Being Mary Jane

It never fails. Whenever I post on Twitter or Facebook about how much I enjoy watching Being Mary Jane some Debby Downer comes along to remind me that Mary Jane Paul is a disgrace to Black women and the Black race at large because she’s sleeping with a married man.

When this first started happening I would explain that the show is a work of fiction, and despite the fact that Mary Jane is one of the few Black women lead characters on TV, she does not represent or speak for ALL Black women (duh, right?).

But it doesn’t work. Being Mary Jane’s critics go on and on about how “the media” is trying to turn all Black women into side chicks and hoes, because…Olivia Pope…and it’s becoming exhausting. And annoying. And a little bit sad.

You see, typically these same folks assert that “the media” has not produced one single project depicting Black women in loving relationships since The Cosby Show, which forces me to give them the side-eye of life because they seriously haven’t been paying attention. These folks either don’t watch TV, or merely rely on blogs that sometimes label Black women as “negro bed wenches,” and often work themselves into a tizzy over respectability politics.

I always want to ask these same folks if they’ve read Sula or The Color Purple or Americanah or For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf or The Women of Brewster Place or any other book that peels back the layers to show Black women in our most human, f—ked up states. However, I think I can guess the answer.

And just for kicks I also want to know if these people railed against the Wire in the same way they hate Scandal or Being Mary Jane, because in the Respectability Olympics, surely drug dealers and crooked cops are worse than an adulterer, right? (Don’t answer that–their silence on rappers calling Black women 50-11 bitches/hoes tells me all I need to know).

But I don’t. It’s too much work.

Whenever these conversations come up I do, however, point out sitcoms that depict Black women as happy wives and mothers—like Nick’s Instant Mom (which is really, really good), TV Land’s Soul Man, and BET’s Let’s Stay Together—and I am never surprised when folks haven’t heard of, or watched, these shows.

I mean, on one hand they claim they’re hungry for a larger diversity of images of Black women on screen, but on the other they don’t bother tuning into shows that give them exactly what they claim to want.

But we know the truth, don’t we? These folks want to be riled up about something. They want to blame someone, and Shonda Rhimes and Mara Brock Akil are two successful sisters who give zero damns about armchair critiques of their scripts, so why not hurl stones at them because they’re getting paid ( I can hear it now: “to turn Black women into hoes!“), right?


So listen. If you hate Being Mary Jane (or Scandal or any other show) I have a very simple fix—don’t watch it.

And if you’re soooo concerned about Black women and girls becoming side chicks en masse you have a few options: write your own show, don’t let your daughter/sister/niece watch it, or become a mentor.

But please, whatever you do, just let me luxuriate in Mary Jane’s made up drama in peace. Cool?

  • cameron

    #YAS I love this show and, to be fair, she didn’t know she was a sidepiece before she fell in love.

  • geenababe

    I’m just not into this show. I tried to give it a chance because everyone was saying it was good and that she was a real complex woman but once I saw her still sleeping with a man after finding out he was married, then later cheering on being “number two”, I said that was enough for me. Add to the fact, I’m not a big Gabby fan and I think most of her roles are a reflection of her. I don’t like interfering in real life and I don’t care for it in fiction. I don’t like this whole side chick uplifting period we have going on now days. It’s not just with black women characters either as there was a show called “Mistresses” with an all-white cast. I am just not with it and I am not going to cheer on some woman or men who engaging in these outside relationships to win. I think “The Wire” comparison would have fit better if it was talked about how all the women on that show weren’t the most upstanding examples of women.

  • MimiLuvs


    I just don’t watch the show because I don’t like Gabrielle’s method of acting. It seems as if she plays the same archtype in every acting role.

  • MimiLuvs

    I had “pulled the trigger” too soon and ended up hitting the ‘submit’ button, when I really wanted to add more to my comment.

    In regards to screenplay writers and sitcom creators adding more “flawed, AfrAm female protagonists” to television/movies:

    It appears (based off of the current TV line-ups) that in order for a female protagonist to be flawed, she must have a topsy-turvy, drama-filled love life. In my opinion, it sounds lazy brain-storming.

  • E

    no loving black couples since the cosby show?? really?? fresh prince (uncle Phil and aunt Viv–family matters(Carl and harriet)– my wife and kids (jay and michael kyle)–reed between the lines (carla and alex reed) and the three or so britni mentioned in the article above…

    should I keep going?

  • Joanna

    I’m from London and I cannot express how much I love the show. Who cares whether she’s number 1, 2, or 3. It’s fiction. The fact that we have a black woman in a lead role is enough for me. Being too critical about positive representations can be very limiting; we all come from a range of experiences and to present sweeky clean images all the time is unrealistic. What you end up with is copies of the Cosby Show which has been exhausted. Diversity of representation is what is need because we are not one dimensional beings. Being Mary Jane is not meant to represent all woman, it’s one woman’s story which is very relatable. There are many women whether they want to admit it or not have been in similar situations.

  • Ask_Me

    I haven’t watched this show, but I do watch Scandal. I will continue to watch Scandal and I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks.

    The so-called black community is fudged-up and it doesn’t have a thing to do with this show or Scandal. It’s screwed up because too many grown folks want to outsource personal accountability for their actions and choices on society, the government, each other and everything else under the sun.

    Fitz blowing Olivia’s back out every Thursday night doesn’t have a thing to do with the community’s mess.

  • noirluv45

    When this show made its debut, I was hooked. That ended last week. I got bored and, like geenababe, I wasn’t going to sit around watching this woman have an extramarital affair. I lost interest; however, for those who continue to watch, cool – do you.

  • Laura Charles

    I like BMJ but I want the writers to show us why MJ is so head over heels for Andre. That hasn’t been displayed yet. To me, their chemistry just isn’t strong enough on screen to justify him leaving his wife and two young children and her compromising her morals and sanity.

    It is falling short much in the way the movie for “Disappearing Acts” with Sanaa Lathan and Wesley Snipes fell short. If this man’s love, charm, sex, respect etc is what has you going back over and over again when you know he’s dead wrong… show us WHY. I am dying to see what exactly it is. Last episode he opened up to his reasons for being unfaithful for his wife… MJ is fun, sees him for him, doesn’t remind him that she “made him” or expect him to be grateful she chose him when everyone told her she was “marrying down”, MJ gives him head in the morning as soon as she wakes up etc.

    BUT why is MJ so into Andre that she would accept being #2, lose respect for herself and help him feel ok about destroying his marriage and family?

  • AnnT

    Is there ANY drama with a woman lead who doesn’t have a jacked up love life?

  • MimiLuvs


    “Is there ANY drama with a woman lead who doesn’t have a jacked up love life?”

    Yes, actually.

  • Yolanda

    Happy love lives are boring. Perfect moral and sanity are boring.

  • CeRe

    Since you don’t like Gabby or the show I hope you will not comment any further. Don’t watch it.

  • Knotty Natural

    RE: Add to the fact, I’m not a big Gabby fan and I think most of her roles are a reflection of her.

    I’ve never seen BMJ, but Gabby plays the side chick in a LOT of roles she’s been given (and apparently in real life).

  • Yolanda

    I agree. I don’t understand this passion. I don’t know why she love this man. I don’t like him (sure he’s kind of good looking but he doesn’t seem very smart and he’s surely not brave). And I don’t like MJ very much neither. Not because she’s a side chick but because she seems arrogant, obsessed with success and money, judgmental, etc. I enjoy when “good people” do bad things because of love and passion. I don’t care about selfish people making selfish choices.

  • Lisss

    Martin and Gina – Pam and Steve (although it wasnt always peaceful), Cedric and Lovita – Jamie and Garcelle Beauvais (forgot the names of the characters) – the parents from Everybofy hates Chris – Whitley and Dwayne

    Aiight, thats all i got, somebody else gotta take it from here ;-)

  • Brad

    All of the Josephs sisters, you know “Teri”, “Bird”, and “Maxine” of the series Soul Food.

    Still say that was the greatest black drama ever to be on television.

  • SMH

    If they want folks to hate Mary Jane for being a side chick they should not have cast fine ass Omari hardwick as the cheating husband. b/c I’m not going to mad at any scene where that man is barely clothed. Sorry. She could be his whatever chick as long as the keep him in the script.

  • Laura Charles

    Exactly Yolanda! It seems more selfish than passionate.

  • Deebo

    So rapper made up lyrics about black women (ask women really) and videos of them being hoes….bad and bashed repeatedly on Clutch. Same with hoes on reality TV shows.

    TV shows (by black women staying black women) with made up storylines showing black women being hoes….just harmless escapist entertainment.

    And don’t say “rappers are supposedly selling their real lives so it’s different” because after every episode of BMJ they feature a woman saying how she relates to/is Mary Jane, so they’re buying this reality, too.

    So basically it’s only bad if you don’t personally like it. Either media images matter or they don’t.

    I’ll expect criticism of so-called misogynistic lyrics to stop if it’s OK to portray celebrated hoes and misogyny on scripted TV.

  • Sunny

    THHHHHAAAAANNNNKKKK YOU!!!!! I could not have said it better myself! And I wish ppl would stop comparing the SITCOM (comedy) characters to the DRAMATIC series characters!

  • sunny

    “Whenever I post on Twitter or Facebook”

    It would seem that people post things on social media so others can read the post and respond. Right? So why get mad when people respond? It is because they disagree with you?

    Clearly, the author’s Twitter/FB friends don’t like the show because Mary Jane is a side chick and its a deal breaker for them. It’s not as deep as the author makes it sound.

  • Ames

    Do you post about the shows with decent black women? No one on my FB timeline has posted about instamom. All I see from multiple black women are scandal, mary Jane and Have nots.

    It is good to know some networks and some writers develop shows that do not portray black women as the whores, history and media portrays us as.

  • Bakunzi Matemane

    Good morning. I read your article and I must say it was thought provoking. i would say what I thought but it would be a rehash of what you already said. The only thing I can add is that I agree and know several women who do not let their daughters watch: The Have and Have Nots / Scandal / Being Mary Jane which are the most popular television series with black women portraying women in less than stellar moral positions. I think when you have a “I am Mary Jane” campaign as BET does then you can see how fiction can easily be influential in “real ife”. So to be apathetic to the degree of dismissing it as entertainment flies in the face of many actresses who despise the popular and rare roles offered to A women in Hollywood.

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