#ChewingGum and the Sexualization of the Black Body, As Told By Us
Chewing Gum is funny. As hell. So much so that I binge watched it twice in less than 48 hours to make sure I hadn't missed anything. Starring creator and writer Michaela Coel as Tracey, the show chronicles the life of a 24 year old woman attempting to lose her virginity in the U.K. community housing projects of Tower Hamlett. It's as if the shows Shameless and Insecure had a quirky, British love child.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Chewing Gum is its ability to deconstruct ideals that appear to be black and white in everyday life. For instance, the notion that you can be sexual or Christian— but certainly not both at the same time— is a common theme that is toggled throughout the series. The pilot episode begins with Tracey and her boyfriend, Ronald, in prayer as Tracey fantasizes what it would be like to have sex with her boyfriend of six years. After many attempts and constant rejection, Tracey drops her zero and gets with a hero (not hero in the sense of white savior, he just happens to be a white man who doesn't emotionally abuse her).
Since pre-media times, Black women have seldom had the opportunity to tell their own stories of sexuality. Even blaxploitation films like Foxy Brown were written through the male gaze. With shows like Insecure and Chewing Gum, Black women give their own voice to sexuality— whether it be a virginal voice, aggressive Issa talking to herself in the mirror with green lipstick, or Tracey's best friend Candice yearning for her boyfriend to choke her behind closed doors. Stop making his dick the center of sex. Dick-centric sex sucks. (Ep. 4, The Unicorn). This is probably the most important line on television since Papa Pope's "Twice as Good" monologue. It's empowering. It's as if to say, "Hey we're here, too, and we have opinions, knowledge, and preferences." We're not living in the age of lying idle and waiting for men to finish the job. We are also not succumbing to Western ideals of beauty. It's exhilarating to see two dark skinned, kinky haired beauties pushing this narrative.
Chewing Gum also does an amazing job at poking fun at race and pointing out the fact that once you eliminate wealth from the equation, many stereotypes become blurred. Poor white people are just as likely to steal and have babies out of wedlock as impoverished Blacks. Tracey's best friend, Candice, is mixed and is deemed as the prettiest girl in the estates— but Tracey says that they can be friends because she has learning disabilities, so it all balances out. Candice is the universal best friend of girls who grew up with strict parents. Tracey knows that she can escape to Candice's house any time to talk about (or perform) sex because she has a much more lenient parental guardian, Nan. In fact, Nan's house is the hub of sexcapades. Their white neighbors pals, Kristy and Karly, often come to engage in sex talk and pleasure parties while getting their sew ins installed by Candice. They have babies named Ebony and Mahogany and Coel tastefully writes them as the embodiment of the term ghetto without it being forced or seeming as though they're trying to transcend race. Chewing Gum emphasizes that there is no such thing as a post-racial society. Everyone recognizes their race, cultural exchanges that are inevitable, and everyone is able to co-exist without race being seen as a problem. There is also some shit that will never change— like there are certain things Black people just don't do.
... And certain things all Black women do.
In Season 2, I am hoping for more character development of Tracey's family. Her mother is the one who can be found in the middle of the complex yelling in her bullhorn, "The road to the Father is narrow; keep your vagina narrow, as well" (Ep. 2, Binned). I want to know what has transpired in her youth to make her anti-sex, what happened to Tracey and Cynthia's father (and their sexual relationship), and if she is going to join in the craze of the secret fetishes that other cast members have fallen victim to. I am also anxious to see the ways in which Tracey's character will evolve after finally losing her virginity. Will her and bae escape from the mediocrity of likeness and get their own place like true adults? Will she inspire her delusional younger sister to walk the road of premarital sex? The show has just been renewed for a season 2, and I'm hoping we will find the answers soon.