In a 1984 conversation between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde about the power dynamics between Black men and Black women, Lorde pushed Baldwin to examine the inherent privilege of being a man in a patriarchal society that privileges men over women, intersecting with white supremacy, which harms all Black people. Lorde said in part, “I do not blame Black men for what they are. I'm asking them to move beyond…we have to take a new look at…[how]…we fight our joint oppression…We have to begin to redefine the terms of what woman is, what man is, how we relate to each other."
Now, nearly 40 years later, the patriarchy still reigns, and sexism and misogynoir are as rampant as ever. However, in cinema and television, with more Black women at the helm of Black love stories, we are beginning to see a new soft Black intimacy take center stage and stories that do what Lorde has demanded: redefining gender roles and relationships within the Black community. These stories do not put Black women in a position to struggle or fight for a man's attention or place Black women in the line of fire on the road to Black men's emotional growth and maturity. Instead, they look at Black people in all of their complexity and splendor while requiring self-awareness and accountability, especially for Black men.
Ava DuVernay's new OWN drama series, Cherish the Day, is one of those stories that allows a Black man character to examine himself without inflicting pain on others (particularly his Black woman love interest) in the process of his growth.
Cherish the Day is a romance anthology series that, in its first installment, chronicles the relationship of Evan (Alano Miller) and Gently (Xosha Roquemore) one day (episode) at a time, over five years.
Miller plays Evan--a Tesla driving, tech executive with a worldview that is deeply tied to an upper-class upbringing--with strength and care, allowing for all of the prisms of this complex Black man to shine through. A Stanford graduate, Evan's done everything by the book but he's yearning to step outside of the box when he meets Gently, a vibrant no-nonsense Los Angeleno who spends her time caring for a retired iconic actress, Luma Langston (Cicely Tyson). As a nomad who has traveled across the globe, Gently returns to her hometown for a new chapter in life.
Though sparks immediately ignite between them in their first meeting in episode one, over the next three episodes, Evan must unlearn some sexist ideologies and address his own biases to truly connect with Gently in the way that she requires and deserves.
Gently unapologetically takes up space. When she first encounters Evan, she's holding up the line at the library trying to negotiate Miss Luma's late fees. Evan, being a "nice guy," tries to swoop in and save the day by offering to pay the fees in order to keep the line moving. In doing so, he inadvertently silences Gently and her will. She pushes back against him and continues on, resolving the matter herself, on her own terms.
Evan is not a bad guy. However, he's walked through his 30 years of life with male privilege. He has come to believe that "doing everything right" (career, car, good looks) automatically earns him the time and attention of women he desires to be in a relationship with. When Gently doesn't immediately yield to him, and when she refuses to expose the most sacred parts of her life's journey just because Evan asks her to, his ego gets bruised. This causes a massive conflict between the two, and is indicative of the way that many Black women today are less inclined to center the ego and emotional needs of the Black men in their lives at their own expense. It's a privilege that far too many of our mothers, grandmothers and ancestors were unable to choose.
Evan comes to realize that being a "decent guy" and treating women with basic kindness and respect won't win him any awards, and shouldn't. In DuVernay's hands, Gently doesn't have to suffer through his growth in the meantime. She moves on without Evan and in the year between their first date and their second, Evan has learned to do his own work to mature and take personal accountability by the next time they meet. He is more aware of his inherent prejudices and the assumptions and judgments he's placed on Gently in the past. He certainly isn't perfect and he's called out for some lingering f**k boi tendencies (namely stringing another woman along.) However, the difference between the first two episodes is that, in the year that's passed, Evan is more willing to own up to his mess.
By the third episode, when Gently is introduced to Evan's immediate family, he's confronted with even more of his own baggage and forced to grow, standing up to his mother in defense of Gently. Evan begins to unpack his blindspots, allowing himself to connect his inner spirit with his outward presence. Though his personality is still very much the same, Evan is actively striving for improvement. As a result, his relationship with Gently becomes a soft spot for her to land instead of a space where she's constantly being fixed or rescued. He sheds these toxic ideas of masculinity and love and adopts a new framework that expresses love not in a possessive or controlling way, but in a way that's rooted in freedom for them both. Even when she breaks his heart, he allows her space to come back to herself without forcing his will onto her. He does his own work and gives her room to do her own work, without her having to struggle or beg for him to be less harmful.
This is what Lorde implored Baldwin to teach men in our community to do those many decades ago. Cherish the Day continues the Lorde-Baldwin conversation and challenges us to do the same, especially when it comes to recognizing and changing power imbalances in heteronormative relationships. Thanks to DuVernay, there's another example of this healthy kind of relationship and relating between Black men and Black women on our screens and embedded in our brains. The message is clear: Black men who want the coveted title of Leading Man on the screen, and in real life, must do their own work. Owning up to missteps, childhood programming and past traumas allow all of the facets of Black male humanity to shine through in intimacy, connections and commitments.
Cherish the Day airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on OWN.
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic, consultant and entertainment editor. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or A Word With Aramide or tweet her @wordwitharamide
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