HBO Offers an Inspiring Portrayal of Black Women

Naira Ruiz | 5/13/2009, 3:42 p.m.

The critically acclaimed HBO series, €The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency,€ is the type of program people want to see succeed. The seven-episode series stars Grammy award-winner Jill Scott and is built around independent female characters. It€s also family-friendly, which means it contains no graphic violence or profanity.

However, there are deeper qualities that make the series unique and uplifting. It€s one of the few mainstream series to star an all-Black cast and unlike other HBO series depicting Black people, such as €The Wire€ and €OZ,€ €The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency€ portrays Black people in a positive light. Filmed on location in Botswana, the series doesn€t portray sub-Saharan Africa as a place of war and strife; but instead focuses on the rich traditional culture and gorgeous landscape. In fact, the breathtaking cinematography is a highlight of the series.

€The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency€ is based on the bestselling novels by Alexander McCall Smith. Though Smith is Scottish, he was born in southern Africa and helped establish the first law school in Botswana, Africa.

The feel-good dramedy tells the story of Precious Ramotswe (Scott), a spirited woman who uses the inheritance her father left her to start the first female run private detective agency in Botswana. Another highlight of the series is Precious€ meticulous, scrupulous, and feisty secretary, Grace Makutsi (Anika Noni Rose). Viewers may recognize Rose from €Dreamgirls.€

The mysteries Precious solves are unlike the crimes in most detective series. The cases in €The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency€ include such ordinary fare as a lost dog, a shoe shop break-in and a swindler posing as a woman€s father. However, viewers should not be fooled by the seemingly quaint storylines and picturesque scenes. The series doesn€t disregard the harsh realities of life in Sub-Saharan Africa. The AIDS epidemic is subtly referenced. The first episode shows children who are AIDS orphans and in the second episode viewers learn that Grace is charged with caring for her brother who has AIDS.

The only drawback of the series is the slow pace. At times the series veers dangerously close to being boring. Overall, the positives of the series far outweigh the negatives. €The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency€ offers a much needed escape from the gritty and outrageous type of series that has become a television staple. However, the fact that the series depicts Black women as a source of strength and inspiration is what truly makes it special.