Recently, I was on a five-hour-plus flight back home and decided to check out the movie The Incredible Jessica James on Netflix (which I initially thought was the first season of a show and was heartbroken to find out I was wrong). It had everything I love in my movies — a quirky (but not annoying) protagonist, an awkward love interest, and that modern-millennial romance that makes us wince in secondhand embarrassment while wishing we had that kind of love. Plus, Jessica James is played by Jessica Williams, who I basically want to be when I grow up. So I went into it guessing that I was going to enjoy it. By the end of the movie, I was crying.
I wasn’t crying because the movie is particularly heartbreaking or overwhelmingly amazing (though it’s good; you should definitely check it out), but because it felt like ME. I watched Jessica James on my 13.3-inch screen, and I related to her so much. She’s creative, smart, a little bitter, a lot jaded, full of swagger, and black. Just like me. In my 26 years of life, the times all those boxes were checked for a character I connected with were very few and far between. But with movies like The Incredible Jessica James or Black Panther and shows like Being Mary Jane or Insecure, I’m beginning to check off that final box more and more, which was practically impossible several years ago. I was a kid during what felt like the golden age of black television. I remember staying up with my sister so I could watch repeats of shows like A Different World, Living Single, and Martin, but never getting them because I was too young. When I got older, there was UPN (which was basically known as the “black channel”), and with it came iconic shows like Girlfriends, Everybody Hates Chris, All of Us, and Moesha. These were essential watches for black families in the late ’80s / early ’00s. We had actual black families on our TVs who were loving and realistic and who dealt with problems we understood.
These were the kinds of shows that stuck with us. I’m fairly certain that if I ran into a black woman my age who also grew up in New York and randomly started singing the Moesha theme song, she would join in. Whenever I think about the kind of relationship I want, I think of Whitley and Dwayne (I love a little drama; I can’t deny it). When I think about my girlfriends, I want us to be as close as Khadijah, Maxine, Synclaire, and Regina. These were the shows that shaped my hopes and dreams of …
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