At last night’s eighth annual Black Girl Rock 2013 award show—hosted by Tracee Ellis Ross and Regina King on BET—the diverse honorees served Black girls with rousing words of empowerment. “You must live and define your own life, and not be defined by other people,” declared Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, who received the Social Humanitarian Award from actress Nia Long. Rock Star honoree Queen Latifah encouraged sisterhood in her acceptance speech: “We must lift as we climb!”
The evening was all about challenging the myths and stereotypes that have come to personify Black women, and celebrating role models in the arts, politics and social activism that epitomize the Black Girls Rock credo of personal excellence and self-love.
Joining Edelman and Latifah as honorees were Venus Williams (Star Power Award), ballerina Misty Copeland (Young, Gifted & Black Award), Patti LaBelle (Living Legend Award) and Ameena Matthews (Community Activist Award), the Chicago activist behind the anti-violence organization, The Interrupters.
There were also some very cool Black girls who rocked the stage. Last year’s Young, Gifted & Black Award recipient Janelle Monáe opened the show with a buoyant rendition of her lady anthem, “Electric Lady.” Amber Riley, Jennifer Hudson (debuting her new short ’do), Ledisi, Kelly Rowland, Eve, newcomer Sevyn Streeter and Patti LaBelle all performed to a packed house.
While celebrity star power was certainly at a ten, all everyone was talking about before Black Girls Rock aired was the Girlfriends reunion set to take place onstage in honor of the show’s creator, Mara Brock Akil. Tracee Ellis Ross was joined by Golden Brooks, Persia White and Jill Marie Jones to present Akil with the well-deserved Shot Caller Award.
The fact that there was so much anticipation and excitement around the Girlfriends cast (who were on stage for mere minutes, by the way) speaks volumes on how much the series spoke to Black women, and just how hungry—then and now—we are to see complex women of color on TV. Girlfriends was one of the few series that refrained from painting Black female characters with the same paint brush. Joan, Toni, Maya and Lynn were an eclectic bunch that reflected our many sides, from our personalities to our fashion senses.
The sitcom lasted for eight seasons before the plug was unceremoniously pulled due to the writer’s strike in 2008. There was never a proper send-off finale to resolve the characters’ storylines, much to the dismay of devoted fans. Joan, who’d been obsessed with finding true love and tying the knot since the show’s inception, finally got her man, and we didn’t even get to experience her wedding.
The last episode of the show aired February 11, 2008. Since then, there hasn’t been a cast of Black women on a primetime show that doesn’t include us bashing one another (literally) on a slew of reality shows. Girfriends’ fictional world was far more authentic than the reality being passed off as genuine these days.
While there were talks of Girlfriends movie years ago, the buzz fizzled, and it now looks like the closest we’re getting to any form of reunion was last night’s brief appearance. Ever wonder what a finale, or even a reunion of the show’s characters, would look like?
Today, the enduringly quirky Joan might be married with children, juggling family life and running her very own law firm. Despite her full load, she’d still probably find the time to conceive those corny games to play at holiday dinners. Her and Toni would’ve reconciled their friendship, and Toni might be godmother to Joan’s kids.
No longer self-obsessed Toni’s passion might evolve from materialism to altruism. Imagine her starting a nonprofit organization to help instill young Black girls with a healthy dose of self-esteem. Toni’s selfless work in the community could earn her a spot on Maya’s new talk show. After publishing a number of self-help books, picture Maya debuting an Iyanla Vanzant, Fix My Life-type show where she travels the country helping people get back on their feet following life-changing tragedy.
When we left Lynn in season eight, she’d finally found her true calling in singing, and signed a label deal. Today Lynn might still be recording music, but she’d probably join her corporate-minded girlfriends by becoming a label executive. Lynn could launch an independent label that allows her to flex her creative muscles and support the type of experimental musicians she respects. (Remember those Tricky, Common and Saul Williams appearances?) Lynn used to be the most sexually free of the group, but in 2013, she might finally have found herself a monogamous partner.
It’s still unfair that fans will never know what Akil had in store for these beloved ladies. Nevertheless, we have this shot caller to thank for bringing these reflections of us to life on the small screen, even temporarily. For all Black girls who rock, Akil sincerely declares, “Even if no one else sees you, I see you.”
Alexandra Phanor-Faury is a Haitian-American writer living in Brooklyn, New York with a slight (OK, major) addiction to fashion and pop culture. When she's not up in the middle of the night filling her online shopping carts and catching up on style blogs, she’s writing about fashion and entertainment for a number of websites and her blog, Fringueuse.