I’d heard a lot about Bye Felicia!, a new makeover show on VH1. A lot of what I’d heard was bad news.
The reviews were less than flattering, to say the least. “What sticks about Bye Felicia is that while the most cited clip will be of Ice Cube in Friday, a more accurate one would be any Gone With the Wind scene where Mammy is scolding Scarlett for her dress or manners. And that is a huge problem that is long overdue for a makeover,” wrote Allison Keene for The Hollywood Reporter.
“Bye Felicia arrives at a time when the awful and racist Lifetime series Girlfriend Intervention is still, unfortunately, fresh in our minds,” wrote Pilot Viruet for Flavorwire. “The shows have a fair amount in common: both are ostensibly makeover programs (but pretend to be about something deeper), both feature “strong” and “sassy” black women who provide help (or something like it) to desperate white women, both include cringe-worthy rhyming one-liners, and both rely heavily on questionable and uncomfortable racial politics.”
I came into the show expecting something as cringeworthy as Girlfriend Intervention, which Awesomely Luvvie hilariously described on her website. Watching one episode of Bye, Felicia! led to me watching the entire season, so here are my thoughts. I’m going to be fair and balanced, and some of my opinions might surprise you.
I do see how the public at large could be really concerned about this show. There are some elements that provide a lot to think about. First, the life coaches Missy Young and Deborah Hawkes are only helping white women on the show. I think the hook is supposed be a “fish out of water” scenario, since Young and Hawkes are from Atlanta and they’re helping the women of LA. But there are other women in LA who need help, too. The image of two black women helping only white women does bring to mind images of Mammy helping out Scarlett, one of the reviews state, and that’s not an image a lot of folks, including myself, like to think about.
Another element that rubbed people the wrong way were the amount of quips the two have: calling each other “Mother,” the “Ooh, child” style of commentary, etc. I think some people thought that the two were instructed to talk this way because that kind of image of black women sell in our society. Some might consider it caricature.
But I do have some good things to say about it. After watching every episode, I’ve come away thinking that there’s actually a good show underneath the problematic elements. I think Hawkes and Young haven’t changed their style of talking a lot for television; it sounds natural for them to speak this way and, to be real about it, some people speak this way in real life. Of course, the producers could have told them to ramp it up a little bit, but for the most part, the two sound natural. And, throughout the season, we do see that they do speak without the “Ooh, child”-isms when they’re getting to brass tacks and want to make their point. They do give out good advice and they do know what they’re talking about.
I think the only thing I’d advise for the show going forward is that they add a wider variety of people for Hawkes and Young to help. If the two were still in Atlanta, they’d be helping all types of people, particularly black people. How come they can’t help black people in LA? More importantly, how come they can’t help people of all nationalities? Whoever’s idea it was to just have Hawkes and Young help white women was an ill-advised one, since it smacks of the “Strong Black Women” stereotype.
Yes, Hawkes and Young are accomplished women who know their business well, and in some respects, they are “strong” in that they are independently taking care of themselves and have maintained a 40-year friendship. But black women, including Hawkes and Young, aren’t strong all the time. We didn’t ask to be the proverbial “mule of the world”; we were put in that spot by society, and now we’re expected to love being kicked about and helping others and listening to their problems. We’re expected to be some kind of maternal superheroes just because our ancestors were forced to take care of others people’s kids. We’re just as vulnerable as the white women that are being helped in the show. Episodes featuring Hawkes and Young helping vulnerable women of all types would be more than welcome.
Overall, I don’t mind the show. I think there are some valuable things viewers can learn. And Hawkes and Young can stand on their own without the show; both do know how to successfully coach lives and seem to be fine, personable, likeable ladies. I respect them. But I think the minds behind the show—not Hawkes and Young—are the most at fault here when it comes to the show’s presentation. Helping people is fine, but the image of black women helping white women get their lives together just takes viewers back to the images of when black women were maids and mammies.
This show is definitely not Girlfriend Intervention, which is where I think a lot of the fear about Bye Felicia! came from (as well as the fact that it’s named after a random meme created from Friday). But if the producers want to attract more people (i.e. more black women), it would behoove them to have Hawkes and Young help more than just white women.
(L-R) Missy Young and Deborah Hawkes. Photo credit: Piotr Sikora