by Joneka Percentie
Living Single. Girlfriends. A Different World. These successful 90’s and aughts sitcoms featured black leading ladies who portrayed real women. As a young girl, I didn’t understand the importance of what I was watching. Nowadays, accurate representations of black women on television is out of style. According to the Women’s Media Center, in the 2010-2011 television season, women made up 11 percent of directors. The Director’s Guild of America reported that women of color directed only 3 percent of all episodes in the 2010-2011 season. But even if TV is less black than ever, black creatives are reaching large audiences through YouTube. Black YouTube is great because it shows genuine black characters that aren’t caricatures or stereotypes. So many web series are created, written, starring, and produced by black women. If I was forced to choose my favorites, these shows would make the list.
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl created and produced by Issa Rae
Awkward Black Girl popped up in the “Recommended for You” section of my YouTube account, and after watching the first episode I was hooked. The show is outrageously funny and I spent an entire night watching the first season. Awkward Black Girl follows J, newly single and in hate with her job. J deals with a lot of crap working as a sales agent for the dietary supplement Gutbusters. Her boss is racist, her co-workers relentlessly taunt her, and no one understands her humor. Coping through hilariously aggressive rap lyrics and the help of her best friend Cece, J navigates her way through the corporate world and a budding relationship with her new boo, White Jay.
Favorite Episode: In epsiode 6, The Stapler, J is sent to anger management after an outburst over a stapler and meets some interesting characters:
Roomieloverfriends co-created and written by Numa Perrier
Tamiko is smart, feisty, ambitious, and hopelessly in lust with her roommate Jay. Through the first season Tamiko struggles to define their relationship with the help of her friends Tiffany, Calista, and Constance. The situation becomes even more difficult when Jay reveals a secret to her. The show not only features great characters, but a catchy and original theme song called “Chemistry” by sister singing-duo Allegra Dolores.
Favorite Episode: Epsiode 2. Tamiko tries to keep her cool around Jay, but loses control and ends up in a tricky situation:
HelloCupid created by Ashley Blaine Featherson and Lena Waithe
Whitney’s looking for love, but discovers that the online dating site Hello Cupid just brings her all of the “Flava-Flavs and Bobby Browns of the world.” Her luck doesn’t change until she decides to switch her profile picture with her lighter-skinned and curvier roommate Robyn. The messages immediately flood in. HelloCupid honestly addresses black women’s challenges with relationships and self-image through clever and funny dialogue. I especially love that the show is partially improvised, giving the actors liberties with their own characters. Pure genius.
Favorite Episode: In this series premiere, Robyn gives Whitney advice on how to sound more desirable over the Internet:
TWENTIES written and created by Lena Waithe
As an honorable mention, I have to include TWENTIES. TWENTIES is not a web series, but the four-part pilot presentation stole my heart. The pilot surrounds Hattie, a single woman with a passion for her friends, vlogging, and pop culture. The heart and core of the show is clear in the fourth part of the pilot when Hattie gets real. Writer and creator Lena Waithe makes it clear that in order for shows like hers to make it onto the small screen, production companies need to see that they have a strong following and can create traffic. “There’s no Kickstarter or IndieGoGo attached to this project. All we want you to do is commit to sharing TWENTIES with twenty of your friends. The more you spread the word the better chance we have of getting it on TV,” Waithe said in an interview with IndieWire’s Shadow and Act. With over 50,000 views in two weeks, Waithe has proven that not only can her show get traction, it’s good.
The success of these web series have shown that there is an audience for shows that feature black women in the forefront. Black women can be smart, funny, desirable, and clever. These webseries prove it. Black women want to see themselves reflected in something as everyday as a television show. Supporting original content and sharing it with others helps get shows like The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Roomieloverfriends, HelloCupid, and TWENTIES, onto our TVs. I want to see women like me as leading ladies on television. Until then, I’ll keep logging into YouTube for the latest episode.