The Between Women web series follows a group of black lesbians who are friends and former lovers as they live their lives and discover what it means to be black and lesbian in Atlanta (where else?). In addition to the acting needing some work, each episode’s storyline is muddled and unclear, including countless scenes that add nothing to the already invisible plot. Worst of all, Between Women portrays black lesbians in the worst possible, most stereotypical light there is.
In response to criticism of his recent article that asked the question “Is The Help the most loathsome movie in America,” cultural critic Toure tweeted: “Surely there’s lots of room to be intelligently and reasonably critical about The Help without being a ‘hater.’” I realize that my opinion of Between Women may be unpopular with its impressive and rapidly growing fan base—straight and gay—but my opinion is just that, an opinion. It is in no way meant to tear down the writers, creators and actors associated with the project; but instead to highlight some of its major flaws in an attempt to perhaps provide some constructive criticism.
When I first laid eyes on the show I was enthusiastic and optimistic. Here, finally, was a show featuring a diverse selection of black lesbians—an all too overlooked demographic in popular media. It seems all too often that in movies and television we come in only one or two “flavors”: plaid cut-off shirt, motorcycle riding, mullet-sporting butch or long skirt, sandal-wearing feminist hippie. And black lesbians? Well, we hardly exist. I was particularly excited to see a good representation of aggressive women on the show in addition to their more feminine counterparts. These were women who looked like me! Not even on the Showtime series, The L Word, could I truly say that. I could relate to the long loc’ed, smooth, stylish and debonair Miller. I know street savvy, baggy-cargoes-wearing hip-hop enthusiasts like Rae and the show’s Mecca could almost be described stylistically as a fusion of the two—not quite as ‘hip-hop’ as Rae, a bit more casual than the three piece suit-wearing Miller. “Yes! This is gonna be good!” I thought as I settled in to watch. I imagined it would be as quirky, innovative and hilariously brilliant as the Awkward Black Girl series…but for lesbians.
What I got instead left me disappointed and frustrated. In addition to the poorly written script and its cardboard cut-out characters (often one dimensional, stiff and bland) the show does much to perpetuate the negative stereotypes that black lesbians (especially studs, doms or Ags) are among the shadiest, least loyal, most dishonest, most drama-filled people in society sailing even far past the shadiest straight men (one of whom is featured in one episode as a main character’s “baby daddy”).
The first episode begins with Miller being rudely interrupted by a phone call from her girlfriend while in mid-tryst with her employee, Lexi. The otherwise well-spoken and professional Miller, who is a successful marketing executive, cannot bring herself to end her relationship with her girlfriend Rhonda who’s portrayed as a stereotypical nagging, co-dependent, mouthy ‘angry black woman’; the same one we see time and time again in Hollywood (especially in Tyler Perry films).
“Seriously, it’s not that easy [to leave Rhonda],” Miller groans to an angry and slighted Lexi.
But why I wonder? Miller and Rhonda don’t have kids or a mortgage and obviously their relationship’s more toxic than anything Erin Brokavich has ever come up against. They constantly fight, Miller is continually unfaithful and in one episode there’s even a physical confrontation between them that culminates in Miller telling Rhonda to pack her things and leave. Yet, inexplicably and inconceivably they’re back in bed together two short scenes later as if nothing ever happened. Rhonda seems to know exactly what Miller’s been up to yet refuses to do much more than neck-wag, eye-roll and constantly threaten to leave; but always in the very next breath she’s begging Miller to ‘put a ring on it.’ Huh? Did I miss something?
Mecca and Winney are no longer a couple but occasionally still date and obviously still have feelings for each other. They also date other people but each is afraid to openly admit this fact to the other even though they’re no longer a couple. Mecca refuses to admit that she blows Winney off to sleep with other women while Winney is hiding the fact that she is actually bisexual and occasionally sleeps with men. Later on, we observe Winney starting to fall hard and fast for Gabrielle but she’s shocked and hurt when Gabrielle not only denies being a lesbian but seems appalled at the mere idea—even though she and Winney have already been out on what could only be described as dates where they blatantly flirt with each other. Winney, at the time of this revelation, is over at Gabrielle’s apartment quite sexily clad for what Gabrielle believes to an innocent girls night in. Immediately after the fall out with Gabrielle, Winney is hit on by a man at the gas pump and by the end of the scene it’s implied that she will gladly take a break from all the lesbian drama and confusion and seek solace in the arms of a good, old fashioned heterosexual relationship for a while. Does that scene seem to perpetuate the stereotype that bisexuals simply jump back and forth between men and women—as soon as they get tired, hurt, fed up or bored with one or the other—to anyone else but me?
Allison and Brooke are entangled in a violently abusive relationship. Brooke’s crippling insecurity will most likely, sooner than later, render Allison, well…crippled. Literally. There’s a brutal scene in which Brooke beats the stuffing out of Allison, rapes her, ties her to the bathtub and leaves her there for days feeding her from a dog bowl. Really? Really? Listen, domestic violence is always serious and unfortunate and yes, it does happen in the gay community; that’s for certain. The show wants to beat this point home for us – no pun intended (I promise); but that scene was so overdone and overly dramatic (why do I keep seeing Tyler Perry films play across the screen of my mind?) that it was almost comical. I mean, tied to the bathtub? Fed from a dog bowl? Whose warped imagination did that one spring from? I’d hate to meet that scriptwriter in a dark alley. Also completely unbelievable: 1) The fact that Brooke didn’t go to jail and 2) The fact that Brooke and Allison were right back together in the very next episode. Oh, there was a lovely PSA at the end of the episode featuring the actresses who play Brooke and Allison all serious like, ‘‘abuse is never okay’’ they said. Of course they’re right, and we know they mean well but who can really take them seriously? I was still busy trying to wrap my mind around the dog bowl thing. Apparently, one of the characters, Rae, in another scene found it as hilarious as I did. She couldn’t stop laughing about the dog bowl over lunch with a friend even though for them, it was supposed to be serious.
Rae and Beautiful are ex-lovers who also still have strong feelings for each other. (Notice another recurring theme on this show?) Rae and Beautiful are trying to co-parent Beautiful’s son Junior. The problem is, Rae’s current girlfriend feels she is a bit too close to Beautiful for comfort. Rae claims she’s in love with her girlfriend but often neglects her to tend to the needs of Beautiful and Junior at a moment’s notice. Rae also has a reputation of being notoriously faithful in relationships so when Beautiful, who’s obviously still in love with her, tries to kiss her she politely—very politely while kissing her neck—turns her down. She doesn’t, however, neglect to remind Beautiful “who she belongs to” before leaving her apartment after spending the night on her couch. Belongs to? Really? Basically, Rae’s obviously leading both women on and they’re both apparently too mesmerized by her charm to head elsewhere. Well, it’s either her charm or possibly the fact that neither of them can understand a word she’s saying half the time and therefore assume she’s making more sense than she actually is. Is it just me or is she almost completely incoherent sometimes?
Then there’s Sunny who is obviously the show’s comic relief. We don’t know very much about her except that she’s single and looking (hard) and is obviously confused…which only leaves us similarly confused about her. In one particularly long scene she’s receiving tips from Miller on how to be the perfect ‘stud’: how to walk, dance, and otherwise perfectly seduce a woman. In another scene she’s completely feminine, high heels, makeup, the whole bit. What? I’m not one to try to put anyone in a box. I have several friends who refuse to attach any label to themselves and choose to dress and act the way they feel that particular day. That’s cool, I just wish we knew what Sunny’s deal is and why we’re supposed to care.
Between Women has potential; but it unfortunately falls short in so many ways that sometimes that fact is hard to remember. Frankly, as a “stud”, (although I do detest that label, but that’s an article for another day), who’s been faithful to my girlfriend for close to seven years, I take some offense to the stereotype that we are all cheaters, liars and worse, sexually irresponsible. Several episodes of the show begin with an advertisement imploring viewers to be ‘AIDS AWARE’ yet there is not one mention of safe sex in any of the show’s numerous sex scenes. We keep hearing about how many sexual partners Miller has had, it would be nice to include some hint that she’s at least acting responsibly in that manner. I also take offense to the implication that women who date studs are so desperate that they are willing to take any form of abuse those studs dole out whether it be physical, emotional or verbal.
In many ways I’m proud of the show in its mission to at least get our faces out there. I think Tyler Perry’s films have such a massive following in part because we’re so desperate to see us in theaters that the quality of the effort becomes secondary to that. We have to demand more though; we’re worth it. The cast and crew of Between Women are petitioning to have it brought to network TV. That’s a lofty goal but an admirable one. I just hope that before that happens, we can dim some of the harsh light the show unintentionally casts black lesbians in. Until then, keep watching. I know I will! After all, it can only get better from here—or at least one can hope.
– E.A. Cooper
E.A. Cooper hails from the picturesque Bahamas but currently resides in Atlanta with her girlfriend and two very fat pets. She has a Bachelors degree in Journalism and Religious Studies with a minor in Creative Writing. Nowadays she spends her time freelance writing and editing in addition to producing and directing her own short films. It is a quiet existence but a very beautiful life. Reach out to Cooper on Twitter @e_exodus.