Sometimes, we REALLY hate our jobs. Coworkers can be annoying kiss-asses. Bosses can be uncaring jerks. Customers can be brutal imbeciles. We’ve all had those days where, after an eight, ten, or even twelve-hour shift, we look up unto the heavens and ask that faceless, merciless, cruel behemoth known as fate one question.
Why must we work so hard for so little? Why within the work place does it seem as if we are constantly judged, not by our mountain of accomplishments, but by the anthill of our failures? In a country where it has been reported by the International Labor Organization that Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers; it is no understatement that work related stress is at an all time high.
Alonge Hawes, since his work in Blue Collar Hustle, has often alluded to and explored the concept of work/life balance, especially as it pertains to working class African Americans. But in his latest series Black On Both Sides, Hawes’s writing and characterization delve deeper into the psyche of black professionals trying to keep their heads above water in a system that, quite frankly, doesn’t seem designed to benefit anyone below a certain title or pay grade, let alone young black people.
Episode, or “Chapter” 5 if you will; titled “Their Eyes Were Watching God” after the 1937 Zora Neale Hurston novel; puts the focus on the character of Maya Patterson. Played with miffed intensity by Kiara Woods, Maya early in the season has been about one thing and one thing only, getting paid. She has all but rebuffed Anansi’s efforts to teach her how to properly adjust her attitude and demeanor to be less combative and more docile at the work place. During a training exercise in which Anansi role plays with Nandi, Henry, and Maya on the importance of speech patterns and body language, Nandi and Henry pass with flying colors while Maya, who clearly could care less about the whole silly affair, does not. Just as the standoff between Anansi and Maya looks to be getting tense, a new character named Joseph Ross (Nolan Martin) enters. Joseph, as we find out, has his own work place issues. As a longtime Sales Lead at another Legacy Wireless location, Joseph is upset that his own hard work has gone overlooked while Anansi has been seemingly showered with praise and promotions in such a short time period. He cannot come to grips with either his own inadequacy or Anansi’s impressive acumen, therefore he resorts to blaming Affirmative Action for his own misfortune and Anansi’s triumph. Legacy Wireless CEO Cyrus Alexander (Scott Piehler) once again pops up to remind us all why smugness is a character trait best served cold. When asking Anansi why Maya, as one of the company’s worst employees, has been allowed to work so many hours; Anansi replies that, not only does she volunteer to work when others call out, she has a young daughter to care for. Cyrus’s reply? “If I were running a women’s shelter that would be well and good. But I’m running a business”. Hawes really drives home that today’s corporations have little to no sympathy for the lives or struggles of their employees, which in turn makes Maya, Nandi, Henry, and Anansi look like modern day Robin Hoods for skimming money from Cyrus and Legacy Wireless. As Nandi says in a later scene, they are criminals, but SMOOTH ones.
Joseph, looking to take the spotlight from Anansi and score some glory, suggests that he and Anansi switch stores for a week, so that they can perform employee assessments without bias. Anansi has no choice but to inform Maya that her hours have been cut and that her upcoming assessment is crucial to her continued employment. Moreover, he orders all three of them to stop their “time and a half” (i.e. stealing product) operation until he comes back and Joseph is out of the building. Devastated, broke, and with no other choice; Maya asks Henry and Nandi to teach her to be like “these white people”.
Without going into further spoilers I found this episode to be exceptionally strong. This episode continues the series strength of really building the characters and showing their individual motivations for why they feel as if stealing from their job is the only way to supplement their meager incomes. Also utilizing Maya as a means of exploring what “code-switching” really means and all the self-degradation that goes with it was a great choice. Maya goes through A LOT in this episode and Kiara Woods does a great job of showcasing a range of emotions. The new character of Joseph Ross is realistically ambitious, back-stabbing, and self important that we all feel we know and (unfortunately) have worked with someone like him. Anansi’s on again/off again love interest and mother of his child Nefertiti (Lasada Lloyd) has a nice scene that once again hints at Anansi’s true motivations (and reveals his real name). I enjoy that Alonge Hawes doesn’t seem afraid one bit to show how hard it can be in the work place for African Americans of both higher and lower pay-grades, and that he doesn’t shy away from the “Why” of it all.
I am giving this episode a very strong 4 stars. The only reason why its not higher is because I found it hard to make out the audio in a few scenes and some of the camera placements felt very strange and out of focus.
Great Continued Acting From Cast (especially Kiara Woods as Maya, Scott Piehler as Cyrus, and Nolan Martin as Joseph)
Themes And Message
Iffy Audio In Some Scenes
Camera placement In Some Scenes Is Confusing