A Rewatch of… Girlfriends

‘Girlfriends’ is a 2000’s American sitcom following the lives of four black women – Joan (Tracee Ellis Ross) a young successful lawyer obsessed with the notion of marriage, Toni (Jill Marie Jones) the bougie real estate agent, Maya (Golden Brooks) a working-class mother turned successful author and Lynn (Persia White) a free-spirited sexually active bohemian – as they navigate the ins and outs of their mutual friendships, disordered romances and very different personalities.

Running for eight seasons (it was just that good), me, my sisters and friends remember sitting in front of the TV screen beside our mothers and aunties, too young to understand most of what was happening on screen, but definitely registering the presence of one of the few genuine representations we as girls and women of colour would have in mainstream media. When the show ended in 2008, a distinctive gap in on-screen diversity was left behind, only reignited around the mid-2010s by shows featuring lead Black female characters such as ‘Insecure’ (Issa Rae), and ‘Chewing Gum’ (Michaela Coel).

When Netflix announced they’d be airing ‘Girlfriends’ come September 2020, I was ecstatic and immediately set to binge-watch the series beloved by so many in my youth. Now that I have, I realise just how much the show explores, how much it overlooks, and how much more I appreciate its existence. 

Themes of sexism are explored throughout the episodes, one in particular coming to memory where Joan, a junior partner at a law firm, is heavily subject to “locker room” talk in meetings at her job where she is the only female colleague. She is constantly talked over, has her ideas stolen, and is revealed to make less than her fellow junior partner, who is a man. There’s little sugar-coating when it comes to displaying the harsh realities faced by women every day on screen, and the ability of the show runners to display such serious topics within the confines of comedy without belittling them is cause for commendation. 

Furthermore, the exploration of differences between the main characters lends itself to the show’s ability to discuss relevant topics, especially within marginalised communities. We see Toni bring up her experiences as a dark skin Black woman, subject to colourism, a unique discrimination she suffers as a result of societal beauty standards that even her fellow women of colour are responsible for upholding. As we explore the relationship between her and Maya, the loud-mouthed working-class friend from the “hood”, opposite to Toni who prides herself on making it out of the “hood”, we are faced with the effects of economic class on race and lifestyle.

Lynn, who is biracial and adopted by a white family, experiences conflict with her sister who appropriates black culture (at one point, even going so far as to use that word), starting a painful but highly important discussion about what isn’t okay and the heavy why behind it. For a series airing in 2000, some might say it is incredibly poignant and relevant to the issues we are facing today; however, this is only true because the problems of racism, sexism and classism have never truly gone away. 

The show isn’t without some faults, as some jokes made relied on homophobic, sexist and at times racist tropes, which would definitely not hold up in today’s cultural climate. The characters could be “messy” and engage in unchecked toxic behaviours, but depending on your outlook that could be part of its charm. ‘Girlfriends’, at its heart, is about friendship in all its funny, messy, delightful nature, and it remains an incredible show that I highly recommend. 

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Mariam Jallow

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November 2021
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