Black Women Can't Win With Jessica Jones

Black Women Can't Win With Jessica Jones
 

Marvel's Jessica Jones never quite seems to be able to get it right when it comes to race. After a nearly three year hiatus, the show's second season unraveled a new narrative that once again abused and neglected the few black woman it managed to get into Jessica's orbit. 

After the first season failed to humanize the black women in the story, many held out hope that things would improve in the long awaited sophomore season. But while the season did see the inclusion of more women of colour characters, none of their stories were treated with any of the care and consideration that should have been afforded to them by a show that professes to be telling a feminist story. 

This season centers on Jessica being reunited with her mother Alisa Jones. Long presumed dead in the accident that claimed the rest of her family, it is revealed that Alisa was also subject to the same experimentation that Jessica endured and also has superhuman powers as a result. Unfortunately, Alisa also has a rage issue she can scarcely control, and she quickly racks up a maddening body count. As with her daughter before her, the people of colour who cross Alisa's path have an alarming tendency to end up dead. The story fails the Kent test all around.

The first woman of colour we encounter in the season is Sonia Arocho, ex-wife of Jessica's new building superintendent Oscar Arocho and mother of his child. She is introduced as an an antagonist to her ex-husband who is reluctant to share custody of their son Vido, and is explicitly afraid of Jessica's presence in the building. Late in the season she attempts to leave the country with Vido in order to keep him safe from Jessica and what she perceives as Oscar's corrupting influence. All of Sonia's appearances depict her as hysterical, unreasonable and bigoted, as she explicitly takes issue with Jessica and her powers. Her desire to keep her son safe is presented as an irrational overreaction. Little is done to acknowledge however that after the events of the first season, Jessica's face and powers are well known in the city, as is the fact that she killed Killgrave. From Sonia's perspective, Jessica is a supernaturally strong woman who has already killed someone and is spending time with her son. This is also happening in the context of a New York City that has already been invaded by aliens, and been the site of several international incidents. Sonia's heightened level of fear is a rational response to the reality of the times she is living in. Rather than normalizing this fear, Sonia is shown to be prejudiced against powered people, and letting that prejudice unfairly affect Jessica.

Next comes Officer Sunday, a black female cop who is trying to apprehend Alisa along with her white male partner. From the beginning Sunday is suspicious of Jessica, convinced she knows more about the growing pile of bodies than she is letting on. Jessica however, in an attempt to protect and redeem her mother, gaslights Sunday about her hunches, implying that she is simply prejudiced against powered people. As punishment for her skills of deduction, Sunday is brutally killed near the end of the season when Alissa throws her through a window during an escape attempt. Alisa with her powers survives. Sunday, without them, does not. 

But when Alisa is eventually apprehended, a black female guard eventually replaces the sadistic white male guard who had initially been tasked with her care. In stark contrast to how the male guard has treated her, the black female guard made a concerted effort to treat Alisa decently, allow her visits with Jessica and continue to maintain her dignity even as she was behind bars. Unfortunately, for black people in the show's orbit, no good deed goes unpunished, and the guard is brutally beaten to death during one of Alisa's rages. Not even kindness, decency and good heartedness can save black women in Jessica Jones' world. 

Malcolm's character also goes through an upsetting arc this season that sees him fall off the wagon at the encouragement of Trish, who is newly obsessed with gaining her own superpowers. After the way Malcolm's addiction was used against him in the first season, it was disappointing to see yet another white woman manipulate his illness to their own advantage. Even as a main character in whom the audience is meant to get invested, Malcolm is not afforded the basic dignity of being treated like a person.

For a show that purports to be by and for feminists, telling a feminist story, it's pretty clear that the feminism of Jessica Jones does not include women who don't look like her or suffer from her problems. It is a disappointment that after a three year wait, the only improvement the show has made in terms of representation was to hire female directors to tell an exclusionary story that alienates the very women they claim to want to reach.