About a week ago, I screeched with excitement when I saw Jessica Williams, actress, comedian, and former correspondent for The Daily Show, on the cover of backstage magazine, rocking her signature braids.
“What the—why didn’t I see this before?! I love Jessica!”
I stalked her Instagram to find out more. Apparently, Williams was starring in a new film on Netflix: The Incredible Jessica James. Sharing the same name as the title character one can assume the movie was written just for her. It was.
Let’s pause to think about how cool that is…
….That’s cool as fuck!!!
Getting back on track. As a black woman who loves black things, especially other black women, I thought it only right to show my support and watch the film. I did. I tried. Was the film bad? Not per se. But there was something bad about the film…Question: is Jessica James the only black person in Brooklyn?
To be fair, the character works for a nonprofit and is teaching kids how to write plays. The kids are black and Latino. That’s great. Jessica’s ex-boyfriend, Damon, is played by Atlanta’s Lakeith Stanfield. Even greater.
So I don’t get it, Nsikan. What’s wrong with the film?
Back to what I wrote about Jessica seeming to be the only black person in Brooklyn. Mind you, I’ve never lived in Brooklyn. My older sister does, and she says scenarios such as this one do exist. I won’t lose sleep over this reality because I can’t help where other people live. However, when it comes to film, this is something we can help.
James C. Strouse, the writer and director of The Incredible Jessica James, is a white male, something that is very obvious to anyone that has seen the movie with its white people dry-humor and sarcasm. I am a lover of both forms of comedy; however, I’m guessing it is inevitable that a white male would surround his main black, female character with people who look more like him than they do her. Though there is this one scene when Jessica goes to visit her black family…in which she is a black sheep. A white director may cast a black lead, but that is where it ends. Everyone else is white to make up for said black lead and why the story centers on said black lead. I did mention that Jessica’s ex-boyfriend is played by a black actor, yes, but there is a major emphasis on ex, considering that in most of the scenes he is in are Jessica’s dreams that usually end in his death.
Does that count as a spoiler?
Everyone besides Jessica, Damon, and a few of her students, are white: her best friend, her new possible love interest who is stalking his white ex-wife and her new white boyfriend (therefore not committing to real interest in black Jessica). In other words, the token takes the lead.
A while back, my younger sister and I were watching the Lifetime Movie Network. That was our thing. On one clear night, the full moon beamed into my bedroom, and despite us living in a city, I could see the stars. That’s how well I remember it. Just as I puckered my mouth to receive a fork of orange chicken, a commercial came on that I had never seen before. It was a preview for a new Lifetime original movie.
“Is this BET?” I asked my sister.
She put on the guide, turned to me with wide eyes, and said, “No.”
Neither of us could believe it: a black girl with curly hair in a red bathing suit graced our television screen. Not only that, she was on the swim team! The swim team! And the movie wasn’t about “the black past” or race in any matter. It was about a creepy teacher. It was a breath of fresh air to match the breezy summer night.
My sister and I started planning. We knew exactly when the movie, Killer Coach, would premiere, what room we’d watch it in, and what food we’d make. Great. As we sat down for this Lifetime milestone, we realized no other black folks came to join us. The main character and her mother were the only black people in town, it seemed. There wasn’t even a father (I’ll save this topic for another article). The main character, Samantha, had a white boyfriend, white best friend, a white nemesis—whom later became her best friend—and the coach was white-passing.
Killer Coach and The Incredible Jessica James portraying black girls with curly/natural hair is a great thing, but the films almost come across as propaganda against black friendships and romantic relationships. The fact that Damon dies in all of Jessica’s dreams is very discouraging. It’s like an innuendo for black love dying, and that isn’t true because black love is still alive and the most beautiful thing. Besides, the films are very unrealistic with its character choices because most black people are involved with other black people. For a black boy or girl to live a life full of white people or any other race is rare, and when it does happen it is an unhealthy matter. It’s comparable to OJ Simpson who was sure to shed his blackness by disposing of the black people in his life—including his faithful wife. For the oppressed to chase after and dwell amongst the oppressor without a dose of themselves, i.e. others who are like them, is mental suicide for the black body, and I have no doubt that Hollywood is more than okay with encouraging that.
That being said, to those who need more clarification: I am not saying black people shouldn’t have white friends. I am saying that we need to make sure we have circles that are like us, where we can share our burdens together. There are loads white people can’t carry for us, sometimes because they are not willing, most times because they are not able. Black friendships are a form of self-care and since art imitates life, we need to see more of that onscreen. And as a screenwriter, I’m on it!