LOL, WOT IS THIS MESS?
Within the first two minutes of Amazon’s new lesbian reality series, Tampa Baes, one of its many white cast members Cuppie gloats that the city has a diverse population. The scene laid over her voice shows a bunch of giggly white and fair-skinned folks at parades and bars in sunny Tampa Bay, Florida. So already I knew what I was in for.
Tampa Bay has an almost 23% Black population, so while that may not be a lot — there ain’t no way in gay hell you can tell me you couldn’t find at least a handful of dark-skinned thick niggas to put on this lily-white show. Am I aware that there are folks on the show from diverse backgrounds? Yes. But I urge you to remember that you can be from those backgrounds — and still be white. Something that lovers of the series seem to have overlooked when they took to social media this past weekend to defend it, listing cast members from Middle Eastern, Native and Latinx backgrounds under the POC moniker. Most recently, Amara La Negra (who is Afro-Latina) brought that point up when she was on “Red Table Talk: The Estefans”, where she spoke about being denied roles because they wanted someone who looked “more Latina” (fair-skinned with straight hair), essentially telling her because she was dark-skinned and Black, viewers wouldn’t read her as Latina. Anyway, back to my issues with this mess of a show and less on my love of Amara La Negra.
The cast includes self-proclaimed lesbian it couple Murphy and Haley, who are known for throwing elaborate parties at their very fancy home. Would I party in their house? Nah, I’ve already served my time being the only visibly Black girl at the party. That’s no worry anyway because the way their crew is portrayed in the show, I’m sure I wouldn’t receive an invite. I don’t fit the mold of a snapback sapphic, nor am I the Black Fat Lesbian friend that’s going to let you attempt to twerk on her and look the other way when you drop AAVE.
The Black cast members (Mack and Jordan) feel like characters instead of actual cast members. Filming reads like production wanted to heighten their Blackness when they are on camera. Whether it’s Mack wearing a t-shirt with a still from Friday, or when she’s in the background of cast member and artist Mel’s video talking about the importance of her Black Lives Matter mural. Amazon cast two Black folks who they thought were acceptable for their viewers, and it’s as simple as that. Two folks who probably went to PWI’s, grew up surrounded by whiteness, and often talk about the plight of being a mixed-race person who was separated from and rejected by the Black community. While I don’t agree with folks on social media attempting to erase Mack and Jordans’ Black identity due to their mixed heritage, I do agree with folks saying that dark-skinned Black women will forever have it harder than our racially ambiguous, loose curls sisters.
Some of the cast addressed the response to the show’s colorism. On Jordans’ Instagram in an interview with People, she’s asked about the absence of dark-skinned Black lesbians. (Editors Note: I reached out to her to have a chat but she kindly directed me to Amazon’s PR team and referred me back to the Instagram highlight). While she says it’s important to listen to the critics and that she understands, her answer — to me — was significantly underwhelming and tone-deaf. She says that Amazon didn’t “cast” anyone, that they were seeking pre-existing friend groups. Fine, that’s all well and good. But the problem here is that Amazon didn’t find any issues with moving forward with this particular friend group that looked the way it does. I am sure that with a little more work and effort, they could have found a lesbian friend group that looks far more diverse than this very thin, very light, very cis, very white, very femme group they opted to go with. So while it’s not her fault, her defense of Amazon and her seemingly being okay with how her friend group looks speaks loudly to me. Black queer lesbians should be allowed to be rightfully upset with our CONSISTENT lack of representation in media, especially by media companies who have the money and resources to do better. We have been asking these shows to just do the bare minimum for years to little or no avail.
I found myself so upset at many storylines that featured Black cast members. At one of the parties, there was some dyke drama. After the party, Mack was recorded by Shiva during a moment in a car where she was rightfully upset and reacting to something that was said. Shiva admits that she only captured one minute of the conversation, but that’s worth noting because drunk or not, she opted to record the moment when a Black woman was angry and sent it to another person. A few days later Mack, Shiva, and a few of the other cast members aired out the situation and I hated every minute of it. Having to watch Mack explain herself and her anger at the moment to a bunch of white women was bullshit, they put the onus on her to not only dissolve the situation but also make everyone feel comfortable and happy afterward. Throughout this situation, Mack felt the need to continually reiterate to everyone that they are normally a chill and calm person, and that made me so fucking sad. I am on the side of calling out non-Black folks when they are in the wrong and letting them sit in their discomfort. I no longer feel the need to assuage them in any way after they have done me dirty and that doesn’t make me (or Mack) any less of a “Good Vibes Only” typa bitch. It’s my job to let you know how I feel and why, and it’s yours to look inward and think about the harm you’ve done and why you did it.
In another episode, Olivia antagonizes Reide, a Black woman who Shiva is interested in (who yeah, did her lowkey dirty) about how she’s leading her friend on — a situation that doesn’t have anything to do with her. I hated watching Reide sit there, legs shaking, looking this white woman square in the eye, and doing all she can to not show her anger because you very literally never know what’s going to happen. In the end, Reide decides to walk away while Olivia is laughing at the situation before the camera goes into the next scene. That hit hella close to home, too many times I’ve had to walk away from a white woman at a bar who got a little liquid courage and made me her target for the night. Sometimes they wanna put their fingers in my hair (yes — STILL), and other times they want to rap to the lyrics and say “nigga” with a smile — you literally never know what’s gonna happen when you party with white folks.
While I do have a few issues with her, I fuck with Mack. I have talked repeatedly about looking for myself in film and TV since I was a child, so even in pop culture that I may not completely adore, sometimes I still find a slight connection. Mack being a faith-based person is pretty dope. I grew up in the church and am a pastors daughter, and I’ve separated myself from most elements of the church and religion, but there are a few that I still vibe with and have tweaked to fit me and the dykey life I live. So I find it kinda fly that she is willing to share this side of herself for an audience who may need to see it.
Tampa Baes gives you exactly what you thought it would. When the original trailer dropped, I knew what it was gonna be and, as a Taurus, I am happy to report I was right. I’ll be saving my queer Prime viewing for Harlem because this show — ain’t it.