There aren’t many TV shows that include black women in the primary cast. So when I finally get a glimpse of someone who looks like me with a legitimate storyline, I’m both excited and critical of how she’s portrayed. Luckily, the most underrated gem on TV right now, Good Trouble (aka the best way to spend your Tuesday night), gives me faith that TV writers can write about black girls in an honest and authentic way.
Among the myriad of ethnically and sexually diverse characters on the show is my fave, Malika, a young black woman (yes, I’m biased) who is passionate about social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement.
When we were first introduced to her, I was skeptical. Are they going to make her the sassy, angry black girl who blames the world for every issue in her life? I mean, surely that’s better than the black girl best friend whose only purpose is to be a silent sidekick or the poor black girl whose life is full of pain and struggle, right?
But every time I think Malika’s character will fall into a black girl stereotype trap, the writers veer from the typical storyline. Certain stereotypes like growing up without a father and assertiveness are a part of her character description, but the writers never allow those parts of her to define her entire character.
Yes, Malika comes from struggle (which isn’t unique to black culture). She grew up in a one-parent household but we later get to see her develop a relationship with her absent father. We’re shown the process of her working on her complicated relationship with her younger brother as well as witness her celebrate graduating from college.
We see her explore her passion for social justice by marching and protesting, but we also see her empathy for the cause when she becomes close with the mother of the young black boy she’s fighting to get justice for. We even see a less serious side to her as well when she’s joking around with her friends and flirting and falling in love with a (black) man she meets at work.
Best of all, we get to see her discuss the issues that other black women think and talk about daily, which so many other shows fail to do. There’s a particular episode where the young black boy she’s trying to get justice for is shown in a video that had me instantly rolling my eyes — he’s talking poorly about black women and their looks, which leads to a conversation between Malika and her friends about the two sides of a double-edged sword.
On one end, why would they speak up for someone who thinks so lowly of them? On the other, they can’t stop fighting for justice just because he wasn’t able to see the beauty in his own people. They dive even further and talk about how he’s just a child who more than likely had his own self-hatred issues, a topic that is often brought up in the black community due to our history of being told we’re inferior. The conversation gets deep but ends light-hearted with the three women lifting each other up.
Malika sheds light on several issues black women face. She challenges the other characters when they accuse her of being aggressive, questions her boyfriend’s subconscious preference for white women over black women, and does her college thesis on the issue of name bias in the hiring of people of color.
Sometimes when TV shows attempt to include conversations about cultural issues, it can come off as forced and preachy (cough, season one of Grown-ish, cough). Good Trouble, however, presents these issues in natural conversations and disagreements.
For instance, when her roommate Davia tells Malika she’s coming off as aggressive in an argument about the young black boy and his offensive video, I almost had to cross her off my list of unproblematic fictional white people. But when Malika informs her of the negative connotation surrounding black people and aggression, it opens up a dialogue and implores the audience to consider bias in their own lives. The episodes seem to encourage discussion and open dialogue, as well as self-reflection on a range of topics.
Even though Malika is the only black female character in the main cast, she exhibits none of the common token characteristics. Her character is fully fleshed out and developed and, most importantly, relatable. Her character has a life outside of her proximity to the show’s two main characters and we’re allowed access to her professional, social, and love life. This unlimited access to all parts of Malika’s life allows more black girls to see themselves in her and proves to the world what us black girls already knew: that there’s more than one kind of black girl.