*Note. This is an advance review of an episode that will be available December 9thon Seeka.tv”
Alonge Hawes REALLY wants black men and women to go ahead and get every hateful, vile, ignorant, misinformed, misunderstood, and mis-educated thought we’ve ever had about one another off of our chests. He wants us to spit it, scream it, cry it, and hurl it right into one another’s faces. He wants it to hurt, to cut deep, wants us to feel the pain and bitterness. He wants it all out on the table, in all of its ugly vitriol. He wants us to see the damage we have done to one another as well as the damage we have allowed, either consciously or unconsciously, to be inflicted upon us. He wants us to soak in a sea of contempt so thick that we might drown in its depths. Because only when we have consumed ourselves within the fire of one another’s disdain, can we truly find a path towards the understanding that represents healing.
Or at least that’s what I THINK he wants. It’s becoming increasingly hard to predict what Hawes’s Black On Both Sides truly is from one episode to the next. Is it a mystery/heist series following young black retail workers who, feeling underappreciated and underpaid decide to commit theft and fraud at their job as a way to simultaneously keep themselves above the poverty line while sticking it to the “man”? Is it a searing and brutally honest portrayal of black existence, struggle, and identity in America? Is it a thoughtful critique of what it feels like to enter the work force as an African American in a, still all-too-white and racist middle class America? Who the hell knows? Maybe it’s all of that wrapped into one, or none of that. But as Alonge Hawes weaves his tale, I feel as if we journey ever deeper into the psyche of black consciousness. Sometimes its beautiful, sometimes its ugly, and sometimes its painful.
Episode (or “Chapter” as this series dubs them) 6; titled “The Audacity Of Hope”, after former President Barack Obama’s 2006 tome, chooses to utilize a bit of satire to deal with the “ugly” and “painful” of the black American existence. Namely, the divide between black men and women. The episode begins with fan favorite (at least in my head) Henry Gil Scott Heron (Julian Robinson) finally launching his podcast, which was a goal of his earlier in the season. Henry has invited two special guests to the show. Dr. Lilith Alexander (a fiery and regal Schelle Purcell) and Nigel Hawthorne (played with subdued intensity by Anthony Earl Jr.) Lilith has written a book called ‘Black Men Are The White Men Of The Black Community’, which in itself seems to be a parody of a controversial article published in 2017. In turn, Nigel has written a book titled ‘Sistas Ain’t Soldiers: Stop Playing Her Game And Get Money Black Man’. Both are heralded as intellectuals and leaders of their respective movements. Lilith’s assessment is that black men, through chauvinism, toxic masculinity, and sexism, have not only failed black women, but have held them in captivity for a longer time period than slavery itself. Nigel’s rebuttal is that, through media representation, and social conditioning, black men have been made to devalue themselves and their own greatness. And that through idolizing black women, they are putting themselves at greater risk of losing out on financial stability and upward mobility. Both sides throw acid remarks and sharp insults at one another during the debate. Hawes’s writing coupled with Purcell’s and Earl’s acting keep either argument from gaining the upper hand; but it stunned me several times that I felt small kernels of truth in both arguments. It was uncomfortable for me as a black man to find myself unconsciously agreeing with some of the things both parties had to say. Does that make me part of the problem? I’m not sure, but this episode will surely make a lot of the black people who watch it do a bit of soul searching.
During a short intermission, we get to meet both Lilith and Nigel’s spouses. You might be surprised to find out who Lilith’s husband is because I certainly know I was! Because this is an advance review I won’t give the spoiler, but again, its something that can really make you think about just how complex and muddled race relations are in America. Nigel’s wife, Cindy, is a series newcomer (played by Stephany Bailey). Both spouses show love and support for their counterparts, while simultaneously steeping them deeper into the stereotypes that they are both desperately trying to escape. The interactions between the two couples could honestly be its own separate episode; the dialogue and acting in these scenes is jam-packed with meaning.
The final confrontation between the Nigel and Lilith is almost explosive. Again, I won’t give direct spoilers but you get the very strong inclination that the two end the episode as slightly different people than they began. We don’t get “closure” in the sense that everything wraps up neat and tidy, and the topic at hand is too complex for one answer to fix the issue, but the silver lining is that with an understanding that we as black people are not truly alone, we can use that understanding to bridge the gaps in our community with an aim towards empathy and compassion.
This is my favorite episode of Black On Both Sides thus far. The series continues to get better with each episode and Alonge Hawes, the cast, crew, and team really deserve kudos for the obvious labor of love. This episode really made me rethink some of the long held beliefs and micro-aggressions I might have held towards black women, and I’m sure it will do the same for some black women and how they may have felt at times, or perhaps still do about black men. Though I do not want to speak on behalf of Alonge Hawes, it really seems like he is trying to convey that black men and women desperately need one another in order to truly make any sort of real progress within our communities.
And that’s definitely a sentiment I can get behind.
Excellent acting by series mainstay Julian Robinson and newcomers Schelle Purcell, Anthony Earl Jr., and Stephany Bailey
Good improvement in sound mixing and scene transitioning
Complex themes presented in an understandable fashion