Semiotic Analysis of Girlfriends season 1 episode 16, ” Friends. Colleagues, Brothers”

The hit show, Girlfriends was an American comedy drama sitcom that ran for eight years on UPN and later on The CW network. It was one of the highest rated scripted shows on television amongst African American adults and women from the ages of eighteen to twenty four. The main character, Joan Clayton is played by Tracee Ellis Ross; Clayton is a junior partner lawyer at Goldberg, Swedelson, McDonald and Lee. The additional central roles are played by black women as well are Toni, Maya and Lynn who also are representations of how African American women are portrayed in today’s society. I chose to analyze this show because it is respectable in the aspect in how the show represents African American women in contemporary times. I see Joan as the “Black Lady”, that Patricia Hill Collins mentions in Black Feminist Thought. The “Black lady”, is depicted as a middle class professional woman who stayed in school worked hard and achieved much, she also represents a modern version of politics of respectability according to Collins. This is why I picked to analyze Season 1, episode 16 “Friends, Colleagues, Brothers”.

In this episode Joan is at her wits end with the boy’s club mentality at the firm, I watched as he was ignored and passed over for important cases, cases she felt were necessary to be a part of if she wants to become full panther. In a board room meeting Joan is the only woman and black woman at that in a room full of men. Joan’s friend and colleague William interrupters her or in Joan’s eyes cuts her off, while she is explaining her idea on deformation. At this point now that William has the ears of his colleagues explaining his idea on deformation and his colleagues agree with him. William also receives praise from his boss Mr. Swedlson, at this point Joan is highly upset and comes out with a dramatic outburst of how she should be second chair and not William, William is surprised that Joan would say something like that. At this point Joan is openly expressing in a hostile manner how she has been cut off, ignored and dismissed by all the men in room day after day. She feels that out of all people William should know better because they are both black. Joan then ask Sherri who is a white woman but a woman nonetheless to back her up but Sherri just gives Joan a look and body language like you’re on your own. At this point all the men are looking at Joan as if she is crazy from having such an outburst. She then announces that this is the last time that she will tolerate such behavior from these men anymore and then storms out. Joan is now in her office trying to calm down as she vents to her sassy finger snapping and head bopping assistant Maya. Joan expresses to Maya that she gave away all her power and Maya informs Joan that she didn’t have much power to begin. Joan is still feeling upset about what happens but she blames it on William and in shock Maya explains to Joan that William is one of them but Joan corrects her by saying that he is one of us. I think by this statement Joan meant that William is black just like them and he should have had her back by choosing his race over his gender. Here is where things get real, Joan and William have a talk in Joan’s office and William is looking for and apology from Joan but Joan feels that William should be the one apologizing. Joan receives a justification in a form of an apology from William, he expresses that he apologizes for being a Cracker Jack lawyer and winning the approval of his superiors despite Joan’s efforts to undermine him. William felt that Joan had verbally assaulted him in front of his colleagues to gain the spot of becoming second chair or co-counsel. The two go back and forth on who is right and who is wrong. William then expresses that Joan is his friend and since they are friend he thought that Joan would have at least pulled him to the side and told him how she felt instead of embarrassing him.

Joan expresses herself by saying they are more that friends and that they are the only two black attorneys in the firm and that it already hard enough and he should have had her back. William becomes upset that Joan played the race card and Joan accuses William of not being loyal to his people. William fires back at Joan by saying since he cut her off one time that makes him the “house nigger”. William lets Joan know that he is not focusing on color and him being a “black man”, when he walks into the firm but as an attorney who has earned his right to be there and he will treat Joan and everyone else the same but Joan corrects William by saying that William treats every man there the same.

I’m going to stop right there of giving a synopsis of the show, but as we can see Joan Clayton who African American woman who is the lead character is portrayed in a stereotypical way but a good that has some flaws. When she had the melt down in the board room meeting with her male colleagues we saw a different side of the “black lady”. We saw issues of race, gender; class, sexuality and power all take place in one room. Joan being a woman made her very vulnerable and the men did not respect her. Not only did she face the race issue amongst the elite white men in that room but she also had to deal with it with her own friend and colleague who share the same color skin but he has male privilege even though William is black just like Joan. I think this episode was a good catalyst to showcase the issue we’ve discussed in class about how black women deal with the issues of race, gender, class, sexuality, power and ideology.



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