculine, mean, oversexualized, asexual, and acting. These terms were weaponized against blacks by outsiders and insiders, such as WEB Dubois, who hailed the gifted tenth, the most educated of the race, as the epitome of “good” Blackness, and the threatened Bill Cosby as the “perfect” embodiment of blackness. family on “The Cosby Show.”
Although respectability has been lauded in the black community as a means to full citizenship, this is a lie. Moreover, the performance of likability is exhausting. It forces a constant state of joy that often requires self-betrayal. Respect does not make those who cling to their hatred, anti-blackness, and racism shed long-held feelings of anger and disgust. It certainly won’t alleviate misogyny.
On any given day, just by looking at social media, black women are being told how to behave and what to do. From being criticized for our body type, to our hair texture, to our skin tone, to our education, children, marriage, or lack thereof, no one wins a game that requires exceeding perceived excellence. After all, there is no such thing as perfection.
Respect shaped how writers wrote for and about black women in the 20th century on television. Now, in an age where more black women are at the forefront of their own stories, and the subversion of respectability and misogyny is allowing black women to exist and thrive on TV outside of these harmful and oppressive tropes. Dissecting the misrepresentation allows for a multidimensional and complete representation of Black women of diverse backgrounds who are at the center of their own narratives.
Below are just a few of our favorites.
1. “Wealth,” Prime Video
It was created by Abby Ajayi, who also lent her writing talents to ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder. “Riches” is a family drama that permeates many aspects of the black diaspora. The series centers on Nina Richards (Deborah Ayorinde), a self-proclaimed workaholic whose picturesque life in Brooklyn is thrown into chaos when her estranged father Stephen Richards (Hugh Quarshie) dies.
Although they haven’t been in touch for decades, Stephen leaves his business – British beauty empire Flair & Glory – to Nina and her brother Simon (Emmanuel Imani). This decision effectively avoids his wife, Claudia (Sarah Niles), who doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty, and their three children, Gus (Ola Orebiyi), Alesha (Adeyinka Akinrinade) and Wanda (Nneka Okoye).
While Nina and Simon are initially uninterested in meeting Flair & Glory or their siblings, a confrontation with Claudia during the reading of Stephen’s will changes everything. Bold and confident, Nina steps in as the CEO of Flair & Glory and works diligently to learn her father’s trade while putting her stepmother and half-siblings in their place. In the middle of business meetings, she calls out colorism, harmful beauty standards, absentee fathers, and greed.
Nina is successful in her endeavors because she avoids the good game. Instead, her only goal, even if she has to step on her family’s toes, is to uncover the family secrets, lies, and conspiracies that her father tried to bury with her.
2. “Rap Sh!t,” HBO Max
Set in Miami and created by Issa Rae, “Rap Sh!t” follows estranged Shawna (Aida Osman) and Mia (KaMillion) who reunite in an effort to form a rap group. When fans meet Shawna in the HBO Max pilot, she works as a hotel front desk agent. Shawna, with ambitions behind her to make it in the music industry, resigned herself to recalling her former dreams. It’s only when he meets Mia again that he’s reinvigorated, which reminds him that he doesn’t have to play small.
While Shawna is defeated by a failed record deal, Mia uses social media to project the life she wants, even if it’s not her current reality. A single mom juggling her life as a mom, makeup artist, and micro star on OnlyFans, Mia knows a thing or two about faking it ’til it makes it. His life is chaotic and stressful, but he uses social media to project a unique image of himself, an image that will eventually land him and Shawna in the music industry. Using her Instagram, Twitter and TikTok accounts, Mia presents herself as carefree, sexy and humorous. She does her best, even if it’s just a facade at first, reframing her online life—despite the setback—until she can frame it in real life.
Set in the fictional town of Chucalissa, Mississippi, Katori Hall’s “P-Valley” centers on the wildly popular strip club The Pynk, with the dynamic and no-nonsense gender non-conforming Uncle Clifford (Nicco Annan). While several unapologetic women work at Uncle Clifford, Mercedes (Brandee Evans), a club veteran, and Autumn (Elarica Johnson), a club newcomer, stand out here. Constantly fighting against the stigma of her profession, Mercedes is doing everything she can to create a new life for herself. She fights everyone who gets in her way, including her judgmental, manipulative and hyper-religious mother, Patrice (Harriett D. Foy), and Autumn, whose light-skinned privilege and snobbish attitude infuriates Mercedes.
For her part, Autumn is willing to put her ambitions and desires above everyone else’s, even if it means turning her back on Uncle Clifford, the one person who has allowed her to rebuild her life. He is mysterious, cunning, and determined to achieve financial freedom at all costs. Using only these two women’s journeys, “P-Valley” puts the spotlight on the women society has tried to push into the shadows.
4. “Harlem,” Prime Video
In 2020, the National Center for Education Statistics published a study showing that black women in the United States outperformed all other groups in terms of education. However, in a world that suggests black women can’t have it all, publications, podcasts, and statistics Black women are ‘unmarried’ they tried to stifle black women and asked them to strive for less. “Harlem,” the Prime Video series from “Girls Trip” scribe Tracy Oliver, says otherwise. The series is a reminder that black women can change, change, grow, and adapt, and they can have it all, in whatever way that means for them.
Set in present-day Harlem, the series follows Camille (Meagan Good), Quinn (Grace Byers), Angie (Shoniqua Shandai) and Tye (Jerrie Johnson), a foursome who have been thick as thieves since their NYU undergrad days. . . The series hinges on black women never being deterred from taking control of their destiny, even when they make mistakes. Camille and Angie in particular make a lot of blunders and mistakes throughout the first season. However, they allow their imperfections and misfortunes to guide them into the next chapters of their lives.
5. “Run the World,” Starz
Like Harlem, Starz’s Run the World is set in present-day Upper Manhattan. However, this series invites the audience to a completely different group of friends. Ella (Andrea Bordeaux) is a writer whose career has stalled. Sondi (Corbin Reid) is a Ph.D student whose personal life and career are too close for her comfort. Whitney (Amber Stevens West) is a perfectionist whose upcoming wedding to her college sweetheart is troubling her. Finally, Renee (Bresha Webb) tries to cope with her impending divorce while taking her career to the next level.
While every woman in “Run the World” is captivating, Webb’s Renee goes through life without the heavy weight of respectability dragging her down. Although he often expresses himself through a comedic lens, he has also learned to face things that really bother him. Renee has no time for microaggressions at work or her ex-husband Jason (Jay Walker), who is trying to hang on to a failed marriage. From her bold statements about life to her fierce outfits, Renee refuses to play small. Although he ruffles some feathers, including his girlfriends, he is always true to himself.
6. “Uncertain,” HBO
For five seasons, fans watched the ever-changing dynamic of best friends Molly Carter (Yvonne Orji) and Issa Dee (Issa Rae) on the critically acclaimed HBO series “Insecure.” Although Issa was the focus of the show, Molly was often the topic of discussion. A highly successful lawyer who seemingly had it all, that never stopped Molly from self-sabotaging herself, whether at work, in her relationship with Issa, or in her varied romantic encounters. The definition of a “hot mess,” Molly’s inflexibility has cost her dearly throughout the series, but showcasing these stumbles has also put a spotlight on her growth as a woman.
Never interested in being liked or putting others before herself, Molly stayed true to who she was. “Uncertain” showed that black women can be selfish and self-serving. Molly always knew she deserved everything; he simply had to go down a rocky path that revealed his full humanity to get it.