Being Mary Jane is a scripted drama about the plights of a Black woman searching for love both internally and externally, but within the confines of that narrative lie many opportunities to dive into issues of racism that still impact the Black community today.
Intricately weaving those issues into a show following the life of a news anchor seems like a simple task on the surface. Simply feature news segments that discuss and tackle issues of race.
For the creative team behind Being Mary Jane, however, that wouldn’t be nearly enough.
BET’s latest scripted sensation was sure to not only highlight the realities of racism in faux news segments or during newsroom discussions. The show made it a point to acknowledge the way racism spills outside of the office, boardroom or newsroom and into the daily encounters Black people have to navigate.
So was the case in one scene where Gabrielle Union’s character, Mary Jane Paul, slides into a parking spot that a white man had already deemed as his own.
The man hurls a racial slur at Mary Jane and refers to her as an “ugly Black monkey.”
It’s the type of scene that Being Mary Jane director Rob Hardy says takes “raw” and “real” emotions to capture.
“For starters, I made sure to talk to Gabrielle about that scene and its tone; about what it’s like to be in a world where you are an alpha female and you control things but then how she can step into another world where she’s still viewed negatively,” Hardy told EW. “I need her to be real and raw in her emotions so it would feel like real life.”
For the white actor, there needed to be a sense of entitlement.
“And then for that guy in the scene, it was about being entitled, as opposed to being nervous about the words or how anyone would view him,” Hardy added. “His is a ‘You should bow down to me’ perspective.”
That perspective, as harsh as it is on screen, is one that is an undeniable reality.
“One of the things I like about the show is that it deals with things that are really everyday occurrences,” Hardy said. “You know, things that a lot of people experience.”
Being Mary Jane also made it a point to explore different perspectives within racism.
One, such as portrayed with the man in the parking lot, comes from a place of entitlement. Others, however, come from a place of sheer ignorance and misunderstanding.
This is seen when the head of SNC dismissed Mary Jane’s issues at work because he believes Black people have seen ample success.
“I just don’t know why people get so sensitive over this stuff,” he says. “They have the president, NBA, Jay Z and Beyonce. Carnival Cruise and American Express are run by Black people. What is Mary Jane upset about?”
In many cases, that is exactly the misconception white people have about the Black community. The success of the few equates to the empowerment of the masses.
It couldn’t be any further from the truth, but it is still widely believed and used to anchor arguments that Black people have evolved into a community of whiners rather than a massive collection of oppressed people.
According to Hardy, these are people who simply don’t understand the nature of the problem at hand.
“I think there, you have a situation where somebody just doesn’t get it because in their mind, Black people have the money and they have [President Barack] Obama,” Hardy added. “He’s like, ‘What’s the problem?’ “
Those behind the show, as well as a vast majority of the show’s viewers, hope that perhaps popular entertainment platforms will be able to eliminate such misconceptions and false perceptions of progress surrounding the Black community.