Although I watched Netflix’s Chewing Gum early last month, I had to think critically about how I wanted to approach this write-up. There’s a lot to unpack about this show; a lot of food for thought. First of all, what is Chewing Gum? It is a play turned television series written by and starring Michaela Coel (born Michaela Ewuraba Boakye-Collinson), a young Londoner of Ghanaian extraction. In the show, the protagonist is a 24-year-old virgin who was brought up ultra-conservative and ultra-religious but desperately wants to have sex with her boyfriend who is uncharacteristically unwilling to oblige her. The show is hilarious and frank and shockingly real at times as it delves into sex, sexuality and all the facts and ignorances of life that comes with doing it. Seems simple enough to gab about, right? Not quite.
Lord knows I watch plenty of foreign films and television shows, even the ones with subtitles. I attribute this to my Northern California upbringing with hundreds of school nights spent watching Are You Being Served and Absolutely Fabulous combined with hundreds of Saturdays spent watching Showbiz India and Kung Fu Theatre. When I happened upon on Chewing Gum, it was natural for me to take in yet another British show especially one with a Black star and predominantly Black cast. (Hello Luther and Top Boy!) But I worried about what I would have to say to convince my fellow Black Americans to give this show a try. Do we have an aversion to the Black experience outside of America? If so, then why? Maybe the problem is the accents. I swear it is really not hard to understand a British accent and anyone who has watched any James Bond film really has no excuse. English is English.
But still, if we are lax to learn about what it is to be Black in other parts of the world then why is that? Slavery also existed in the United Kingdom. Racism, classism and religion exist there today. So many of the same components that effect the Black experience in America lend themselves to the same issues in the UK and elsewhere. Hell, there were Black Lives Matter marches in the UK. It shouldn’t be a problem to watch this show just because it’s British. I hope I’m making a bigger deal of this concern than it really is.
Then I wondered about the disconnect between Black Americans and African immigrants. It exists. I’ve had conversations with family and friends about my marriage to my Nigerian husband and I’m always surprised with the questions. “What’s it like?” “Does he treat you well?” “Is he a chauvinist like African men tend to be?” “Does his family hate you and look down upon you?” “Do you have to speak with a special accent in order for him to understand you?” LOL. As if I’ve married an alien from the Pleiades instead of a fellow Black person who just happens to have been born in another country. I find this disconnect so odd, especially since I’m a huge fan of Pan-Africanism and consider myself a part of the African diaspora. Admittedly, though there are cultural differences (my hubby actually doesn’t like chocolate chip cookies), there is nothing so different about us that makes us not find and embrace common ground. (There is an interesting podcast that discusses this phenomenon here.)
Michaela Coel is British by way of Ghana and the family she showcases in Chewing Gum own theirs heritage completely. I see so many similarities between African family bonds and Black American family bonds because we’re so much more alike than we are different. Still I wonder (based on previous conversations I’ve had) if this will frighten viewers away. Again, I hope I’m making a bigger deal of this concern than it really is.
Finally, what is it with Black Americans and sex? I remember going to a Bilal concert a while back and the opening act was a comedian who started talking about oral sex. The audience recoiled as if a Klansman was on stage talking about bringing back slavery. I thought the dude was pretty funny and so did my husband. We were, in fact, the only ones in the crowd actually laughing out loud. I found this peculiar since the same crowd later on demanded that Bilal sing When White Turns to Grey, a song that specifically talks about orgasms and such. This begs the question…do we not appreciate frank and explicit talk about sex or do we insist that our sex talk always be poetic and sung to a danceable beat? Jesus, Black people. AIDS.
Chewing Gum does not pull punches when talking about sex. There is talk of periods and oral sex and how white men’s penises look. There is talk of BDSM and threesomes and sexually transmitted infections. There is talk of homosexuality and coming out and sexting and explicit video chatting and sex and sex and sex. This show is so necessary, especially when it comes to rationalizing sex and religion…as if Christian folks ain’t freaks. Come the eff on.
All of this to say that watching this show really forced me to look at some uncomfortable truths about American Blackness and some of the issues we really are lax to admit that we have. And let me say that I, in no way, am pointing the finger at my brothers and sisters without taking responsibility for my personal contributions to our issues. I once had an aversion to watching Nollywood films. I am very quick to angrily defend my Black Americanness whenever my husband and I have a friendly debate. I will never speak candidly or openly about pornography. Okay?!?
Chewing Gum is a great and funny show. Please watch it. Please. Five black fists.