For Us by Us—Black Women on TV

from Season 2 of HBO’s ‘Insecure’

TEXT: Shauna Mercy

For 8-10 glorious weeks in the summer, my girlfriends and I gather to watch HBO’s Insecure on Sundays. Finally, 30+ mins of storytelling — for us by us. We find ourselves laughing at Issa’s mirror monologues, cheering when Molly slays at work, and cringing when both girls make a complete mess of their love lives. Thankfully, Insecure is just one of many shows featuring black female talent.

These days black girls can look forward to Blackish, Greenleaf, Queen Sugar and the entire Thursday night Shondaland line up, and it’s about time too! For far too long black girls have grown accustomed to not seeing our faces in characters from our favourite shows. And when we are included, the characters tend to be monolithic in nature — we’re either matriarchal, magical and perfect, or urban (because you can’t possibly be all those things at once).

The constant white washing of our humanity is unbelievably exhausting so it makes sense that we gravitate to and celebrate shows that put the narrative of Black female lives back in our hands. I longed for the day when black women would be regular fixtures on TV, where we play white caped heroines saving men from their scandals one day, and basic AF, flawed, insecure women the next.

Though most days we find ourselves yelling at our faves, it feels good. It feels good to see us dominating TV with layered portrayals of what it means to be black and female. It feels good to see those same black female voices win golden statues for jobs well done. It feels good to have options. But mostly it just feels good to finally see us building our OWN tables rather than asking for a seat at theirs.

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Fall TV Guide

Since we’re already heading into July (how did that happen so quickly?), it’s time to take a look at this fall’s upcoming lineup of new, must watch TV.

  • The Gifted — Set in the X-Men Universe, this Sci-Fi Action series was created by Matt Nix and produced by Bryan Singer, the director of several X-Men Universe films. It stars Stephen Moyer and Amy Acker as Reed and Caitilin Strucker, the parents of two “gifted” children, along with Jamie Chung, Emma Durmont, and Blair Redford as the comic mutant superheroes and noted X-Men Blink, Polaris, and Thunderbird, respectively.
  • Ghosted — Starring Craig Robinson and Adam Scott, this spooky comedy follows a skeptical cop (Robinson) and a man who thinks his wife has been taken by aliens (Scott); they are kidnapped and made to work for a mysterious agency investigating the paranormal. Based on the trailer, it seems the two leads have excellent comedic chemistry and get to work with some good writing and direction.
  • Rise — Based on the nonfiction book Drama High by Michael Sokolove, this series tells the story of a high school drama teacher whose presence in a small, working-class Pennsylvania town changes the lives of both his students and its other citizens, starts a world-class drama program attended by several theatre professionals. Josh Radnor stars as the teacher, Lou Mazzuchelli, in the show, and Moana star Auli’i Cravalho also has a starring role.
  • AP Bio — This comedy stars Glenn Howerton as a failed philosophy scholar who finds a job teaching AP Biology to a group of high school students and decides to use them for his own benefit. Truthfully, the most interesting part of this is just that it stars the marvelous and hilarious Patton Oswalt. It’s also being executive-produced by several former and current writers for SNL, including Lorne Michaels, Seth Meyers, and Mike O’Brien.
  • Me, Myself, and I — Bobby Moynihan (formerly a longtime cast member on SNL), Jack Dylan Grazer, and John Larroquette are all starring as Alex Riley in different stages of his life. The unique premise itself is certainly interesting enough, and I appreciate that it’s been labeled a comedy, meaning it doesn’t need to take itself too seriously or force itself to be full of drama and angst. Or at least I hope not.
  • For The People — I mean, this is a Shondaland show, so I think that’s all the pitch you really need, right? Ok, so technically this courtroom drama following the beginning careers of both defense attorneys and prosecutors in the Southern District of New York Federal Court wasn’t actually created by Shonda Rhimes herself (it was created by Paul William Davies), but she is an executive producer, and the show seems to promise all the mysterious intrigue, twisted plots, and social commentary like any of her shows.
  • Alex, Inc — If I just gave you the plot summary of this show based on the real life and work of Alex Blumberg and his podcast startup company, Gimlet Media, you might shrug. But what if I told you that Zach Braff was involved? Well, it got my attention. And if the involvement of one of my favorite former Scrubs stars/indie directors doesn’t entice you, the trailer is pretty funny and charming.
  • The Mayor — Premise: a non-politician runs for public office mostly for publicity and somehow wins, and is lost about what to do with their newfound power. Sound familiar? Luckily, that’s about where the similarities end between a certain President and this show. Brandon Michael Hall stars as a struggling California rapper who, after running for mayor and accidentally winning, decides to actually try and make changes with help from his mother (played by Yvette Nicole Brown) and his former opponent’s campaign manager (played by Lea Michele)
  • Star Trek: Discovery — I’m obsessed with all things Star Trek. It’s one of those great and rare franchises that can survive for many decades with entirely different issues and ideas, and always feel relevant and fresh. This latest spinoff actually takes place prior to the original series, and includes a big, diverse cast (in true Star Trek tradition). Plus, this version will focus on the first officer, Michael Burnham (played by Sonequa Martin-Green) instead of the captain, Phillipa Georgiou (played by Michelle Yeoh), and will be told in a serialized narrative instead of the weekly adventures used in most Star Trek.
  • The Deuce — What do you get when you combine HBO, a 1970s period piece about the early days of pornography, James Franco starring as two identical twins, and Maggie Gyllenhal starring as a sex worker? Apparently, you get The Deuce. Look, HBO is known for having some of the best TV out there, and this definitely looks pretty intriguing. I’m excited for all of it (even the disco-mustaches), and I really hope this turns out well.

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