Written By: Danielle Broadway
The new 2020 comedy-drama, Netflix’s I Am Not Okay with This, is based on the comic book by Charles Forsman and directed by Jonathan Entwistle.
It takes audiences back through the awkward brooding teen years with a nice sprinkle of classic coming-of-age super-hero mayhem — and some exciting unexpected expression of Black queerness from the school hottie that, outside of the confines of our old Degrassi reruns, we don’t see too often in popular TV.
Admittedly, it took me a few episodes to be okay with this show. It felt too clichéd, as the “mopey teenage girl having superpowers after her dad dies” trope is constantly recycled. I was unsure if grumpy teenage Sydney was actually emo or if the writers were simply trying to force her to be. However, it wasn’t long before I was binge-watching and finding myself very much okay with this show for a few adorkable reasons.
First, there was Stanley Barber — OMG he’s cute, adorable, and so sweet! He instantly made my fictional crush list. I assumed that he was going to be a jerk in disguise and try to bully Syd, or worse. But, he ended up quickly becoming my favorite character. I think that the kind of love that Stanley has for Syd is exceptionally rare and authentic.
When Syd couldn’t reciprocate Stanley’s love for her, he was understandably upset, but his love didn’t falter. It transformed. It was one of the few depictions on TV as well as real life in which someone wasn’t manipulated by conditional love. Syd also very quickly realized that while she didn’t feel romantic love for Stanley, she loved his genuine soul. Stanley still thought Syd was his superhero and maintained his affection for her. Not to mention, after he learns about her superpowers, he’s immediately okay with it and even (albeit not in the best way) tries to nurture her newfound power.
At first, I raised an eyebrow over him being automatically chill about her having powers, but soon conceded that’s just the way Stanley Barber rolls when it comes to Syd. I’m here for it. Stanley’s own daddy issues create more sympathy and love for his character, as his father’s absolute cruelty isn’t strong enough to dull his spirit. I guess what I’m trying to say is, thank you for being a sweetie-pie, Stanley Barber. I’ll battle the roaches and swim the deep dark sea with you any day.
There’s only one way to describe what comes next on my list of adorkable reasons. Dina (Sofia Bryant) is the real MVP. It was a fresh breath of air to be introduced to Dina, the hot, popular girl in high school who is not white, blonde, or Regina George. Dina’s Black girl magic was another unexpected treat, as I suspected that Dina was going to turn on Syd after a few episodes. Let’s face it, we’ve seen it a million, zillion times — the pretty girl starts school at the same time as the weird awkward girl. They become temporary friends that have nothing in common, except for being new kids on the block. Then, BAM! The pretty girl becomes popular, starts dating the school jock, and immediately is bullying the weird girl (insert another Mean Girls reference). Essentially, that is what happens in this show, but with some unexpected changes to that drab narrative.
Dina does date the stereotypically trashy jock and become popular quickly. While she doesn’t completely abandon Syd, she does sort of push her to the side. However, there is more to her story. When Dina tries to assert her autonomy outside of her relationship with Brad Lewis (Richard Ellis), he instantly becomes controlling and manipulative. The toxic masculinity of the school jock is not new, but it is usually used in a comedic way to lighten the severity of the situation. But here, we see Brad (and, I mean, his name is Brad — the cliché evil jock name— sorry to all the non-evil Brads reading this, love you) is revealed to be the epitome of white cis-male privilege attempting to dominate and erase a Black girl.
The show takes the time to highlight Brad’s emotional abuse toward Dina, as he punishes her when she doesn’t give him his way. I was proud of Dina’s ability to assert herself during the house party episode. This was the episode that truly shifted my thoughts about the show. We all know through Sydney’s first-person narration that she has a crush on Dina (whether she realizes it herself yet). However, Dina’s relationship with Brad and television’s lack of depicting Black teenage girls outside of the lens of heteronormativity never makes us ask the question: Could Dina ever reciprocate Syd’s feelings? Well, not until the kiss that changed everything.
You know it’s getting juicy when suddenly we’ve got superhero interracial queerness kicking serious patriarchal football player butt. I was very pleased by the naturalness of Syd and Dina’s relationship development. After the kiss, there is a period of confusion and tension as both characters came to terms with what happened between them. Dina’s sexuality as a Black teenage girl is beautiful, as she is discovering aspects of her identity. It’s not just that Dina’s bisexual and that’s cool, but it’s that she overcame a toxic relationship and infidelity from an emotionally abusive boy.
In many ways, Dina and Syd are on a journey to gain autonomy. While Syd quite literally has super-powers, the true powers in this show seem to come from girls wanting to have control over their lives. Syd’s sexuality and her powers are closeted and suppressed when she needs them to be free, which explains the war waging inside of her. Dina’s sexuality and autonomy are regulated by her boyfriend (eventually, her very much ex-boyfriend) and society around her. I’m not sure where Season 2 will take us, but I have a feeling Syd and Dina are going to need each other more than ever.
Drum roll, please! It’s time for my last adorkable moment. This one is short and sweet. What the heezy was that last episode?! With the exception of the hedgehog Banana’s death (RIP, lil buddy), there hasn’t been any life-threatening violence in this show. So, when Syd makes good ol’ Brad’s body pop like a balloon, I screamed. This, for the most part, bloodless super-hero show seemed kind of dainty compared to your average hero show — up until that happened. Suddenly, every direction I thought this teeny bopper show was heading in vanished.
As the episode closes, things get real. From the shadows, an elusive male voice whispers to Syd, who’s still covered in Brad’s blood, “Let’s begin.” Endless questions arise at this moment (well, maybe not from original comic-book readers), but for most of us, this is when things get extra, extra juicy, read all about it.
Who knows when we’ll get Season 2? I’m not okay with this!