Mary Jane: The Best Black Heroine Since Moesha
A true nostalgic millennial, I can’t help but watch BET’s Being Mary Jane with a serious sense of, “Oh my God, I’m watching me and my friends.” A late 20-something working in the media industry, I can relate to Mary Jane’s career-driven perfectionism while balancing the needs of her family, many of whom are vastly different than the larger-than-life TV belle.
The writing on the show is impeccable. It captures the imperfection, sometimes-dull and brutally honest perspective on what it is like to be a black woman in 2015. We come from broken families. We drink alongside our peers at work. We are career-motivated, not to be confused with angry. We carry the weight of our ancestors — centuries of separated families — as we date and struggle with fidelity. Unlike our peers, we often do not marry and work through these troubles. Being Mary Jane explores this through its protagonist. We are also simply broken. We see this in Lisa, chronically depressed without the will/resources to seek professional help.
Mary Jane is oddly reminiscent of teen heroine Moesha – a hit UPN sitcom that boasted Mara Brock Akil as one of its talented writers. Moesha is a teen from Crenshaw with a name that is present-day Raven Symone cringe-worthy. She is a talented high-school journalist with a girl-next-door attitude that attracted some of the ’90s most talented African-American men; she dated everyone from Usher and Fredro Starr to Kobe Bryant. Like Being Mary Jane, Moesha’s protagonist struggles with a blended family while grieving the loss of her mother during her adolescent teen years — a time when girls need their mothers the most.
Moesha, like Mary Jane, defeats the odds of her environment. While some may argue that this plays into the black superwoman syndrome, each of these series’ take a close look at the fragility and complexity of its title characters, sometimes through the lens of their supporting characters.
We applaud the move in the right direction for shows that prominently feature African-American casts. There’s a little something out there for every age range right now, from Doc McStuffins to Black-ish to blockbusters Scandal and Empire. What Being Mary Jane and Moesha get right is focusing on a single black woman — void of stereotypical attitudes and a need for validation from white counterparts — who are dually balancing their professional and personal dreams while tackling challenging backgrounds.
Mary Jane and Moesha are both authentically themselves. It’s so refreshing to have an honest look at black women’s lives — the good, the bad, the ugly and the trite — as an accurate reflection of many of our personal lives. It’s kind of like watching a grown-up version of HBO’s Girls with women in their late 30s who’ve matured a bit and look like me. You’ve got a serious fan base, Mary Jane.
Ashley Stoney is a Washington, D.C. native and Howard University alumna who enjoys debating news topics, sharing way too many articles on social media, living in plaid flannels and chambray, and sampling craft beers. You can follow her @TotalBetty202.