tv The Other Black Girl Review – Workplace Thriller Mixes Satire With Silliness
“How much longer are you willing to compromise yourself for a paycheck?”
It’s a question lobbed at Nella, the Black editorial assistant at the center of Hulu’s series The Other Black Girl. Based on the bestseller by Zakiya Dalila Harris, The Other Black Girl dissects the horror of insidious racism in white workplaces. But its mechanisms for exploring workplace anti-Blackness can feel divorced from a complex examination.
As the only Black person at Wagner, an all-white publishing house, Nella (Sinclair Daniel) navigates a specific tightrope. Nella is on call to answer all questions Black, but mustn’t be too honest. She is the injection of diversity that white employers salivate over in a post-2020 world, but cannot be too Black (her lotion of choice is too scented for the white people she works with). The burden of being the only one, the boulder of that request, is impossible, but so familiar (to some of us).
But one day, Nella is joined by Hazel (Ashleigh Murray), another Black girl. Hazel’s presence is a balm to Nella’s double-consciousness at Wagner, a comrade in the daily attempt to walk in dignity. But Hazel also brings unease. Her spotty past and incessant ambition raise red flags among Nella’s tribe, her best friend Malaika and boyfriend Owen (Brittany Adebumola and Hunter Parrish, a kinetic and hilarious pairing).
Nella also receives a warning corresponding with Hazel’s arrival: a note instructing her to “leave Wagner now”. Nella’s professional aspirations get tangled in trying to understand who Hazel really is and dissect Wagner’s sordid past involving its only Black editor.
The Other Black Girl is part satirical “white ignorance” comedy, part horror, a tale of why we code-switch. Devices like flicking, fluorescent lights, though heavy-handed, foreshadow the terror of Nella’s circumstances and being Black in white workplaces at large. There are plenty of silly white people quips, like a white editor seemingly perplexed at the mention of the rapper Lil Baby. Other signposts of a white workplace abound: the overly eager white ally, white bosses dangling carrot sticks of promotions in front of Black workers (news flash: you will never get it). The adaption competently defines the panopticon of whiteness facing Black employees everywhere, splashing in its absurdity.
But the logic of how and why Black employees are forced to tiptoe in white workplaces gets lost. Wagner fully embraces call-outs from Hazel, who demands that Nella be publicly credited for her ideas. Wagner’s CEO immediately fires a white editor who attempts to bury evidence of racism in a prominent author’s book. In fact, Nella begins to enjoy the blossoming of her career without any renewed commitment to code-switching. The painting of Wagner as self-correcting is confusing and challenges any reason for why Nella would have to assimilate (the twist revealing how assimilation happens is, unfortunately, flat).
The horror aspect is also, at times, a bit freewheeling. The programming of Black women into corporate prodigies spins into action movie territory, complete with kidnappings by masked people and interrogations in leaky back rooms. The reason for the widespread coerced assimilation plot, especially with such violent means, is muddled. It’s a contrived inflation of stakes when the mere tension of being Black at work is dramatic enough.
The Other Black Girl’s dive into questions of agency and choice around assimilation is what makes it rich. Daniel’s embodiment of an overeager employee is necessary, cracking open with inner turmoil and anxiety. An examination of Hazel’s background, commanding work by Murray, adds similar dimensions into the paradox of hustle.
At its best, The Other Black Girl provides a needed examination of the self-sacrifices involved with being Black and getting ahead. And an important reminder that skin folk are, in fact, not always kinfolk.
The Other Black Girl is now available on Hulu in the US and on Disney+ elsewhere