Being Mary Jane, a new BET show written and directed by husband-and-wife team Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil, is the story of Mary Jane Paul—a single, young, successful African-American television news anchor (played by Gabrielle Union) who juggles her demanding job with a complicated personal life. When the series began on Monday, Jan. 7 (after its pilot episode had been aired as an “original film” back in July), it opened with a disclaimer: “Forty-two percent of African-American women have never been married. ... This is one black woman's story, [and it’s] not meant to represent all black women."
The event attracted over 4 million viewers, which helped Brock Akil get a two-season contract with BET. Because there are so few black or minority female lead characters on scripted network television, however, many viewers ended up comparing Mary Jane to other TV characters played by minority actresses.
In a recent New York Times review, Jon Caramanica first compared Mary Jane to the Indian-American character of Mindy Lahiri on The Mindy Project, then (of course) compared her to the only other black lead female character currently on scripted television, Olivia Pope. In Caramanica’s opinion, Mary Jane is “unfortunately … less complex than say, Kerry Washington’s canny Olivia Pope on ABC’s Scandal.” On Twitter and elsewhere, viewers and reviewers drew similar comparisons: “Being Mary Jane is a much more realistic Scandal.” “Will #BeingMaryJane hold yall over until #Scandal returns?” “Some people were offended by the masturbation scene on #BeingMaryJane. How many times have we seen Liv's panties on #Scandal? Relax.” “[A]s much as I enjoyed #BeingMaryJane it is NO #Scandal and Gabrielle Union is NO Kerry Washington.” And so on.