We’ve seen the story told over and over again: a woman who seems to have everything spends her life searching for love. This is the basic idea that anchors BET’s newest scripted drama Being Mary Jane. Produced by Akil Productions (The Game) and starring a seemingly ageless Gabrielle Union, the TV film doubles as the extended preview of a tentative series set to launch in January. Backed by an equally talented cast (Margaret Avery, Lisa Vidal, Tika Sumpter), BMJ could be another coup in the quest for black leading women in television.
As part of a network known for churning out original material that is both good and mediocre, we were concerned that yet another portrayal of African American women would be wrongly executed. However, it’s the schizophrenic turn of events throughout Mary Jane’s life that make this potential series so intriguing.
For starters, Mary Jane Paul is a thirty something television news anchor trying to balance a career, family and love (or lack thereof). From the beginning, we see that the latter will prove to be most difficult as she goes from a steamy night in with her lover (played by the sexy Omari Hardwick) to kicking him out after finding out that he is married with children. Later on, things take a turn for the worst when Mary Jane decides to matter-of-factually alert his wife of their ongoing affair, forcing us all to think if there’s ever a right time to deliver bad news.
Mary’s relationship with the men in her family is also a roller coaster. Sandwiched between a sensible older brother and pot smoking baby brother, the three are constantly at odds over the care of their ailing mother. There’s also MJ’s teenage niece, who is eight months pregnant and seeks her (childless) aunt’s help as she prepares for motherhood. Between this and the romantic dilemma, it’s hard to imagine how she makes room for work-related drama.
Although she’s the face of a news channel, MJ still struggles with the fact that her hard work constantly goes unnoticed.
“Black women aren’t ugly; we’re invisible,” she declares as she brings to light the sexism that still lingers at the workplace. Combined with a brief clip of the Dark Girls documentary on her computer screen, we’re happy that BMJ will also explore what it means to be a black (and Latina) woman outside of her relationships.
More than anything, it’s Mary Jane’s complicated demeanor that connects her to the viewer. Her anger (and inability to really cry) come from a place of love—knowing that she can’t solve everyone’s problems and still take care of herself. It’s her reaction to a commercial showing mothers and their children that make her human just when you think she’s a complete bitch. It’s her back and forth relationship with a former love that prove even the smartest women sometimes make ill-advised mistakes. It’s all of these things that make us realize being a career woman not only means being able to balance, but also sacrificing the things you want the most.
We may not have Mary Jane’s movie star looks, dream house or big time job, but we can still see ourselves in her. Like other shows written by black women about black women, we hope this story continues to build momentum when it returns next year. We’ll be waiting.
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