Can one small thing address systemic racism in the workplace? Probably not, but The Other Black Girl presents a unique idea woven into a tale of anxiety and dread. Adapted from a book of the same title that was released as recently as 2021, The Other Black Girl sets out to be a workplace thriller that follows a young black woman in the publishing industry. In reality, it plays out more like a satire than a thriller, and the nail-biting stuff is far more limited in comparison to the relentless workplace humor. I found the first half of the show especially captivating. The pacing is great, and there’s an element of mystery, but at the same time, there’s also a lot of fun stuff, like getting to know our main character, Nella, who is quite delightful.
Nella is the only black woman at Wagner Books, a big name in the publishing industry, until Hazel becomes the new assistant beside her. Immediately, Nella is able to find a friend, or rather, a sister, in Hazel. This unspoken alliance between black women is a very deep part of this tale. Hazel and Nella become the best of friends until things begin to get sinister. Lucky for Nella, she has a best friend and a boyfriend by her side to help her see through the fog.
If The Other Black Girl was a satirical daily, I would be hooked. Zakia Dalila Harris’ characters are tangible and real. The impressive dialogue makes one forget that this is a fictional tale and not something that’s happening somewhere in the world right now (it probably is, minus the fantasy elements). Parallel to Nella and Hazel’s story, which is set in the present day, there is one set in the 80s about a writer named Diana and her best friend, Kendra. The big connection there is that Kendra was the only black editor at Wagner Books back then until she disappeared one day with no word. The series doesn’t necessarily dive deep into racism but grazes the surface through its jokes and naivety. Maybe because it’s a limited series and there’s a lot to unpack, even if it seems like a major focus of the show, it takes a back seat. Not to say that it doesn’t convey exactly what it’s trying to in those small moments, because it does so with passion.
Visually, The Other Black Girl has the perfect creepy undertones and stunning lighting, and the outfits are scene-defining on their own. The clothing mirrors Nella’s changing life perfectly. Every teardrop makes a waterfall, and the little details push this show from good to great. But the larger part of my criticism comes from the pacing and the latter half of the show. The first five episodes are near perfection, but the last few feel rushed and lose their way, taking on too many things at once. This show is extremely binge-able, and the short 30 minutes make it just right for a one-time sit-through. But this is where I feel I may have made a mistake. Maybe if I had split the show into two parts with a small gap, the second half would have impressed me more.
But, at the same time, I found this show extremely unique, with undertones reminiscent of Jordan Peele’s work (as it is self-aware) or Prime’s ‘Them,’ yet distinctly original. It’s interesting to see how many black storytellers choose to use the horror genre to express their tales, and we’re seeing more and more of this every single day. Yes, there are trends and patterns, but it also goes to show how much frustration lies under the gore and chaos. As is common with this kind of media, the real heavy hitters in this show are the characters. Nella, as I’ve mentioned earlier, is a remarkable protagonist, but she’s elevated to another level by her best friend, Malaika.
The outstanding chemistry between Sinclair Daniel and Brittany Adebumola is what truly drives this show’s success, even when it revolves around Hazel and Nella. In truth, Ashleigh Murray is the true star of this show because of how much she gets to do with her character, Hazel. It’s frustrating trying to figure out if she’s actually nice or if there’s a monster lurking behind her sweet smile. I think the white boyfriend was especially amusing in this show, and I quite enjoyed his character, too. The show never actually commits to horror, and if that’s what you go in looking for, you’ll be disappointed to know that other than some flickering lights, there is nothing stereotypically horrifying about this show. One could argue that it’s more psychologically horrifying, but, personally, I think it doesn’t go all the way.
Before you get into this series, you should know that you’ll have a new playlist based on the songs in the show. Atmospherically, The Other Black Girl does a lot, but it’s just the end that leaves me wanting more. At the same time, I can imagine there’ll be some criticism of the show’s drastic switch from the first half to the second. There is an element of absurdity in the series that I wish it would’ve leaned into more and pushed the boundaries further. Maybe the show felt too real for the creators at Hulu, and so they had to turn it down a notch (if you know what I mean). Ultimately, though, I find myself recommending this show, specifically because of Nella, Malaika, and Hazel. I would love to see these characters. Having not read the book, I understand there are a lot of changes made to the series and that it takes many liberties with the story. But, as an innocent, I quite liked the show and am looking forward to seeing more stuff like this.