For those who have been watching the second season of Lena Waithe’s groundbreaking comedy Twenties on BET, it has been a very enriching ride. When we met Hattie, Nia, and Marie last year, we had no idea what to expect. It wasn’t like television was full of portraits of an openly queer Black woman and her two straight friends. Even more interesting, Twenties is a comedy.
“The show is not about Hattie being queer; the show is about Hattie being a whole mess,” Christina Elmore, who plays Marie and is also known for her role as Condola on Insecure, tells EBONY. Hattie, played by relative newcomer Jonica “Jojo” T. Gibbs, is an aspiring screenwriter who is basically homeless but somehow makes it through life with the help of her besties Marie, who is an executive in an indie production company, and Nia, a yoga instructor and actress, primarily by sleeping on their couches. In the first season, Hattie had a thing for older TV exec Ida, who had created several hit shows, but was not open about being queer.
At the beginning of season two, Hattie is not pleased with being Ida’s secret lover and begins making decisions she would not have in the past, like dating Shylo Shaner’s Idina. For Gibbs, those decisions represent Hattie’s growth and maturity. “She’s still homeless. She still doesn’t have a secure job. Yet, she’s still trying to figure things out,” Gibbs says. “But at the same time, I think that she at least knows, in terms of her love life and her emotions, she's wrapped her finger around what she does and does not want to experience.”
Gabrielle Graham’s Nia seems to have figured some things out as well. In the first season, the former child star was teaching yoga while quietly pursuing adult acting roles. This season she landed one. “I feel like she knows what she wants now. She's just very focused on this dream that she's accomplished. And she wants to do well, and she has a little bit more confidence and is walking in her purpose,” says Graham.
That doesn’t mean Nia is not without her challenges. Just as she begins mastering social media to maximize her exposure, however, her accomplishment starts getting shaky. At the same time, her love interest Tristan, played by Big Sean, who ghosted her has reappeared right at the time another guy, Ben, Marie’s co-worker played by Alex Alomar Akpobome, is stepping up.
“Tristan doesn’t treat Nia very well,” Graham says, “but I think she likes Tristan because of the way that he challenges her. He's very grounding, but he's just not consistent. . . . then there’s Ben [and] he really believes in her and he’s offering something that could possibly help her career.”
Marie, however, has one of this season’s most explosive storylines. Her suspicions that Chuck, who becomes her fiancé, is bisexual are answered but she does not react in the way most would suspect. “It's not a plan that works for all couples,” Elmore says of the couple’s nonmonogamous or open relationship. “It would not work for me in my life,” she admits, “but I love that they look at each other, they honor each other's feelings, and where they are in life, and say, ‘let's see what happens.’”
Twenties’ willingness to go there, to push the envelope, in addition to genuinely being funny, is what sets it apart. But Gibbs and her co-stars re-emphasize that Hattie being queer, or any other characters, for that matter, is not, in and of itself, the show’s focus. “What I think Twenties does, and what I think is so essential, especially within the Black community, is bringing normality to people with differences,” says Gibbs.
“Oftentimes, Black people are thought of as a monolith, like we're all the same type of way. And that's just not the case and it hasn't been the case for years. If you look back, I’m sure you got a queer uncle or auntie,” she continues. “These conversations need to be had.”
Conversations like these is what makes the work even more gratifying for Graham. “That’s what I look to do as an artist,” she says, “and I feel like, especially this season, it's redefining what Blackness looks like and how it is expressed in terms of sexuality, relationships, and self-expression.”
Gibbs, who shares she used comedy in her own life to come out to her own family, knows how pivotal a character like Hattie can be. For that reason, she loves “presenting Hattie, this character that has gone through ups and downs in life, but is also funny and relatable, [that] you can find [so much] humanity in her that you look past the part that she's queer” to the world.
Ultimately, Gibbs feels that Hattie’s queerness or her own, for that matter, is not truly in play on the show or in the real world. “Honestly,” she says, “it ain’t really nobody's business who somebody sleeps with at night, unless you sleep with them yourself.”
The second season of Twenties on BET ends December 15, but can be binged via streaming.