The following review contains some spoilers for Hulu’s “The Other Black Girl.”
I don’t know what is in the water, but there has been an abundance of new Black genre content hitting my eyeballs lately and it is bringing me so much joy. From The Changeling to They Cloned Tyrone, Black media that infuses horror and fantasy elements into dramatic and even comedic stories is more popular than ever. The latest entrant into this space is Hulu’s The Other Black Girl, which premiered all ten episodes last week (September 16). The Other Black Girl is based on Zakiya Delila Harris’ bestselling novel of the same name. The story is a beautiful combination of mystery, humor, horror, and workplace racial commentary. Before publishing her novel, Zakiya worked as an editorial assistant at a major publishing company, so she is uniquely equipped to accurately capture what it’s like to be “the only one” in an industry that claims to embrace diversity while also maintaining the structures that allow whiteness to flourish.
The show opens with a woman running from her office to the subway; we soon learn that she is Kendra Rae Phillips, the first Black editor at the fictional publisher, Wagner Books. Smash cut to 2023 where we meet Nella Rogers (Sinclair Daniel), a Black editorial assistant at the same company, taking that same subway to the same offices where she gazes at a photo of Kendra Rae in a sea of white faces on a wall of noted editors. Day in and day out, Nella experiences micro (and honestly, some macro) aggressions from her white coworkers, and feels alone on her Black island; until a new assistant named Hazel is hired. Hazel (expertly played by Riverdale’s Ashleigh Murray) is also Black and the two hit it off immediately. Something about Hazel is off though, and the series takes us on a ride to unravel the mystery of what exactly is going on at Wagner Books and how far-reaching its effects are.
The central focus of the show is of course the relationship and growing tension between Nella and the titular other Black girl Hazel (and we’ll get there), but I’m here to talk about the show’s unsung and low-key hero, Nella’s queer best friend Malaika. Because honestly, we all need this kind of friend in our lives. The kind of friend who has our back, but will also be so for real with us when we refuse to see that our new office bestie is actually part of a sort of cult and actively trying to recruit us. Classic relatable content. It would have been so easy for the writers to just make Malaika the “sassy Black friend” stereotype who injects some levity into an otherwise tense and mysterious story, and don’t get me wrong, I laughed out loud at her one-liners multiple times (I still can’t get over her delivery of “so you can stab me?” in the hair party scene). But what really enamored me to her are the layers that Brittany Adebumola and the writers give to Malaika’s character.
When we first meet Malaika, she and Nella are catching up over drinks as Nella shares the news that the latest Wagner hire is another Black girl named Hazel who is so dope that even Malaika would borrow clothes from her. Malaika hilariously clues us into her queerness by remarking that she would only borrow clothes from Rihanna while on their honeymoon in Greece (an experience that would be wasted on A$AP if you ask me, but I DIGRESS because those new photos of them with their babies are adorable). Now, ordinarily I wouldn’t mention the appearance of a white man in a show I’m watching, but Nella’s boyfriend Owen shows up to this hang as well, and throughout the series he and Malaika play off each other in a way that is surprisingly wholesome and fun to watch. At the end of the night, we see Malaika be genuinely excited for her friend by toasting to Nella’s good fortune of finding another Black face in a sea of white.
Things start to get dicey when Nella receives a threatening note at work demanding that she “LEAVE WAGNER NOW”, yet despite the suspicious timing, Malaika stands up for Hazel because the idea of the only other Black girl in the office leaving mysterious racist notes is laughable to her. That is until Hazel throws Nella under the bus at work, leaving her to explain to a star author exactly why the only Black character in his new unpublished novel is problematic. This is the inciting incident that starts Malaika’s journey from supportive best friend to increasingly skeptical yet still supportive best friend to HOW ARE YOU NOT SEEING WHAT I’M SEEING BUT I STILL LOVE YOU best friend.
And that’s the thing about the way Malaika gets real with Nella; yes, she is relentless with her suspicions of Hazel, but it’s always approached from a place of love and care. My friend group likes to call it “rage love” – that thing where you just want to shake your friend and tell them to love themselves the way everyone else loves them because they deserve to feel that. Malaika can see that this kind of work friendship is one that Nella has been yearning for, so she does her best to rein in the aggression. That lasts for about 5 minutes though, because at Nella’s suggestion, the ladies and Owen get together at Nella’s apartment for a fun “integrate the friend group” dinner. While they wait for Nella to arrive, Malaika uses the opportunity to call out Hazel on her act and does the classic best friend interrogation; Hazel gives it right back though, passive aggressively insinuating that Malaika is jealous of Nella’s success. When Nella gets there, she and Malaika have their first fight over the situation with Hazel and it’s then that we see Malaika’s soft and vulnerable; she’s afraid of losing her best friend to someone she doesn’t trust to treat her right.
Their fight doesn’t last long though, they make up, and Malaika does the thing where she lets Nella know that when everything with Hazel falls apart, she’ll be there. It’s sweet, if not entirely what Nella wants to hear. And Malaika stays true to her word of having Nella’s back; she enlists Owen’s help in digging up dirt on Hazel, she even maintains her composure when Hazel shows up to HER LITERAL JOB to threaten her. And as the list of red flags grows, so does Malaika’s persistence.
Things come to a head (pun absolutely intended) at Hazel’s hair party where Nella finally starts to see that her bestie was on to something. I won’t go into all of the spoilery plot details, but let me just say that Brittany Adebumola’s work in these scenes is masterful! From her surprise at seeing her ex-girlfriend at the party to her insistence that this is some cult shit, every reaction had me cackling.
With Nella now fully on board and part of the sleuthing crew, Malaika drops a solitary “bitch, I told you!” before going full supportive hype girl and helping Nella to uncover just how insidious the plot actually is. Even when Nella is ready to throw in the towel for the sake of her friend’s safety, Malaika reminds her that the entire reason she wanted this job was so other little Black girls could see themselves reflected in the stories that get published. So Nella heeds her friend’s advice and decides to burn it all down.
The Other Black Girl is a story about the power of Black friendship, of identity, of racism in the workplace, of being the kind of Black person that white people in power find palatable. It leaves us and its characters with the question of what we as Black women are willing to sacrifice in order to not only be invited to the table, but to head it, and whether or not that sacrifice is worth potentially losing ourselves.