Something revolutionary happened during last week’s episode of Pitch. The FOX sports drama about the first woman to drafted to Major League Baseball quite literally took a bat to the dangerous Strong Black Woman Trope that television has sustained for decades.
"Wear It" found our television’s hottest ballplayer signing a lucrative endorsement deal with Nike. A rough cut of the powerful ad campaign likened her to history-makers like Jackie Robinson and President Barack Obama. Thanks to the impeccable work of star Kylie Bunbury, the pressure and impossible expectations that Ginny has been battling since she was drafted clobbered her and the audience like a fastball to the face.
The normally poker-faced pitcher tailspins throughout the rest of the episode, snapping at her bestie Evelyn (the ridiculously charming Meagan Holder), having a panic attack in the middle of the night, and turning in a dismal game the next day.
In “Beanball," her ex-boyfriend Trevor had warned her about the nude pictures that were stolen from his phone, and that her life was too much for one person to handle. He encouraged Ginny to open up to someone, and for a few glorious episodes, it seemed that that person was the bodaciously bearded Mike Lawson (Mark-Paul Gosselaar). But Ginny was blindsided to learn about Mike and Amelia's relationship and felt betrayed the fact that her agent didn't keep her panic attack from her teammate. Thus, she pulled away from both of them instead of leaning on them when she needed them the most.
Overwhelmed by the grueling workouts schedule (which includes workouts before a game), instant fame, and the added pressures of now being a spokesperson for one of the biggest athletic brands in the world, a tailspinning Ginny abandoned the Nike celebration thrown in her honor with a slacker waitress named Cara (Lyndsy Fonseca) to party recklessly. Thanks to kids and their damned smartphones nearly the entire night was live-streamed. Ginny’s monster poolside slam dunk went insta-viral. The only problem: she did it wearing New Balance sneakers.
This definitively drives home the fact that Ginny, a 23-year-old-kid who never went to college and witnessed her father's death, who has no friends outside of Blip and Evelyn, is now being treated, traded and handled like a commodity instead of a person. And yes, fame is the stuff of dreams, but the reality of it can be a nightmare.
Worried for Ginny’s safety, Amelia, Al and Oscar attempt to manage the fallout. Is it sexist that the Padres' management steps in and forces Ginny to see a psychologist (played by the awesome Rita Wilson) after a night of perfectly legal steam-blowing when male athletes have probably done far worse with less intervention? Yes and no.
Since the start of the season, Ginny has endured impossible standards and has absorbed disdain and sexism from co-workers for the good of the team. She's always had a snappy comeback and the thickest of skins navigate the sheer mayhem that is her life. But the veneer has been steadily cracking. She is not okay. No one would be. And the people around her recognized that.
Cara may have looked like a stage 5 clinger eagerly exploiting Ginny's vulnerability for a few minutes of adjacent fame, but she made sure to get her to the stadium on time and relayed her concerns to Amelia by showing her an alarming video of Ginny's tearful and gut-wrenching confession, "I don't want to go back. I don't want to smile when I don't want to smile. I don't want to do it anymore."
The awesome, unbelievable and sadly groundbreaking thing is that Ginny Baker, a strong black woman, got to be vulnerable in the first place. It flies in the face in well-established and dangerous television tropes that have plagued black women for years.
The Strong Black Woman Trope in entertainment began in the 1970s with blaxploitation flims, like Coffy and Foxy Brown starring Pam Grier, according to TVTrope.org. Admittedly, it empowered black women by giving them strength to kick ass, take care of their families, and fend off a world that didn't care about them. It also problematically replaced their humanity with a superhuman strength that precluded them being seen as vulnerable or emotional and even feminine.
Strong Black Women on television are police captains (Captain Victoria Gates on Castle) and doctors (Camille Saroyan on Bones) or administrators (Donna Meagle in Parks and Recreation), who always willing to solve problems and care for the white protagonists no matter what the sacrifice. In more recent times, Strong Black Women have become mascots for inner strength. See Kathy Griffin's 2006 comedy show of the same name. While this is meant to be complimentary, it can be reductive for black women to have their tenacity and culture, forged by misogynoir, co-opted by white women.
When Ginny's shuttered away her weariness and anxiety and outright lied that she was fine, I honestly didn't expect them to care about anything but Ginny’s ability to pitch that day. It would've been a reflection of our reality. In July, when WNBA players from various teams tried to use their platform to speak out against police brutality in their own communities, they only received criticism and fines from the WNBA (which were eventually withdrawn). The message was that people didn't care about their pain, and they needed to shut up and win games.
As black woman who has grappled with depression and hid it from her friends and family for more than a year, it was a moving moment that Al pushed her to admit that she needed help.
Don't get it twisted: Ginny is still a strong black woman, but one who has the support of her friends and co-workers and the space to not be okay. And more importantly, she maintains her humanity, femininity and grit because of her struggles, not in spite of them.
Over the past six episodes, Pitch has proven that it is one this season's most well-written and expertly acted new shows with refreshingly real characters, breathtaking continuity and engaging action. So it's only right that a brilliant drama about a history-making black woman would take down a problematic TV cliche along with it.
In the words of the great Ginny Baker, what else you got?
Photo Credits: spoilertv.com; yahoo.com
Small Screen Girl
I am an unabashed pop culture and TV-aholic with no plans to ever seek treatment. Explore this blog and see just how deep my obsession goes.