Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

ELIXHER | July 30, 2014

Scroll to top

Top

21 Comments

Between Women: Triumph or Try Again? One Viewer’s Take

Between Women: Triumph or Try Again? One Viewer’s Take
ELIXHER

E.A. Cooper

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.

Comments

  1. Wanda Due

    What is is said about this series is the many complaints that took place regarding the cruise. Apparently, they tried late in 2013 to offer a cruise, set it up and people paid. Then, according to many fans, the writer and the director failed to refund their money. I think they have been reported to the FTC for investigation.

    • Uh-oh. I’m sorry to hear this. I had heard something about a cruise by BW. Well, I hope they sort this out soon.

  2. I watched some of the series and I must say it is AWFUL. Not only do I find the characters stereotypical but I find the writing overall bad. I cringed through most of it and I just couldn’t make it through the whole thing. I live in Atlanta. I was born and raised in Georgia and I can honestly say I don’t know any black lesbians that behave like that.

  3. Habiba

    I am thankful, relieved even, for the analysis of Sapphrikah.
    I watched the show from beginning to end and although i definitely found joy in the representation, there were several things that were deeply bothering me. “If they ended up addressing the underlying reasons, I’d be more than impressed.” You summed up my thoughts..except i WANT and NEED to be impressed by exactly this. I actually believe that the whole community needs this (and society as large, but this is another topic) and would tremendously benefit from having underlying issues finally addressed. Reproduction of patriarchy, internalised mysoginy, getting at times emprisoned in roles for believing they are a mere “facts” and not an option we can deny, re-define or modify consciously…. all these themes could be addressed even in a show designed for entertainment. I asked myself: why talking about domestic violence, stds, violence against lgbtq and NOT the underlying issues and traumas that makes many of us behave sooo dysfuntionally in our relationships?
    I think this is the next level we need to rise up to.

  4. Nina, I was thinking the same thing. I should’ve waited until the end of the season to write the piece because the last episode was quite possibly the worst episode YET. I was just itching to write about it!

    • Agreed. The ending was horrible. The fans were rabid as usual, and the showing was late as expected. Rumor has it that they are moving ahead for a Season 2 and asking for more donations. hmm

    • LA

      I’d like to contact you about collaborating on a future project.

  5. Curious to know if you will write a follow up for the March episodes. Now that would be interesting.

  6. Leo

    The lines that stands out the most for me in this review are:

    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

    and: listen to your viewers…but always stay true to your vision.

    I was every excited about BW for one because it was in my city Atlanta and secondly it represented me. I cannot identify with anyone on the show but I still enjoy watching women who look and love like I do. I had plenty of critiques after watching each episode but as mentioned, I was grateful to have something that I was willing to make excuses for it. Therefore while I will keep supporting BW, because it represents me, if it is going to make it to a network because of our support, we do have a responsibility to make sure that we are represented properly and not cut them slack because we are happy to have something: something does not have to be anything.

    I am so happy the author mentioned how Rae talks. I thought I was the only one who found it undecipherable!
    BW, if you need a gimmick to get on network TV, you need someone with a foreign accent. Like me! :-)

  7. Sapphrikah

    These stud stereotypes are important stereotypes to address, BUT… and this is a big “but”…

    Miller and Mecca are the only characters who are masculine of center who are perpetuating that stereotype. And Mecca isn’t technically in a relationship, it isn’t clear if she is always cheating. Although she does clearly lie about who she’s sleeping with to Winney, but I digress.

    There are still Brooke (with her obvious other problematics), Rae, and Sunni. Who aren’t perpetuating that. Rae, especially, whose demeanor almost reads as if she’d do that, is so nobly faithful to Jessica as of yet, battling her feelings for B all the while.

    AND more importantly, I think it is important, honestly, to portray that stereotype. Because I’ve known queer black womyn who ARE like that, and on top of that player/heart-breaker mentality, are also incredibly disrespectful to other womyn, especially “femmes.” I think it is really really important to portray that because it does occur in our community so often. Now if the show actually delved into why this seems to happen so much, it’d be perfect. I happen to think it has a lot to do with how we perceive straight society in combination with what seems to be a need to mimic the heterosexual world.

    In the sect of black queer womyn (and this is a large percentage, I think) who are super into the dichotomy between hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine gender roles, there seems to be even more of that player mentality among the masculine of center womyn. This is not unlike the stereotype of straight men beings “dogs” who will willingly cheat on you, play you, fool you, who “think with their dicks.” I haven’t done a study on this, no, but I think it has a lot to do with a fair amount of queer black womyn thinking we need to be like the straight people are. The masculine womyn should treat the femmes like the straight men treat straight womyn—dog them, cheat on them, call them “bitches” etc. It goes hand-in-hand with people assuming masculine of center womyn are the “aggressor.” It is obviously annoying at the least and extremely problematic. BUT it is happening, so very much in our community and definitely needs to be recognized.

    That being said, I do think its important for them to show that, and for as long as they have masculine of center womyn characters who are not portrayed that way, I think it is a good thing they’re putting light to a realistic theme. If they ended up addressing the underlying reasons, I’d be more than impressed. But I don’t necessarily expect that from them.

    Sidenote, in Miller’s case, I can’t recall catching seriously misogynist tones from her, so her character might not even be trying to subconsciously mimic the straight world and its problems. She might seriously need to get out of her relationship with Rhonda and be with someone else, perhaps she is poly and hasn’t found that yet. Just a sidenote.

    I also really don’t think that Allison’s character reads as “desperate” or so “desperate” that she’s willing to take the abuse Brooke doles out. I’ve never been in an abusive relationship, I couldn’t really begin to read her reaction. But her stance was never that of compliance, even when she tried to stay with Brooke. She is portrayed as someone who knows she doesn’t have to stay, and knows she can find love elsewhere. I don’t think she was originally trying to stay with Brooke out of desperation, I really don’t get that vibe.

  8. Kia

    I agree as well but I will keep watching and donating towards a better product. Sn: you write “tear” when it should be “Tare”.

  9. I agree with a lot of your points, but at the same time maybe those characters are real for them. I find charcters like rae and sunny real and genuine. as far as the dog bowl scene, I thought it was alittle over the top as well but that is what life is like some times over the top and hard to believe. As a writer and artist I have to respect them for making an effort it is easy to judge but if you want to change the image of black lesbians we cant chop down the first show that is trying to get ‘us” into mainstream.

  10. Rae

    This is so on point and just what I’ve been thinking about the show. Great analysis on every level. I was excited to see “us” on film but I PRAY this doesn’t go to tv…. Or that they at least heed constructive criticism or upgrade the production and writing team. Well done

  11. *ahem*
    I want to thank you for this detailed weigh in. First, I applaud Between Women for this brave endeavor. As filmmakers- we understand that the cost of producing something scripted can be a GREAT one. Thus, the acting and production quality fall short when dealing with content that is “niche” because you aren’t going to find much monetary support outside of the BLACK LESBIAN COMMUNITY…and not to say that “we” are broke, but the general fact is there has to be a helluva lot of folks behind you to get our attention/$$$ (i.e. most folks not even realizing that PARIAH began as a short film back in 2006)….that kickstarter life is rough.

    That’s why we chose to scale the reality realm: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRZ5-_-XtKg

    now, there is that pesky storyline…

    We think what the BW creators are TRYING to do is explore situations that are relate able and “close to home” which- they were. There is no question that we have experienced and witnessed every single situation that they portray in each episode, BUT that isn’t what makes a quality plot line.

    Agreed, the framed drama, cheating, abuse and such are all becoming tired- ESPECIALLY when you involve low-budget acting, the story only gets worse.

    Suggestions?

    Switch it up a bit. Understand that the drama doesn’t ALWAYS have to surround cheating.

    Round out your characters, but bring 1 or 2 to the forefront. We are following 30 diff MAIN characters on BW. That is problematic for the script. WE KNOW that EACH AND EVERY facet of lesbian will be represented. That would be insane…but shake it up a bit. PUH-LEEZ!

    Lastly- listen to your viewers…but always stay true to your vision.

    XOXO

    gravyCAKE Productions

  12. Pristina Jackson

    I think a lot of what you say points to the fact that they try to squeeze so much into a short time on average the show is a little over 30 minutes. Its hard to continue a story line with such twisting plots in such a short amount of time, and for the record though there are some lesbians who are not like those depicted on between women, there a lot who are.

  13. Shane

    I can agree with you on one point, that we all have opinions. Granted the show is not going to represent every aspect of black lesbians as thats impossible, but for what they are working with I have to commend these ladies for taking a chance and putting themselves out there. Without any hollywood assistance ie MONEY!. The acting is mediocre, and has been improving with each new episode but for what they are working with its superb for youtube. I have watched other attempts at black lesbian drama and it does not even compare to Between Women. Now the stud characters are not sterotypes in my opinion as we all know some like the ones portrayed. I myself am a stud and i can admit I can recognize a little bit of myself in these women as far as attitudes, mannuerisms, and in how they dress. I will say that all of who I am is not represented but i would not cast that as a negative. Because all shows do that, whether its the Lword or Tyler Perry or something on ABC NBC. Nothing is going to represent us 100% but if we can identify with even the slightest I say good job, because it keeps the audience interested and wanting to see more, which is a strategy that has worked for almost a millenia. I enjoy the show as being entertaining, funny and drama filled as it should be. I would agree with all your points if this was put forth as some sort of documentary, and making statments like this is how black lesbians are and thats THAT!. I think its way too early in the show to write it off so quickly. On a production/writer stand point they are only scratching the surface and this is the time to draw in viewers and gain recognition. They have given us character development over these past episodes. Every character has their thing Miller the womanizer, Rae the one still figuring out her life goals, Mecca makes no commitments and is enjoying life, Sonny to me is interesting because she is portraying the lesbian who is just coming out and trying to find her footing and we get to watch what so many of us have done in the past. Sonny to me is dead on when your coming into being a stud, how many of us had another stud to show us the ropes. Hold our hand and guide us not many can say that. This is my favorite part of the show because i have been that person to young studs or studs that may not be confident within themselves, and i have been that stud that asked another stud for advice. So again this comes back to of course we are not going to be represented 100% but the parts that I identify with hit home. I applaud these women and wish them good luck and hope to see them as the First Black Lesbian series on HBO

  14. Dannie

    I love the show!!! However, I do agree with some of the points stated here. For example: Sunny!! I’d like to know more about her!! I’d like to see Miller make a firm decision about Rhonda and their relationship. I’d also like to see a more gradual and realistic portrayal of Allison and Brooke’s tumultuous relationship. It’s almost to much too fast with little understanding of why either of them is so engulfed in the situation at hand. As far as Winny being Bi-sexual, I don’t see a problem there other than the fact that she hides that fact. I would say that bisexuals are not neccesarily jumping back and forth, but remaining open to both possibilties. Not my choice… but to each his/her own. And being a lover of the city (ATLANTA) I love the fact that it is a backdrop for the series!! Again I say, I love the show and will definitely continue to tune in and support the team!!! There is a wealth of potential there for what they are trying to accomplish!!

Submit a Comment