On ‘And Just Like That,’ Black and brown characters are little more than props — Andscape
This article contains spoilers for the Max series, And Just Like That.
I was a huge Sex and the City fan.
As a young writer, I imagined myself as a Black Carrie Bradshaw, and I aspired to live comfortably while only working as a writer and not having to have a day job. I mean, who wouldn’t want a cute apartment in a bustling city, a fabulous wardrobe, an impeccable shoe collection, and a group of amazing and equally successful women who poured into me, listened to me whine about men, and could relate?
The only problem? I didn’t really see a reflection of myself in those characters. Yes, I shared traits with both Carrie, played by Sarah Jessica Parker (writer! clothes lover! shoe collector!), and Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), who was sexually liberated and unapologetically herself at all times. But I couldn’t see myself in those women. It wasn’t just that I’m not a prim and proper prude like Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) or an awkward neurotic who is all over the place like Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon). I’m not white.
So when Max, the network formerly known as HBO, announced it would be reprising the series with And Just Like That, I felt ambivalent about returning to the all-white world of Sex and the City.
I wasn’t sure how they were going to pull it off without including one of its more popular and beloved characters after it was revealed Cattrall would not be returning (more on that later). But I was cautiously optimistic because they were adding two Black women characters to the cast — Dr. Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman), a Columbia University law professor who is married to a musician, and Lisa Todd Wexley (Nicole Ari Parker) a seemingly “Jack and Jill”-type mom and documentarian who is married to a hedge fund banker. To spice it up even more, they added the characters of Che Diaz, a nonbinary comedian played by Sara Ramirez, and Seema Patel, a real estate agent played by Sarita Choudhury.
But Season One was a letdown because it felt like the writers didn’t know what to do with these new characters outside of using them as props for the three white main characters. After bumping all four actresses from recurring status in Season One to main cast roles in Season Two, the writers room still seems confused about how to give these women stories of their own.
Dr. Nya Wallace
In Season One, we meet Nya, the professor at Columbia University, because Miranda has decided to return to school for a master’s degree and enrolls in a class Nya is teaching.
Nya’s introduction was clumsy — portrayed as a microaggression on Miranda’s part when she assumes Nya is another student taking the class and not the professor who is teaching it. This is immediately followed by another faux pas when Miranda sees Nya getting stopped at a building entrance because she doesn’t have her ID badge readily available. Miranda goes into white savior mode, lambasting the security guard about questioning a Black woman. And, yes, it was every bit as ridiculous as you imagine it to be.
Nya’s husband is a musician, and her story arc in the first season is centered on the couple going back and forth over whether they want to have a baby. That storyline seems out of place considering the age group of the women on the show. That isn’t to say women of a certain age can’t get pregnant or have babies (even more on this later), but it seems like at this point in their lives they would have figured that part out already.
Further, Nya and Miranda instantly become besties, and this continues into the second season when Nya and her husband split up (there’s a weird storyline out of nowhere about him wanting to sleep with a backup singer) and Miranda moves into Nya’s spare bedroom after deciding to end her marriage with Steve.
When Nya has a problem, she calls Miranda — her former student whom she seemingly just met. Does this woman not have any other friends? And more importantly, where are her Black homegirls?
Pittman’s skills are wasted on this show because the writers don’t seem to know what to do with her character outside of using her as a means to tell Miranda’s story.
Lisa Todd Wexley
The same could be said about Lisa Todd Wexley, who is introduced as an associate of Charlotte’s (their children attend the same private school). And while that relationship could actually make the most sense out of any of the new “friendships,” in Season One, we rarely saw Lisa outside of her relationship with Charlotte.
This is a woman who is a documentarian with a rich husband. She was invited to speak about her documentary at The Museum of Modern Art, after all, but that episode only showcased the fact that she wears wigs and would be willing to walk through a blizzard in her fancy outfit to attend said event.
And that’s not even getting into the glaring continuity error in her story. In the first season, Lisa tells Charlotte that her father died, but in the second season, her father (played by Billy Dee Williams) shows up at a dinner party she throws when her husband, Herbert, announces he is running for comptroller. What?
In the eighth episode of Season Two, Lisa reveals to her husband of 20 years that she is pregnant. It’s a surprise, and it could have opened the door to a lot of good storytelling about Black maternal health and reproductive rights. But And Just Like That shied away from doing any real work. After admitting she thought it was finally her time, Lisa’s husband hints at the possibility of her getting an abortion without actually using the word. But once again, the show takes the easy route, and Lisa has a miscarriage in the next episode. For a show that has pushed the boundaries on a lot of topics considered taboo on television, that was disappointing and a wasted opportunity.
It seems as though these new characters — Seema and Che included — are just darker copies of their white counterparts.
Seema is clearly the Indian Samantha Jones, and I think we would all be totally OK with that, but the writers instead concentrated on making her as confused and insecure as Carrie, her client-turned-friend. We don’t see anyone else Seema is connected to in her life outside of her work associates and her hairdresser. When we meet her, she is extremely confident and sure of herself. But by the close of the second season, she is as much of a rattled and insecure mess as Carrie, and believe me when I tell you, they are doing my girl Sarita Choudhury wrong! This is a woman who played Denzel Washington’s love interest in Mississippi Masala. She deserves better!
Similarly, Nya is the Black Miranda — they’re both going through divorces. Lisa is the Black Charlotte, and Che is the Latino, nonbinary Miranda.
Poor Che, and poor Sara Ramirez. This is another storyline that has been all over the place. In the first season, I hoped Che’s relationship with Miranda would be handled well and given a great storyline, but by the end of Season Two, it’s obvious Che is yet another vehicle that moves Miranda’s story forward. It was exciting to see Ramirez get to play a nonbinary character, but the mishandling of their story is yet another in a long line of disappointments.
The Season Two finale brought the repeatedly teased appearance of Samantha — but honestly, even that couldn’t save this show. Cattrall’s only scene was filmed in the backseat of a car. Out of nowhere — and after not having spoken directly with Carrie in forever — Samantha decides to come to New York for Carrie’s farewell dinner party at her old apartment, but fog at London’s Heathrow Airport keeps her flight from departing. So instead of getting what we fans deserve — the real star of the show — we were left wanting,
And Just Like That was just renewed for a third season, which gives the writers another chance to expand these characters’ storylines and truly turn them into real people.
Let’s hope they move past their hesitancy to tell real stories about successful Black women in New York City. Maybe this time they will evolve beyond being caricatures and props for the white women who play opposite them.