Black in the City: Webisodes depict authentic culture

DaRyn Merriwether,

“Sex in the City” is one of my all-time favorite shows; I commend it for its six seasons of humorous and candid portrayals of fierce female friendship, single womanhood and the problematic search for love.

But as a young Black female creative, I can’t fully relate to Carrie Bradshaw in her fabulous New York penthouse and squabbles with her editor at Vogue Magazine. While I am still able to laugh along at Samantha’s latest sexual tryst with a Black professional athlete, I am also struck with the realization that there are few black women featured on the show.

However, I can relate to J, a character in the web series “The Mis-Adventures of an Awkward Black Girl,” as she struggles with how to react when her white boss touches her close-cropped afro without permission. Far from the loud, finger popping, neck rolling stereotype of a Black girl, J’s awkward encounters with the creepy co-worker she slept with after a Christmas party feels more realistic to me.

[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#eac9bb” txt_color=”#ffffff”]”Situations like this, created by Black writers and producers, normalizes my everyday experience.”[/mks_pullquote]

I can loosely relate to Bradshaw’s passive aggressive behavior to Mr. Big’s many slights, but I am much more validated by the explosive anger a Black entrepreneur named Deon expresses in another web series, “That Guy,” when she realizes her fiance is breaking up with her after two years. Instead of sitting in her apartment whining and then writing about it like Carrie Bradshaw would do, Deon yells at her ex-fiance over the phone: “I got a business! I pay my bills! I got okay credit! Do you know how many dudes wanna sleep with me!” Rather than chain-smoking and tears, their confrontation ends with plans to get Chinese food.

Situations like this, created by Black writers and producers, normalizes my everyday experience. Even when the underlying theme is dramatic, like breaking up with your fiance or problems with your boss, there is still a comedic relief in the familiarity of the characters.

Characters in these shows remind me of people I know. Like Stasi from “Sexless,” an overprotective best friend who smashes a car window in an act of solidarity for her heartbroken bestie. Or Wendy from “Chef Julian,” struggling to explain her relationship status after being designated to the friend zone by her crush.

Show creators and directors like Crystle Clear Roberson, Issa Rae, Dennis Dortch, Numa Perrier and Jeanine Daniels all started their careers in recent years by creating free web TV content for black audiences on YouTube. Since then, all of their shows have more than 200,000 hits and gained notoriety among celebrities like Oprah and Pharrell Williams; Williams even funded the final season of “The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl” and featured the show on his iamOTHER YouTube channel. Roberson, an HBO filmmaker awardee and assistant director on “Stomp the Yard” and “No Good Deed” recently produced a comedy web series called “Love Handles.”

Black Entertainment Television and HBO have also begun to take notice. HBO just approved a pilot for “Insecure,” a show loosely based on Issa Rae’s “J the Awkward Black Girl” that will also feature Rae. Founders of Black and Sexy TV, Dennis Dortch and Numa Perrier, created an entertainment network of independent programming geared toward the Black audience. In September they paired with BET to feature Black and Sexy hour, which will essentially show Black and Sexy TV material — shows like “Roomie Lover Friends” and “Sexless” which were once only available on YouTube — every Wednesday night.

Seeing such a wide range of Black characters creates a more authentic depiction of Black communities. Instead of waiting for mainstream television producers, who are predominantly White and male, to understand the need for such content, Black show creators are taking matters into their own hands. What began as an attempt to see a genuine reflection of themselves has resulted in great success for black creators in the independent television and film industry.