As the walls close in and Anansi’s endgame becomes clearer, Black On Both Sides continues to distinguish itself as a series worth sinking your teeth into.
Code Switching sucks. Lets just call a spade a spade on this one. Since the formation of this country, the black people dwelling within it have never, at no point in time, been made to feel as if our unique sense of identity is important or respected outside of dancing, singing, or some kind of performance art. Ironically, it has been our entertainers who have taken steps to rail against this specific form of oppression. When Solange snarls “Don’t touch my hair”. When Jay-Z laments “Only spot a few blacks the higher I go.” When Kendrick Lamar proclaims “We hate popo. When they kill us dead in the street for sure!” They are merely channeling the frustration, anger, and rage of a people who are fed up with society’s status quo of how we should feel, act, and carry ourselves. In a society where laws have to be passed to effectively stop natural hair discrimination, 16 police officers in Chicago were involved in a cover up of the shooting of Laquan Mcdonald, and our own Commander & Chief has admitted to stating that “laziness is a trait in blacks.” The time would inevitably come that African Americans would rebel against the fact that we are made to exist within a white world as Niggers when our very humanity depends upon being viewed as people.
In the spirit of that particular sentiment, we have Black On Both Sides seventh and penultimate episode of its freshmen season, titled “Black Boy” (in keeping with the theme of naming episodes after the novels of famous black authors, this one the celebrated work from Richard Wright) the episode puts the action squarely back on the main character of Anansi Moor (Alonge Hawes) and draws the curtain a bit on his true motivations towards his boss Cyrus Alexander (Scott Piehler). Cyrus, impressed with Anansi’s sales and leadership abilities, invites him to a private dinner party, where he is encouraged to bring a “plus one” in order to demonstrate that he is a safe and non-threatening family man. Anansi implores Nefertiti (Lasada Lloyd) to accompany him, and after some sweet talk, convinces her to come. Nefertiti seems to be one of the few people who knows who Anansi truly is, and she is fighting an inner battle to reconcile her obvious love for him with her moral objections with what his plans are. Nefertiti is the only one who calls him by his real name (revealed a few episodes previous to be Kwaku) and the one to push him towards considering their family and daughter over lies and subterfuge. Throughout the episode she provides a grounding presence to keep Anansi balanced.
The dinner party itself provides a great showcase for both Hawes and Lloyd to showcase their characters as masters of integrating themselves into upper class white society. While Cyrus gives self-congratulatory speeches, his wife Lilith (Schelle Purcell stealing every scene she’s in) hosts with all the haughty shamelessness of Elizabeth Taylor circa 1954’s Rhapsody. The assorted guests, all rich and white, shower Anansi with compliments such as “If every black person acted like you, racism would be over!”; and as Anansi and Nefertiti grin and tap dance their way through the party, the moments are intercut with flashback sequences of Anansi’s father Elbert (Devan Dmarcus) who preaches about moving to Nigeria to start anew. The dualities of Elbert’s passion for black people taking their destinies into their own hands intercut against Anansi’s attempts at integrating into white America was something I found particularly interesting. Anansi is so hell bent on exacting vengeance on Cyrus that he seems to be utilizing his father’s strategic teachings without regard for the philosophy that inspired them. Whether playing the game in this manner will be to Anansi’s detriment remains to be seen, but in one telling scene between Lilith and Anansi; she warns him that “winning” the game means ultimately selling your soul.
The episode concludes with the return of Saul & Quintoni (Quentin Williams and Roberto Cruz looking as if they are having the time of their lives in their roles) who are looking for a bit of payback themselves. I won’t give too many spoilers but it would suffice to say that Anansi should REALLY practice better payment habits when it comes to dealing with these two.
Black On Both Sides has become a very entertaining and poignant examination of the black experience. The acting has continued to be on point, the writing is excellent, and the themes and messages have real weight behind them. I eagerly await the final episode of the season and really hope it sticks the landing. Here’s to another exceptional chapter in the Black On Both Sides canon.
Great Acting (Scott Piehler as Cyrus, Lasada Lloyd as Nefertiti, and Schelle Purcell as Lilith deserve special mention)
Exceptional Direction and Cinematography
Little pockets of sound issues. Not bad enough to deduct a full point but noticeable in a few scenes