The Incredible Ache of Netflix’s Jessica James
I pressed play to Netflix’s Jessica James this weekend. It was impulsive, almost like a late night trip to Krispy Kreme. Thought it’d be good, nostalgic.
But as usual, after that first bite, you begin thinking “How could I fool myself again?”
The film’s opener gifts us entry into the world of a young playwright, who’s talented AF and oozing out melanin swag in all areas of her life. She’s focused on staying afloat in her post-break up, “F*ck these niggas” world. I couldn’t think of a more relatable plot.
But like a beloved glazed doughnut, sweet indulgences can lead stomachaches. The film hit my sweet tooth for more technical reasons but on the surface, a more pressing problem twisted my insides.
Despite having the cool of Blackness back in mainstream’s good grace, white Hollywood is still low-key writing Black content. A white guy wrote this one. No matter the source, I’m usually down for good story. But in the case of black storytelling, it can get uncomfortable as us not penning our own stories occasionally leads to inauthentic and race-neutral moments where peak Blackness should otherwise thrive.
The fear here is the film will be prematurely hailed as an important Black feminist work. It’s not. Comedian Jessica Williams will be and is important but not with this. Even with an envious Nora Ephron-esque simplicity, it was remarkably forgettable. It paced like a sluggish TV series prequel, giving too much set up to be considered a stand alone film. The interracial love story also lacked a bit charm. Their race difference wasn’t problematic but their lack of chemistry was. The story barely stayed above water and bounced from boring to more boring, to funny, to omg boring, boring, boring… cute?
Jessica Williams’ cinematic debut feels puppet-like, an ultra-lean dose of all that dopeness she be reppin’. Sometimes it even felt like cross-promotion for her ‘2 Dope Queens’ podcast. Sighhh.
I wanted more. This is the age of more, isn’t it? More unapologetic blackness, more authenticity in who reveal ourselves to be, more intention to the art we create. I would argue it especially pressing we also offer more shelf life for this art, especially that which seeks to expand the Black female narrative.
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P.S. Co-star LaKeith Stanfield was most delightful. And why production folks struggle to effectively light Black people is still most perplexing.