“Bitch is the New Black” will put Helena Andrews and her lesbian mom on screen


This summer, Harper Collins published journalist Helena Andrews‘ memoir Bitch is the New Black. The book details Helena’s life with her lesbian mother, working her way up in the world of journalism and trying to find a good black man. Before the book was released, Shonda Rhimes‘ production company, Shondaland, optioned it for a film, which means Helena’s life will soon be coming to the big screen — gay mom included.

“Frances, my mother, loves the book,” Helena told AfterEllen.com. “I never asked her permission to write about the parts of her life that tell my life story because, well, I’m grown. But, I also know my mother and the daughter she raised (the daughter she’s proud of) always speaks her truth.”

Bitch is the New Black is half part chick lit (that’s where the finding a good man comes in) and half smart and witty reflection of growing up a black girl with a gay mom. Helena first writes of her mom, Frances, in the second chapter “Getting My Hair Undid.” It’s evident Helena and Frances have a loving, playful relationship. Frances calls Helena “brown eyed girl” and sings her new original birthday ditties every year.

Frances and Helena moved around, from California to Catalina, Frances taking on a series of odd jobs and relationships. The early chapters of the book detail Helena’s childhood spent with her mom and her mom’s family and girlfriends. In one section, Helena talks about her love of The Cosby Show and decided she wanted to know why she didn’t know her own Cliff Huxtable — her own father. She went to Frances with a copy of her King James bible.

She said Grandmommy had shown her that same page years ago. She never said the word gay, lesbian, vagina, homo, or dyke. There was no script, no prepared lines. I was perfectly normal, she said, and so was she.

“I was in sixth grade when I told my best friend that my mother ‘liked girls,'” Helena said. “She was cool with it at first but, of course, she threw it back in my face during some 12-year-old fight. After that I never told anyone that Frances was gay or straight. She was just my mother—the woman who sewed costumes, sold candy bars and screamed the loudest. In high school, Frances threw me some kind of bat mitzah but without the religion and with a sister circle. All my friends were there and I just knew they knew what everyone knew. But no one said anything the next day besides asking if my very gay godfather was my dad. By the time I got to college I was over it. No one cared and, honestly, it made me cooler.”

In chapter four, “Riding in Cars with Lesbians,” Helena introduces a friend named Britanya, a co-worker at the New York Times she suspects has a crush on her. Helena writes:

When it occurred to me … that Britanya knew me better than I knew myself and also wanted to know me in the biblical sense, I did what any self-hiding heterosexual woman would: practiced willful ignorance until the problem went away and life returned to nonchalance.

Helena writes she had found out Britanya was a lesbian via a MySpace blog (“There was a blog post on ‘Writer Chick’s” page about how she’d been heart-broken by a ‘her.’ Current mood? Sad face.”)

The problem is that Helena doesn’t share Britanya’s feelings, and also doesn’t appreciate how Britanya is trying to be a bigger part of her life. Their relationship ends after an Ethiopian dinner and a non-romanic night spent together.

“I actually don’t know [if she’s read the book],” Helena said. “Britanya and I haven’t spoken since I left the New York Times to start work as a reporter for Politico. Some people just have walk-on roles in your life and [she was] memorable but brief.”

Frances’ girlfriend Vernell was a different story. She and Frances had a tumultuous relationship that turned toxic and violent. Despite Helena’s love for Vernell and the hipness she exuded (having introduced Helena to hip-hop and cross colours), she stood up for her mother and they both said goodbye to her girlfriend.

There’s been so much written about lesbian mothers in the last year, but Bitch is the New Black is a refreshing new perspective. Helena is, firstly, proof that lesbian moms don’t screw up their straight children, nor do they make them gay. In fact, they can even turn out to be their daughters’ best friend and muse, as Helena refers to Frances.

“Not seeing The Kids are All Right is a major child-of-a-lesbian fail on my part,” Helena said from one of the year’s biggest films, which happens to be about lesbian moms. “From what I’ve gleaned through Internet osmosis, the film looks phenomenal and — most importantly — authentic. My mother and I were on CNN this summer talking about that very report, which said that the children of lesbians were better adjusted socially than their peers. I’d totally agree in most instances. “

“Lesbians, gays, straights, whateves can all either be crap parents, awesome parents, or somewhere in between depending on how much sleep they’ve had,” Helena continued. “I happened to luck out with an amazing mother who was extremely invested in my life from start to forever. When it comes to parents who have to fight (family, religion, the legal system) for their right to conceive and raise a child together there is a dynamic in which those parents have prepared for parenthood. A lesbian or gay couple doesn’t have ‘an accident.'”

When it comes to the film adaptation, Helena gave us a little bit of insight as to where it’s at right now.

“We’ve jut finished the treatment and I’ll hopefully be moving on to writing the screenplay very soon. Shonda has been awesome in coaxing cinema out of me,” she said. As far as who she’d like to see play her and her mom? “I always thought my mom and Whoopi Goldberg looked alike. It’s such an out of body experience whenever we talk about the “Helena” character. Because, um, yeah, that’s me. For the lead role, I’m just hoping we see some fresh funny girls we haven’t seen before. I want the role to be something a black actress can sink her teeth into and tear the house down with.”

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