""Black Like Monica""
A review by Jenni:
What I love about this
I think it's good that it draws attention to the book Black Like Me.
I read it one summer during my college years and thought it very
worthwhile. I wish I remembered more. It's a good
candidate for a reread. If you watch the DVD version of
this, Martha Williamson plugs the book and explains how it
inspired this episode. But even with out that, I'm sure most
people assumed as much given how similar the titles are.
Beyond the important themes of this episode, I enjoy it because of
all the questions it raises about the nature of angels. But
I'll get more into that two sections from this one.
I like when the episodes involve voice overs. It gives us a
glimpse into the angels' psyches and how they think in ways that
your typical episode does not. Plus, since they employed the
tactic so seldom, it makes those episodes seem all the more
The conversation about "negro spirituals" was spot on. I've
totally been party to conversations wherein the participants were
hugely worried about misusing words like that even when they're
the appropriate historical terms.
I think my favorite scene in the episode comes when the
"committee" discusses their plan. Their conversation reveals
so many of our human frailties. In a few brief minutes they
manage to hit on our angst at opportunities missed because we were
just too busy, the unfortunate preference for reputation over
justice in some cases, the subjugation of basic rights in the name
of profit and business, and, of course, the tendency to deny
Nice quote from Monica: "God is not the author of confusion.
God brings order out of chaos and light out of darkness."
Whatever else, I'm glad Monica received a new appreciation for
Tess' strength. One does wonder, however, what she'll need
to experience to stop taking Andrew for granted...
Gotta hand it to this episode: it's definitely interesting and
really turns the tables on some TBAA staples. An angel
worrying about dying??? Holy cow. Such stuff is fanfic
Another good quote, this time from Tess to Monica: "You can't go
on preaching against the darkness until you've seen it in yourself
So before I move on I just want to say that I really do like this
episode. I think it brings up some great points. I
just can't help but think that portions of it were subpar.
Which brings me to...
What I didn't love about
I'm confused by the introductory scene. I'm not sure I like
the image of God it gives us. Tess tearfully wonders aloud
at God asking her to do this again. What does she
mean? If Andrew was with Mooney when he died, which seems
pretty clear, then why was Tess required to be there? What
did she do? Why would God apparently repeatedly make her a
part of such a thing, especially when Andrew was already
working? For that matter, why was Andrew still with the dead
body when Tess was so upset? The whole staging of the scene
seems off to me. It's like the viewer is being asked to fill
in too many blanks. Perhaps Andrew remained by Mooney's body
as a show of respect. I could definitely back that
idea. But then they should have made that clearer by briefly
showing Andrew walk away once it was obvious Mooney's body was
being taken care of. But that still doesn't answer why God
would seem to deliberately give Tess cases that would hurt
her. If He has countless angels, why would He not divvy up
assignments with more of a view of how they'd be impacted?
I want to love this episode. But I can't quite shake
the feeling that it was written theme first, plot second which
causes about every problem I have with it. It made me feel
like I was being asked to dispel my disbelief waaay too much, for
one. Locking Monica up was a stupid, stupid idea. I
can't believe that 6 non-deranged people would back that. I
can't believe that not a single one would be "Yeah, that's an
awesome idea. Then a week from now she can go screaming to a
civil rights lawyer and we're all going down in a big way.
Wake up, people!" Tack on the fact that they did it to cover
up the hate crime murder of a black man... how did someone not
have a vision of their mug shot showing up on World News
Tonight? Sure, their plot may have bought them some time but
it was so stupid and so illegal that I refuse to believe six
functional people would back it in real life.
No offense to Ms. Downey cause God knows I can't do alternate
voices but a time or two I found Monica's voice while black to be
very reminiscent of Monique's voice which was kinda eeek...
I definitely believe racism still exists. However... I think
this episode's means of demonstrating it were sometimes totally
off in the sense that what they highlighted may be annoying but
not necessarily indicative of racism. Like Monica talking
about how no one noticed her or asked her name. I'm white
and I have to say that I seldom feel like strangers notice me and
they certainly don't make a point to ask my name and be
chatty. If they wanted to go that route, show Monica
entering the restaurant then show a white woman entering after yet
being served first. But as it was it just looked like a day
in the life to me. Further, usually Monica is smiling as she
walks around so maybe people do chat with her more then. I
dunno. But who does she think is going to strike up a
conversation with someone who looks upset and paranoid? And
while the episode makes it obvious that Tom does harbor racist
feelings, that he calls James Jimmy is a really bad example to
start that off with. It undermined things James said after
that point cause it just seemed so unconnected. Much like
Eric dubbing Andrew "Andy" in "Angel of Death," there are simply
some people that will shorten your name however they see
fit. I've had so many people start calling me Jen even
though I don't like being called that. They just gravitate
to it for some reason. So to just throw that in as proof of
racism seems like someone looking to be offended to me. And,
like I said, it's unfortunate they wrote that because later on
James makes some more solid points but starting his dialogue off
with something that ambiguous wasn't a good idea.
Maybe I'm completely off-base here but... I find it galling that
Monica needs to talk to Mrs. Parks... in the middle of the
night. I mean, yes, she did happen to be awake and offered
to hear Monica out. But that was only after Monica was
demanding to speak to her. It's wonderful that Monica had an
epiphany and I can understand her needing to talk about it.
However... it gave me the bad feeling that Mrs. Parks was somehow
obligated to listen to Monica's saga. It seemed less about
honoring Mrs. Parks and more about helping Monica feel
Frankly, I just found Monica's angst woefully misplaced in this
episode. I'm sorry but I just can't get all indignant about
her wanting to be white when, while black, she was nearly
killed. If I was being targeted for being female or Catholic
or blonde or white, I think I could be forgiven for, in a weak
moment, praying to be male or Protestant or brunette or
black. The problem, as I saw it, wasn't her wanting to be
white. Self-preservation is not a sin. It was that a
culture exists wherein she would be made to feel that way.
The episode spent so much time with Monica's great awakening that
it seemed like what Mooney suffered and legitimate questions about
race took a back seat for far too much of this episode.
I wish they'd done a better job of pointing out that James, too,
is racist. To believe that all white people are anything is
racist just as it's racist to believe all black people do this or
all Mexican people do that, etc.
Finally, the episode really lacks subtlety. Maybe it's a
generational thing but it seems to me that racism now is far more
insidious. And it can be felt by people who otherwise have
no qualms dealing with people of other races. Someone who
feels the need to wipe their hand after shaking a black person's
hand is not in the least relatable to me. That doesn't speak
to me. That's hateful crazy talk. I feel like TBAA was
wanting its viewers to acknowledge prejudice in their own hearts
and that we were supposed to make that journey with Tom but the
minute he said that I went from a contemplative place to "What the
bleep is wrong with you!?!" I hope to God that that type of
thinking isn't what the TBAA writers think lurks in us cause to me
that's completely abhorrent and I by no means think myself
Are angels technically a given race? Is Andrew really
white? Is Tess really black? (To go even further...
are white and black real concepts or just our inventions?)
Are they actually even male and female respectively? This
episode makes me ponder what the angels are like in Heaven and how
they actually identify themselves. And if Monica can change
skin tones, what else can change? Does height change as we
humans have grown taller? Since they appear as different
races does that mean that prior to means of expansive travel
angels were restricted to cases in areas whose inhabitants
mirrored their skin tone because otherwise they'd really stand
out? Seriously, a person could really go a lil bit crazy
pondering this episode too much.
Did Tess get in trouble for walking off the case? Can angels
ask to go Home, with out repercussion, if a case is too much for
When is it permissible for angels to report a crime?
Assumedly they can't always or else Andrew and other AODs would be
Monica says that angels don't need to sleep. Really?
Or is there an addendum on that? If they're earth bound for
a particular length of time, do they sleep? Cause I think of
Tess wanting to get to bed in "The Homecoming." I would
assume that in such a case where they were living under the same
roof as humans, they would sleep. But then sleeping and
needing to sleep are two different things.
Parts that made
me feel swoony:
This episode doesn't really have swoony moments for me but there
are a couple heart string pulling moments like when Andrew's voice
breaks when he says "Yeah, ya do" in response to Monica not
knowing what her assignment is.
Since Andrew was largely absent... I couldn't help but get really
taken in by James' eyes. They are really striking. And
I couldn't shake the feeling that I recognized him from something
beyond this role. Turns out Rick Worthy appeared on "Medium"
this season and I remember thinking he had really nice eyes then,
Music: The town choir sings "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" as
they rehearse. The band plays something I can't place when
Mrs. Parks arrives. Then the group chants "Her Name is Rosa"
which I'm going to guess was not created by TBAA. There's a
country song playing in the bar Monica enters. All I could
make out were the lyrics "Sometimes I... makes me wonder what went
wrong" sung by a female.
Scenes Hallmark cut:
Since I watched this on DVD, I dunno. But if you're a TBAA
on Hallmark viewer and want to check up on something, lemme know.
Further on down the road...
I still wonder what consideration God does take as far as doling
out assignments? Why give an assignment to Tess that she's
going to find especially difficult? I still don't really get
her role in the assignment.
While my heart goes out to Tess, it does bother me that she gets
to decide to go Home when she's hurting and at times Andrew's gone
no further than wander a bit away and gotten reamed.
It always makes me sad when Andrew holds onto people so tight when
he's upset over assignment as he does here when he and Monica are
near Mooney's body. What did he do after the finale? I
like to think God sent others to be with him after Monica and Tess
This bar scene bothers me. Yes, all the men stare at Monica
as her monologue talks about being black and how it feels.
And maybe that was why they were staring. However, the point
might have been made a lil bit better if she didn't appear to be
the only woman in the bar. Newsflash: If you're a woman and
walk into a bar filled only with men... it doesn't matter what
color your skin is. You will be stared at and there's a good
chance you're gonna feel uncomfortable. True, I could see it
being even more worrisome if you're a black woman and it's all white
men. Still... it's another example of how a point could have
been better made with only a slight change like putting more women
in that bar. But if they think any woman white, black, pink,
or turquoise that was new to the area would have felt comfy in
that moment... maybe some of the men involved need
to become women for a bit.
"God is good, Monica. He forgives and heals." Always
nice when a human gets a great quote. That's from Rosa
Tess does mention that God forgave her so I guess she did face
some sort of less than thrilled response for walking off.
That makes me feel like it's not quite so double-strandardish so
Actually... I wonder how this episode would have played
differently had Andrew become black? Personally, I don't
think he needed to learn what Monica did so it wouldn't have had
much of a point. But it may have helped with some of the
issues I had like with the bar scene and other parts.
A Word from Travis:
Jenni, I also remember reading “Black Like Me” while on summer
break from High School. This episode is so special to me as an
individual who’s Black. What a poignant quote when Monica says she
finally realizes how Tess has to be stronger as an angel in black
skin. It was interesting to Tess vulnerable side in this episode
as she decided to return to heaven as she was so saddened by Mr.
Mooney’s murder. When Tess returned, she was able to encourage
Monica to reach out to God as she (Tess) admitted that she failed
God but as He forgave her, He’d also already forgiven Monica. So
many special moments in this episode to even mention. It’s so
lovely that Mrs. Parks was able to make an appearance in this
episode. All the actors involved in this episode did a splendid
job, especially Rick Worthy (James/Jimmy), John Ritter and Davenia
McFadden (Lavonda).The actors I mentioned brought a mixture of
assertiveness, vulnerability and strength to their respective
roles. Other than John Ritter and Rosa Parks, I wasn’t familiar
with the other guest stars.
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