Netflix's 'Sex Education' Missed The Mark By Not Including Black Girls
Sex Education proves that Netflix is not just a great streaming service, but also a company that is excellent at creating the kind of refreshing show about sex that teens and young adults have been yearning for. The series follows an unlikely friendship between awkward teenager Otis Milburn played by Asa Butterfield, and radical bad-ass teenager Maeve Wiley played by Emma Mackey (who many have pointed looks like Margot Robbie). The pair decides to start a business based on educating their fellow schoolmates on how to have healthy relationships and better sex lives. They also assist with other sex queries, like not being able to orgasm.
But watching the show I couldn’t help but wonder where black women were in this discussion.
I felt the show missed a great opportunity by not having a single black woman as a primary cast member. For many young black girls, talking about sex is a taboo subject. We're often shamed, ridiculed, and labelled if we do. Seeing white women in the show be sexually liberated is clearly positive. But it's a missed opportunity when black girls are not shown having a similar experience.
When it comes to sex, black women are often hypersexualised. We are told to cover up as soon as we grow boobs and bums so as to not warrant attention from men. When black women reclaim their sexuality, people are often uncomfortable with it. We have seen this recently with the backlash against Cardi B and City Girls' music video where the three rappers twerked on a yacht joined by other black women, including dark-skin women.
It would have been so empowering to see a black woman on Sex Education owning their sexuality. I can’t even imagine how powerful it would have been for me as a teen to see a young black girl talk about masturbation on a show like Sex Education. It would reduce the stigma around it and normalise it. Watching the show, I was annoyed how black women are often erased from conversations around sex. Most of us have only recently learnt sex isn’t just for reproducing, but for pleasure.
And that’s something I have definitely learnt from award-winning sex and relationships blogger Oloni, who has well and truly opened the doors for black British women to talk about sex without shame or embarrassment. She's constantly trending on Twitter because of her threads about sex toys and experimenting sexually. Since 2010, she’s given us a platform to talk about sex with absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
The comedy-drama did not feature any black women as love interests, only as mothers and sisters. It's no secret that black women, especially dark-skinned women, are rarely as seen as love interests in film and TV. But for a show that positions itself as so boldly feminist through characters such as Maeve and the iconic “it's my vagina” scene, it's surprising that it would leave out black women altogether. And the joy of Eric Effiong’s character, a gay Nigerian-Ghanaian teen played by Ncuti Gatwa, made the absence of black women even more obvious.
The fact that there were a few mixed-race girls included in the show further fuels colourism — the notion that lighter skins are the acceptable and palatable version of black. Ola, a mixed-race girl who appears in episode four and ends up being Otis’ girlfriend, is one example.
But you could argue she was second best to Maeve (a white woman). Speaking to Ola, Otis refers to her as a “house cat” and describes Maeve as a “lion.” He says Maeve is “considerably higher up on the food chain than I am”, and adds that she is “unattainable.”
Colourism doesn't just impact dark-skin black girls but Asian women too. So I was impressed to see Simone Ashley, a dark-skinned South Asian girl, cast as Olivia — one of the popular girls in school who's part of a group called "The Untouchables."
I am a champion of representation, but I don't want shows to just include black girls as a tick box for diversity only to make them portray harmful stereotypes, as I felt American psychological thriller You did. In that series, the protagonist dated a black woman but treated her differently to all his other girlfriends. He wasn’t obsessive over her and, at one point, he suggests she would slap him after he broke up with her, fuelling the assumption that black women are “feisty” and have “attitudes.”
Nevertheless shows like American comedy-drama television series Insecure and British television sitcom Chewing Gum have depicted black women owning their sexuality. My favourite scene of Insecure shows the main character Issa getting her entire life having sex in a Ferris wheel. But we shouldn’t just be happy with one or two shows.
Despite the missed marked, I thoroughly appreciated Maeve’s stance on feminism. For example, she went above and beyond to find the person who leaked a woman’s revenge porn photos.
And there were other issues I felt the show handled well, such as the church accepting and embracing Eric. This sadly isn’t the case for lots of LGBTQ people, as many churches still uphold homophobic views. In addition to this, as Teen Vogue reports, charities have praised the writers for the accurate portrayal of Maeve’s abortion.
Another impressive moment is when 16-year-old Otis offers the kind of vital and practical sex and relationship advice lessons in school fail to do.
A great scene shows the teen providing a couple who wounded themselves during an attempt at sex with helpful therapy. The girl in the relationship is deeply insecure and fails to accept any compliments her boyfriend gives her. Otis says something pretty significant and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I marathoned the show. “If you don’t like yourself, how are you supposed to believe that Sam [her boyfriend] does?”
For me Eric was a stand-out character throughout the entire series. His charm, honesty, and hysterical comments made the show. Especially that rib-tickling scene when he was teaching his peers how to give a blow job using a banana and one teen vomits on him.
It has not yet been confirmed if the show will return for a second season but if it does I am hoping black girls will feature front and centre owning their sexuality just like their white counterparts.