The Twenties Cast Explains Why It’s Important to Have a Queer Black Lead Who’s Also a Hot Mess Leave a comment

As Twenties, the BET sitcom from Lena Waithe, was gearing up for launch earlier this year, a lot was said about the ways it is a groundbreaking show, and rightfully so. 

Twentiesmain character is a masculine-presenting lesbian, making Hattie, played by Jonica “JoJo” T. Gibbs, a trailblazer for BET and TV as a whole. Gay lead characters are of course no longer novel, but a butch black lesbian — jokingly mistaken for “a them” by a rude passerby in the show’s first few minutes — leading a comedy is still a rarity; Twenties occupies 100 percent of the “butch black lesbian comedy” segment by itself. 

And yet, for all the ways Twenties marks a sea change in representation, the show tells a very universal story of young people fumbling through early adulthood. As remarkable as Hattie is for being the face of an underrepresented group, she is also quite ordinary — and quite funny — for being a hot mess. As the series begins, Hattie is being evicted, not taking her screenwriting career seriously, and chasing after emotionally unavailable (i.e. straight) women while freeloading off her friends Marie (Christina Elmore) and Nia (Gabrielle Graham). There’s undeniable chemistry between them though, and an undeniable irresistibility to Hattie that makes Twenties both a joy to watch and a measure of progress. 

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As co-showrunner Susan Fales-Hill said in a conversation with the cast facilitated by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, “This character represents a wonderful evolution because there was a time when [black characters] always had to be perfect. The freedom for a black child to be a mess, I’m happy to see. It’s liberating.” 

Reflecting on its first season and looking ahead to the recently greenlit second season on BET, the Twenties cast told TV Guide in a fun and lively chat that Twenties happened to arrive at a time when Black voices, including Black queer voices, were finally being amplified. To boot, Twenties aired its first season as multiple cell phone videos of Black people being harassed went viral, and the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor built up social tension that reached a boiling point with the murder of George Floyd, which in turn lead to civil unrest that inspired unprecedented change. 

For the Black women who run and star in the series, the current climate has given Twenties a new coat of relevance, and importance.  “I have been seeking out images of Black people experiencing joy,” Elmore said. “That’s been good for my soul the past couple of weeks.” Added Fales-Hill, “I can’t think of a better time to have a vehicle like this. For centuries, humor has been our armor. We never would have survived without humor and hope.” The daughter of the legendary performer Josephine Premice, and once the lead producer on the hit show A Different World, Fales-Hill said she left TV 20 years ago because people told her that people she knew didn’t exist, and that — despite her Ivy Leauge education and ability to speak three languages — she couldn’t run a “white” show. A show like Twenties, with a queer black woman as the lead, was unthinkable then, which is part of the reason she’s so happy to be part of it now. “It’s been a sea change.” 

Hattie is far from perfect though, which is part of her, and Twenties‘, charm. By the end of Season 1, she’s gotten herself way in over her head at work in more ways than one, and in one of the best scenes of the season, Hattie is challenged by a woman who has a crush on her. All season long, Idina (Shylo Shaner) and Hattie share a mild flirtation, and though it’s clear Hattie kinda sorta might be interested, Idina is definitely interested, but Hattie casually dismisses her for a straight girl. As a result, Idina checks Hattie about her preferences and hang-ups, rooted in avoidance and internalized homophobia. It’s a complex and fascinating story that clearly would have never been shown if Hattie had been straight, or simply been somebody sidekick. While the specific nuances of these women’s sexual politics may not be familiar to everybody, the politics of desire, and the ways we get in our own way, very much are, and it’s at that meeting point where Hattie is familiar, and funny, to anyone. “I fell in love with her immediately,” said Gibbs. “She’s a mess, but she’s a confident mess.” 

Twenties is streaming on BET.

Jonica “JoJo” T. Gibbs, Twenties

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