S2: The Black Elite (Outside the Box) – Highlighting Blacks in Prominent Roles in Film/TV.
Ep 4: Chewing Gum
The beauty of celebrating the Black Elite is that we are not only limited to the USA, as the Black Elite exist globally. The Britains are known for having their own sector of Black entertainment with Idris Elba, Daniel Kaluuya, Naomie Harris, and Letitia Wright among a roster of some of your favorite “oh-that-face” thespians in recent years. Though, America as a habit of doing the old adaptation gig, such as The Office, streaming platforms have figured out just outright re-airing the program for viewers as opposed to redressing the idea for more cost in the long run. One brilliant example is Chewing Gum. Based on the play, Chewing Gum Dreams, the show is written and stars the creator of the whole show, Micaela Coel. Though the show stands on its own, it is Coel’s ability to create comically relatable characters that allows it to translate its themes so easily for American audiences.
Chewing Gum centers on Tracey, played by Micaela Coel, and her life in Tower Hamlets, which is basically an apartment complex. Tracey lives with her socially awkward sister, Cynthia, played by Susan Wokoma, and her sometimes overbearing, well intentioned religious mother, Joy, played by Shola Adewusi. When we first meet twenty something Tracey, she attempts to get physical with her religiously rigid boyfriend of many years, Ronald, played by John Macmillan, who is almost grossed out by her attempts to make him unclean. What follows becomes the subtext of the show. Tracey wants to have sex. She wants to explore that world as everyone else around her seems to be getting it on at will. This includes her best friend Candice, played by Danielle Walters, and her boyfriend, Aaron, played by Kadiff Kirwan, who do their best to try and coach Tracey along so long as it doesn’t interfere with their playtime. Tracey often looks to Candice, Esther, played by Maggie Steed, sisters Kristy and Karly, played by Abby Rakic-Platt and Sarah Hoare, and even her cousins Boy Tracy and Ola, played by Jonathan Livingstone and Olisa Odele, to make sense of it all. Ultimately, it is Tracey that makes the decisions best for her, or so she thinks, as her goals of having sex get her tied up with an arguably equal off putting Conner, played by Robert Lonsdale, before trying again and again at getting her rocks off until she starts to cherish the fun in finding the right one to have sex with for the first time. The series is fresh considering the concept and it treats the characters like it treats its viewers, with respect.
Chewing Gum is a damn good show. It’s The 40 Year Old Virgin with twenty somethings using a religious hangups and thick British accents, raunchy humor and dildos included. The comedy is some of the most genuine stuff, which is no easy feat. No joke is forced, no gag is too over the top. It all meshes into a beautiful disaster for Tracey and 12 episodes of entertainment for us. Comedy is one of the hardest genres to pull off. The fact that Chewing Gum can pull off various types of comedy with ease is something that should be enjoyed by all. The funniest running gags on the show is Tracey’s infatuation with Beyonce and seeing that used at the best times. I’m not implying every episode is a lesson in comedy or laugh out loud funny but I doubt many people will be sitting through this series with a straight face.
What I appreciate most about the series is how much attention it doesn’t call to itself. It is a show comprised of mostly Black and White faces. However, Chewing Gum never mentions it. Not even so much a joke or line of dialogue. It was revitalizing to witness. Had the show been adapted for America, we wouldn’t get out of the pilot episode without several racial jokes or overtly political correct monologues. To much of the show’s credit, it never gets quite so close to those areas. Unless there is an actual point, it is mostly unnecessary to call attention to differences in character attributes. Something America still has yet to learn. Instead, audiences are treated to deeper subtexts such as homosexuality within religious circles, interracial dating, and sexual expressionism to name a few. Racial difference is the least pressing concern to Chewing Gum and it really shows.
As much as I want to keep praising Chewing Gum, you all get the point. It is not sliced bread but it is definitely progressive. From the catchy theme song to the surprisingly intriguing twists that pop up in that last 90 seconds and even the occasional nod to Hip-Hop in the show’s soundtrack, this is one of the better shows on Netflix’s roster. Micaela Coel is a multi-level threat from her writing ability to acting chops to everything else she’s done and will do. A symbol of inspiration for the Black Elite worldwide, Chewing Gum and anything Micaela Coel is attached to in the future, needs to be celebrated.
I present, Micaela Coel, brain child behind Chewing Gum.
*Note: Available on Netflix