Black Entertainment Television (BET) is on the path to redemption. After dominating Twitter’s trending topics with their annual BET Awards, the Viacom-owned network unleashed “Being Mary Jane.” The Mara Akil-produced, Gabrielle Union-led pilot premiered July 2 and was welcomed with love and admiration from the legions of women of color live-tweeting with Union and Akil. “Being Mary Jane” is BET’s first original drama series, and it’s a winner.
“Being Mary Jane” stars Union as Mary Jane Paul – a successful host on a fifth-ranked cable news network. She boasts a gorgeous home, famed career and red-bottom stilettos, but she’s unsuccessful in the love department.
Union describes her character as an amazing businesswoman who wants “a husband and a family and more job stability and a bit more freedom that comes with success. She’s flawed. She’s chasing perfection, and she’s falling dramatically short and dealing with the consequences of not having it all in every aspect of her life.”
Those traits give Paul a universal appeal that charms women of color. The MJ-character is flawed – dealing with a mother suffering through illness, a dimwitted pregnant-niece and a weed-dealing brother – but all she wants is a life devoid of stress and full of love.
“She wants more independence for her family so she can go back to just being a daughter and sister as opposed to a caregiver, which changes the familial dynamic,” Union said.
But this series is not the archetypal black woman-can’t-find-man-because-she’s-crazy-and-too-independent romantic comedy. It is a refreshing exploration into the difficulties of being human in a world that expects perfection.
It’s a universal tale Akil was determined to bring to television.
“She’s human. That’s what I wanted to show, (that) this woman is a person that we all can relate to,” she said. The creator of “Girlfriends” and “The Game” is committed to highlighting black women’s full humanity. “Being Mary Jane” accomplishes that.
“I’ve been looking to express all sides of this woman’s humanity,” she says. The 30-minute sitcom doesn’t allow for that. “we don’t have the time (and) you’ve got to keep it always funny. And life isn’t always funny.”
But “Being Mary Jane” has a humorous aspect that makes the plot more relatable. The “ho-bath” scene left many viewers in stitches. The balance of lighter and heavier moments keeps the audience invested in Paul’s turbulent life.
From post-it notes to stealing sperm, the audience is privy to Paul’s entire life. We see her in her fullness. We get to know her. She becomes a homegirl. That was Akil’s intention.
“I wanted to show those raw, real sides, the secrets that we keep to ourselves, so that maybe we can see ourselves and say it’s OK.”
It is also an authentic peek into the lives of the many of the 42 percent of black women that have never been married, a statistic highlighted in the opening credits. But Paul’s tale and journey is individual.
“She’s more than just a percentage number. She is a person, and this is what she’s going through,” Akil says. “And maybe you’ll walk away with a little more understanding and compassion for her.”
BET will air eight episodes of “Being Mary Jane” in January 2014.