Zakiya Dalila Harris’ 2021 best-selling fictional novel has already been adapted by streaming giant Hulu. Even with Zakiya being an integral part of developing The Other Black Girl for the screen, according to fans of the book, the show takes many liberties for a screen-friendly presentation. The 10-episode series of about 30 minutes each dropped all at once on Hulu on Wednesday, giving us the opportunity to binge-watch the whole thing in one sitting. This seemed like a bad decision, and we’d have preferred to watch it a little bit slowly. Read our full review to know why. The Other Black Girl joins a list of satirical-horror media, the likes of Get Out and The Stepford Wives, and we can tell because of the self-aware name-calling within the show.
What Happens In The Show?
Nella, a 26-year-old black woman, works for the publishing house Wagner Books as an assistant. She’s the only black employee, and the other POC is quitting soon, leaving her all alone in the snowy landscape of a workplace. To Nella’s surprise, the replacement is another black woman, and Nella is immediately thrilled. There’s an unannounced alliance between black members of a company for obvious reasons. Nella finds a sister in Hazel, who is friendly, fashionable, and very cool. Nella gives Hazel the rundown on office gossip, shows her the ropes at work, and even tells her about a promotion she may be up for. Nella works under Vera, one of the editors at Wagner, and Hazel is under Maisy.
Needles And Pins
Vera is proud to be the person who brought in Wagner’s most important writer, Colin Franklin. Whatever happens, Vera can’t have anything go wrong with Colin’s deal. Unfortunately, Colin isn’t as progressive as he thinks, and during her reading, Nella realizes that the black character in his novel is problematic and written through a completely stereotypical lens. Vera asks Nella to be honest with her, and she tells her how she really feels. Although Vera sees Nella’s point, she knows Colin will not take it very well, so she tells Nella to sugarcoat it for him at the launch party they’re having in the office the same day. Nella tells Hazel her frustrations, and Hazel shows her support for her. She says she’ll back her up if Nella wants to speak up to Colin. During the party, Hazel, who read the book the same afternoon, points out to Colin that Nella has something to say. Nella, hesitant at first, ends up speaking her mind incoherently, or rather rashly, leaving Colin frustrated. She calls the character Shatricia dangerous, and Colin asks Hazel what she thinks. Instead of taking Nella’s side, Hazel does a full 180 and tells him she loved the book, putting Nella in a spot. When Nella is leaving work, she gets a note in her bag that tells her to leave Wagner immediately.
Nella has been telling her boyfriend Owen and her best friend Malaika everything thus far because having Hazel at work was almost like an achievement. Malaika is the skeptic of the lot, and she tells Nella to be wary of Hazel. At work, Nella shows Hazel her disdain, and Hazel defends herself. She says it was her first day, and she can’t just act up in such a situation. She promises to support Nella with everything from then on. On the other hand, Vera is on the verge of firing Nella, but if Nella apologizes, all is well for them. Ultimately, Nella apologizes, and Colin is like a child with candy. Nella suggests a sensitive read to Vera, who doesn’t love it. Or, rather, she pretends to not love it and pitches the same idea as her own in a meeting with the boss. Hazel calls Vera out and gives Nella credit for the idea when everyone loves it, showing Nella her loyalty. Nella sees a change in Hazel, and she is happy again. Hazel shows Nella how to put herself out there by taking her to a party they’re not invited to. She even gives her a makeover that makes her look more like Hazel herself. Nella makes a pitch to Richard during this party when she gets caught impersonating an editor, and he likes it. Malaika doesn’t like any of this because Hazel tried to sabotage Nella at first, and now she’s pretending to be chums with her. When they meet, she doesn’t pretend to like her either, and Malaika and Nella have a big fight about it.
Colin’s book gets leaked by the sensitivity reader, leaving Wagner in a big soup. The book is a disaster, and everyone calls Wagner racist. Additionally, Jesse Watson, the voice of the youth and black podcaster, cancels Wagner, leaving Nella in a soup. She actually wanted to bring Jesse on board at Wagner to write a book and make a change.
Nella is at Wagner because there was once (a long, long time ago) a black editor there. Kendra Rae Phillips is Nella’s inspiration, but she’s been off the grid for 35 years. At the party, Nella’s pitch was to bring back Burning Heart for its 35th anniversary with notes from both Kendra and her best friend, the author, Diana Gordon. Wagner tells her that Kendra actually took her own life back then and didn’t disappear. The truth is, though, that Kendra is still alive, and she’s been running.
Diana and Kendra were besties back in the day, and Diana was always sure she wanted to be a writer. Kendra, on the other hand, had no idea what she wanted to do, so she went to Harvard to figure it out. A lot of Nella and Hazel’s dynamics mirror those of Diana and Kendra. Diana was the more outspoken one, and when Kendra was working at Wagner, she pitched her book to Wagner and made it happen for the both of them. Wagner made the girls change the ending of the book, though, and Kendra was really mad about this. This left her sour about Diana, too, who didn’t stick to her true story. Burning Heart was a huge success for Wagner, though.
In the present day, things are looking up for Nella because Diana decides to return to Wagner and write again. She prefers Nella’s ideas over those of the senior editors and ends up choosing to work with her. Nella also gets Hazel to join the project because she’s been helping her so much, and they’re both big fans of Burning Heart.
Nella forgets about the note (from work that asked her to quit) for a bit until a woman on the subway tells her that Hazel isn’t Hazel, but her name is Eva. She leaves another note in her bag, which gives an address and a time that Nella is expected to meet her. She is Shani, and she gets kidnapped when she’s supposed to meet Nella, leaving her with only questions in her mind. Nella thinks she’s been stood up. Earlier that day, Colin’s book was leaked, leaving the company in trouble. At the same time, Malaika sees Wagner and Hazel in a restaurant, looking very suspicious. When Hazel shows up at work with Wagner, he fires Vera and tells Colin they’re done working together. Taking on the huge responsibility of the editor, Nella feels weighed down at work. She gets distracted. She even messes up with Diana and gives a bad impression. Hazel tries to set her straight, but Nella’s mind is elsewhere. Hazel visits Owen at work, pretending to talk about a charity, but then tells him about Nella’s mental health. When Nella finds out about this, she’s far from happy. But, on her doorstep, she finds the original manuscript of Burning Heart, leaving her excited and jumping to get back on the grind. Nella convinces Diana to release this original version of the book because it’s far more compelling than the already brilliantly published version. This would make a huge difference for kids like Nella. At the same time, Wagner asks her to convince Jesse to come on board, which Nella is sure is impossible. Still, he agrees to meet her and makes some embarrassing comments about how the system is never going to change from within and that Nella should just switch sides and move to his team.
Malaika takes Owen to do some snooping around, and they find Hazel’s boyfriend. He freaks out when they say the word Boston, making Hazel look even more sketchy. They tell Nella, and she finally confronts Hazel about the name Eva. Hazel asks Nella if a woman told her this and tells her that it is Shani, her ex-co-worker, who hates her. Nella believes Hazel, and that’s the end of that. But we see that Hazel has locked up Shani in a room in her house. Nella wins over Hazel again when she suggests that some of the profit earned by Burning Heart can go to Hazel’s charity. Hazel invites Nella over to her house for a girl’s gathering, and Nella brings Malaika along.
The Hair Gel
It is really strange that Hazel is friends with a bunch of black women who are all big names in their own fields. They all pull each other up and boost each other’s morale, and things look really odd to Malaika and Nella for once. It’s a haircare party, and Malaika gets talking to her ex-girlfriend Ruby, who is there too. She’s a completely different person from before, and Malaika can’t believe the immature person who stole her license plate (Malaika did cheat on her, though) could suddenly be girl bossing and giving her hugs. The atmosphere is totally strange, and there’s some sort of cult-like behavior from all the girls that makes Nella and Malaika freak out, but when Malaika is in the bathroom, Hazel says it’s Nella’s turn to get her hair done, and just as she’s about to put an unknown gel in her hair, Malaika stops her. She says Nella is on a hair care journey, so she can’t use unnamed substances in her hair. Malaika distracts the girls by telling them she’ll do their eyebrows when Nella goes scooping. This time, she finds a folder with photos of all of the women with titles like voluntary or involuntary. Nella freaks out and calls her husband. She tells Malaika that there’s an emergency and they need to run. They pretend Nella has a dog who has cancer, and so they all have to be back. Owen breaks into the house at that moment and scares everybody, but they manage to escape. Hazel doesn’t fret too much, though, because she brings out a totally changed Shani, who is now on their team too.
The Big Moment
Nella thinks Hazel is part of some cult that recruits black women and turns them into fembots. She thinks it’s Wagner at the top of the pyramid, but she’s wrong about that one thing. Nella has to show up at the office party, though, because she’s the one who made Diana’s book happen. She decides to go get Diana on her side. But before that, she also goes to Jesse and tells him the whole truth so that he can expose Wagner Books as racists. To her horror, Jesse is at the party and has decided to write a book with Wagner. Her plan is a big fail, and she finds out that Diana has been in charge this whole time, not Wagner. Malaika gets hit by a car driven by Shani, and Nella gets kidnapped by Diana’s people. Kendra shows up and saves her by tazing the team. She tells Nella that they have to be on the run, or Diana will permanently be after her. It turns out Diana had tried to do the same thing to Kendra, but she had run away.
Hazel, on the other hand, was a girl who came from nothing. She had a paraplegic mother and was unable to get work in the publishing industry because she was not a college graduate. She saw Diana at a reading, and Diana promised to protect her. She took her into her organization, The Other Black Girl, and Hazel, too, was indoctrinated with the gel, like she almost did with Nella. Hazel then became what they call a conditioner, someone who recruits other women and gets them to join their side. The gel basically makes these black women more agreeable and stops them from being distracted by racism. Instead, it helps them focus on work and be confident, basically becoming girl bosses by selling their souls.
Does Nella Convert?
Nella won’t leave her friends like Kendra did back in the day. Malaika convinces her that she can fight the system because she should think about the girls who come after her. Nella takes her advice because Wagner is about to publish a brainwashing book written by Diana and the other women to recruit more black women. This book would be published in Jesse’s name. This is when Vera helps them by giving them an idea of how to make sure the book fails. Nella breaks into the office and steals a copy of the book, using the same tactic that got Colin canceled. If Jesse is canceled, so is the credibility of the book. When she’s there, Hazel tells her that the gel is just a distraction and that it’ll help Nella grow and become the confident person she truly wants to be. She convinces her that it would be a better life for her.
Hazel is a young Diana, and Nella is a young Kendra. Nella returns to the office transformed, with new clothes and new hair, leaving everyone smitten. She confidently tells everyone that Diana and Wagner had her come back to work after making herself look crazy in front of the whole office earlier. Wagner makes her the new senior editor, and Diana tells her how glad she is that Nella chose to come back to them. Hazel tells Nella that they’re truly sisters now and that they can be the best of friends, telling each other everything. She asks Nella to join her for lunch to celebrate, but Nella stops her there by saying she’s too busy and maybe another day, clearly pushing Hazel away. At the end of the episode, Kendra and Malaika get a hold of Jesse and taze him. The resistance is still strong, and Nella is going to fight from within the system.
The end of The Other Black Girl shows that Nella is pretending to be a part of Diana’s team. She knows that she can only make sure the book isn’t published by Wagner. With all these powerful people, she must play a game of power herself, and she can only do so if she pretends to be on their team. Ultimately, we don’t know if she will succeed, but seeing her confidence and new look, we can imagine that she will get back what’s been done to her and to all the young people like her.