Last night’s episode of Black-ish was a hilarious and poignant look at how black families sometimes treat gay relations like an open secret. Rhonda (played by Raven-Symone) is Dre’s sister. She lives in a one-bedroom apartment with her “mechanic roommate” Sharon and their cat, Kitty Lang. But she’s never come out to him, so they don’t discuss it.
It’s Mother’s Day and Rhonda and Dre are both trying to win brownie points with Ruby. The Rhonda-Dre relationship is so spot on with their sibling sparring and loving small talk while making sandwiches together. Raven and Anthony Anderson have real brother/sister chemistry. Great job, casting!
Dre’s wife Rainbow (the perfect Tracee Ellis Ross) loves hanging out with Rhonda and Sharon, and she encourages Dre to talk with his sister. Even with Dre’s suspicions that Rhonda is, indeed, gay, he doesn’t care–he just doesn’t want to talk about it. In his “highly-functional family,” they don’t talk about things like that. And Rhonda doesn’t care if Dre knows: It’s her mother, Ruby, she’s sure will flip. (“Oh good, you brought your mechanic roommate!” Ruby says when she sees Sharon.)
Rainbow: Dre, Rhonda has been Sharon for years. I can’t believe your mom still thinks she’s her roommate.
Dre: Well, technically they are roommates.
Rainbow: Well then technically we’re roommates and you owe me five dollars for drinking all the milk.
Rainbow thinks Dre should make sure Rhonda knows she’s loved and accepted: “It’s like your family has a don’t ask, don’t tell policy! I just think you should talk to your sister more. You’re missing out. I hang out with Sharon and Rhonda all the time and it’s amazing.” (Meanwhile, their oldest son Andre Jr. overhears and is totally shocked to learn Auntie Rhonda is gay. When he shares the news with his siblings, they look at him even more shocked: DUH. She lives in a ONE BEDROOM WITH HER ROOMMATE.)
At work, Dre tries to talk with his co-workers about the situation. His helpful friend Charlie offers: “Been there. I got a brother. He’s not gay or nothing but we got our issues. Yet and still, I was the best man at he and his lifelong roommate’s Gustafo’s health insurance consolidation party on Fire Island.” He suggests Dre talk to Rhonda about how cool he is with it, but not mention it to their mother. Then at least Rainbow will be happy. Happy wife, happy life.
Rainbow can tell something is going on with Rhonda and Sharon, and she gets it out of them: They’re getting married. But no one in the family is invited.
Rhonda: We just wanted to keep it real low key.
Sharon: No, YOU wanted to keep it low key.
Rhonda: Look, it’s not about you guys: It’s about Mom. Cuz if I invite you and Dre then I have to invite her and that would be a disaster.
Rainbow: Wait Rhonda, you really think your mom is that closed off she wouldn’t be excited about a big life moment like this?
Rhonda: Uh, My mom is so homophobic she wouldn’t let Dre eat bananas when he was a kid. It’s just not worth the drama.
Rainbow still thinks Rhonda should talk with Dre, and shares a cute moment with Sharon when Rhonda does the same “I’m not really listening to you” nod and smile at her. “We really are with the same person,” Rainbow tells Sharon.
Dre comes home from work and tries to talk to Rhonda, but it is a surface convo and Rainbow, overhearing, spills what’s really going on: “Rhonda and Sharon are getting married and they didn’t invite you. Dre, this is real and she didn’t mention it because she didn’t want Ruby to know!”
The next day back at work, Dre is distracted during a meeting at work. When he explains where his head’s at, a female co-worker, Laura, says, “Your sister really needs your support. I can’t even imagine how hard it would have been if my family hadn’t been there for me when I came out.”
Suddenly, all of the men in the room are paying attention.
“Hey now, are you a lesbian?” one asks.
“Well, I went to a women’s college so I was a LUG–lesbian until graduation,” Laura says. She talks about her roommate: “trading shy winks across the room, braiding each other’s hair, getting snowed in together.” The guys lean in for more info, titilated. “See? That’s what I’m talking about! Lesbians are fine in theory but you don’t want to talk to your own sister about her real life. And Dre, by not talking to her, you’re actually passing judgment on her.”
Later, Dre and Rhonda are playing basketball together and he brings up the wedding. He apologizes for not being as supportive as he could have been “when she was going through her lesbianifcation.”
“No, Dre. No no no. See you can’t just become lesbianafied; you gotta be born lesbionic,” she corrects him.
Dre is happy she found Sharon, saying they’re great together and Rhonda says she appreciates it, and the wedding is in June. She officially invites him to the wedding.
“Wait a minute–this does not conflict with the NBA finals, does it?” he asks.
“This is a lesbian wedding,” Rhonda said. “It’s not gonna conflict with no finals.”
The sweet and successful exchange gives Dre the confidence to then make a huge mistake. At Mother’s Day brunch, he proposes a toast. “Rhonda, I feel like I missed out on so much of your life and I don’t want anyone else to miss out, so to Rhonda and Sharon!”
“Why is he toasting her mechanic at my brunch?” Ruby asks Rainbow.
“Mama, Sharon isn’t just Rhonda’s mechanic. Sharon is Rhonda’s girlfriend,” Dre explains.
Rhonda is giving Dre the biggest stank face. She can’t believe he’s outing her.
“Sis, I got this. It’s time that we all stop pretending. Mother, your daughter is as gay as the day is long,” Dre announces.
But Ruby refuses to accept this: “Rhonda is not gay, fool. She’s just waiting for God to make a man she’s attracted to.” She won’t listen to any more about Rhonda’s happiness or upcoming wedding. She shakes her head, screaming, “Not in my family. Not gay, not gay. Black Jesus help me!” before pretending to faint and leaving the room. It’s a very real reaction, albeit highly comical from the dramatics Ruby employs.
“Who the hell are you to out me to mom?” Rhonda demands. “It’s too late now. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.”
Dre sits down with his mom and apologizes for how he handled things: “It’s your and Rhonda’s decision if you want to talk about it or not. If it works out for you guys not to talk about it, then that’s just fine.”
Ruby brings up the Bible and Leviticus calling homosexuality an abomination, which Dre points out it says the same thing about the seafood she’s eating and the polyester blend she’s wearing. Ruby offers she might grow out of this phase, especially if she brings her to her prayer circle: “Of course, that’s mostly women. It could do more harm than good.”
“Mom, it’s not a phase,” Dre says. “Rhonda is who she is and I’m not asking you to change how you vote or how you feel but this is your daughter, my sister. And if you can’t accept her, then I can’t accept you.”
Despite it seeming like Ruby would never come around, she does so rather quickly. She finds her daughter and they have a heart-to-heart that Rainbow and Dre watch from inside the kitchen, taking credit for. Here’s what really goes down:
Rhonda: So, are you coming to my wedding or not?
Ruby: Well, you still my daughter. So I tell you what: You send me an invitation, and I’ll open it, and I’ll see it. And I’ll be there.
Rhonda: Well if I had your address, and you still live there, I wouldn’t mind it.
They hug it out and Rhonda and Dre lock eyes, giving each other a signal of much love.
While it was a quick turnaround for a homophobic mom, the 20-odd minutes network television has to create and tie up a story like this was pretty great. Tackling an issue like familial homophobia can be a daunting task, especially in a comedy. Black-ish managed to tell the story in an inspired way that was not only honest but hilarious. The writing was tight, the acting spot-on and despite Dre’s misstep in outing sister, he learned from it as it was positioned as the completely wrong thing to do.
The great news is Raven-Symone is set to reprise Rhonda in future episodes of Black-ish and there will be more positive representations of a happy and loved black lesbian on network TV.