Hulu’s “The Other Black Girl” is initially like a fine mystery-thriller, sparingly using popular genre tropes and weaving them with unpopular subject matter. But, as the show continues, it becomes clear that this adaptation will unfortunately succumb to the same failings of its source material. What starts as a run-of-the-mill thriller becomes an even more average sci-fi-infused story of Black horror, mirroring the likes of Jordan Peele but never coming close to scratching the surface of his legacy.
Adapted from the New York Times bestseller, “The Other Black Girl” follows Nella (Sinclair Daniel), the sole Black editorial assistant at Wagner, a revered book publishing house in New York. Her life consists of dealing with subtle microaggressions, most recently found when she flags a problematic Black character in a manuscript to her boss, Vera (Bellamy Young). Though Vera is sympathetic, she tells Nella to bury her feelings as the novelist in question is their bestseller. Nella goes through her days pondering the idea of quitting, dreaming of a life surrounded by people who not only look like her but recognize her merit.
Her prayers are answered when she’s introduced to a new fellow assistant, Hazel (Ashleigh Murray). From fangirling about music to having the same favorite book, Hazel and Nella quickly become close friends and comrades, promising to have each other’s backs in advisory times. But the fun quickly turns sinister as Hazel’s arrival triggers strange dreams and even stranger coincidences. Amongst them is a note telling Nella to “LEAVE WAGNER NOW,” leading her to believe that maybe her new friend isn’t who she seems. Along with other bizarre findings, Nella’s new friendship begins to unravel into a cat-and-mouse game, asking the viewers to question which of these women is the predator and which is the prey.
Most of the episodes hinge on Ashleigh Murray’s strong performance as Hazel. Her initial sweet demeanor is welcomed by Nella, but it quickly becomes off-putting. Smiles become too wide and slowly develop into concerning bursts of anger, showcasing Murray’s immense talent each time. The show also has a fantastic soundtrack crafted by music supervisor Tiffany Anders, featuring tracks from Tyler the Creator and Caroline Polacheck that are essential to the story’s themes about complicated friendships and desire.
“The Other Black Girl” attempts to uncover and display the competitiveness that can mar female friendships. When Hazel does something nice for Nella, the latter questions if it’s done solely from the goodness of her co-worker’s heart. The two are constantly pitted against each other by those around them, though they attempt to free themselves from these plights, hoping that they can coexist in their workplace and friendship as two talented Black women. If the show was simply about the two of them navigating the troubles of assimilation and racism within the workplace, it may have been great. But in an attempt to pull the rug out from under the viewer, intriguing hints about cults and double lives instead lead to mediocre representations of secret societies hinged on laughable ideas.
Alas, the show unravels under the pressures of modern sci-fi horror that has rapidly started plaguing Black films and television. “The Other Black Girl” ultimately fails when its most interesting ideas of assimilation and race become bogged down by boring tropes borrowed from seemingly every Black horror film since 2017’s “Get Out.” There comes a time when cinema and television must strive for new stories to tell, and unfortunately, it’s clear that such a time is overdue. In a climate with shows like “Them” and films like “Bad Hair,” this series is behind the times and forces its viewers to ask, “Haven’t we seen this before?”
While not necessarily unimportant, the show’s discussions about Blackness feel like regurgitations of stories that have been told before, offering a dull consensus that has been hammered out in films before it and in real conversations amongst the Black community. What could have been an enthralling story about assimilation to the highest degree ultimately fumbles under the weight of the dozens of films and miniseries that preceded it. Perhaps if the novel came out on the cusp of the release of “Get Out,” this adaptation would be more appealing instead being almost offensive in its mediocrity.
“The Other Black Girl” premieres on Hulu on September 13th.