Is Being Mary Jane the New Mary Tyler Moore?

being-mary-jane-featured-imageSingle career girl takes on the city and sets out to make it on her own. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a game-changer for television depictions of women. Coinciding with the 1970s era feminist movement, the show featured the whip-smart and funny Mary Richards (played by Mary Tyler Moore), a single woman who moves to Minneapolis and lands a job as an associate producer at a TV station. While Mary had her share of dates and love interests, the most important relationships she cultivated were friendships. One can glimpse the show’s lasting imprint in Sex and the City, 30 Rock, and possibly BET’s new prime time series Being Mary Jane.

Written and produced by Mara Brock Akil–the creative mind behind UPN’s Girlfriends, among other hit shows–Being Mary Jane stars Gabrielle Union as the title character Mary Jane Paul. The show premiered as a film last July and will air as a series on January 7, 2014. Like Mary Richards, Mary Jane (MJ) is a single career woman working in news media. MJ has more than a career to look after as a terminally ill parent, unemployed siblings, and duplicitous love interests tug at her emotional stability. One of the most refreshing qualities of the main character is that she’s no superwoman (or SBW). She puts on a winning smile for her TV viewing audience and a steely exterior to keep her brothers in check, but at the end of the day, a television commercial filled with cute babies can still send her bawling into the arms of her gay best friend.

Akil confronts directly the “enigma” of single black womanhood that has attracted undue media coverage in the past few years. The pilot opens with that dubious and widely circulated statistic that aired on ABC’s Nightline and doomed over half of black heterosexual women to a life of spinsterhood. It’s clear that Akil has kept her eyes on what others have said about black women. The pilot even comments on that racist and sexist Psychology Today article that called black women “ugly.” Being Mary Jane responds to those media images but doesn’t set out to represent all black women or offer a “respectable” and sanitized version of of black womanhood.

A character like Mary Jane in many ways is possible because of Olivia Pope. In a similar vein as “Liv,” MJ is an unashamed sexual and desiring subject who can have hot sex on her bare hardwood floors and masturbate in her office before a date so she can make decisions with a clear head instead of a charged libido. MJ is interesting … and flawed. Of course flaws are what makes us interesting and human.

I hope the series moves in a direction that will reveal more of the main character’s complexities so that she has a life that expands beyond her dating woes and ticking biological clock. I’ll be watching to find out if MJ will “make it after all.” Will you?


About jennifer williams

Jennifer D. Williams is a writer and professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies. She has published in academic journals and online at, PopMatters, among other sites. Jennifer is currently working on a book that looks at black women's urban literature between the Depression and the civil rights era.

One response to “Is Being Mary Jane the New Mary Tyler Moore?

  1. I never saw it the last time it came on. I’m definitely excited to watch it now!

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