Television and Film Narratives About the “Black Girl Curse”

A few weeks back I finally had the opportunity to begin watching BET’s first original scripted drama, Being Mary Jane.* When I learned about the premise of the show some months ago, I was excited because the synopsis of  the series mirrored narratives I had been exploring in recent black women-centered/led films; narratives about successful, single, 30-something, career-driven black women who struggle not only to find an acceptable work/life balance, but also equally accomplished husbands. Though this particular narrative has circulated within entertainment media since the late 1990s and early 2000s, white women have often been the central protagonists as represented by Ally McBeal, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Sex in the City, to name a few examples. 

When I began to take an in-depth look at recent black women-centered/led films like Something New (2006), 35 & Ticking (2011), Think Like a Man (2012), and Baggage Claim (2013), I found that they each shared a thematic premise: professional, single, middle-class black women are experiencing both reproductive and marriage anxiety. As a 30-something, single, educated, aspiring middle-class black woman myself, and as someone whose friends share a similar background, I can relate to these narratives and attest that yes, the anxiety is REAL. However, with that said, I do question both the source–whether external, internal, or both–of this anxiety and the investment of the media industry in bolstering this apprehension through framing it as a “crisis.” With respect to this latter point, I am specifically referencing how, a few years ago, several broadcast news specials aired, articles were published, and self-help books were promoted, all in an effort to bring to public awareness a “crisis” described succinctly by one black woman as “the Black Girl Curse.”

I question why women that are viewed as “successful” (measured frequently by level of education, profession, and wealth) are positioned as deficient and in need of “fixing.” (On a personal level–and I know I speak for a few of my black female friends–we are more that tired of being asked by family and “attached” friends the question of “when” we are going to find someone and get married.)  I also find it infuriating that the narrative solution is often that black women must do away with their ambition if they ever hope to achieve true happiness through finding a husband and having children. Thus, although the narratives of Being Mary Jane and these other films resonate with me on a personal level, I think it necessary for many of us black women to contemplate why we are experiencing this anxiety in the first place.

*In future posts, I will say more about my general take on the series, but for now I can say I generally enjoy the show as a viewer, and as a scholar, I am very intrigued by the varied viewer responses to the show’s depictions of black womanhood.

Note: I will be giving a presentation in March at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (Seattle, WA) that will explore both Think Like a Man and 35 & Ticking.

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