Claws shows us how Black women deserve to explore the scope of their sexuality without scrutiny or consequence.
By Shannon Miller
It’s New Year’s Eve in Palmetto, Florida. Desna Simms, played masterfully by Niecy Nash, haphazardly pulls into the vacant parking lot in front of the strip of neighborhood businesses, one of which is her soon-to-be-bustling nail salon, Nail Artisans of Manatee County.
There, she meets her fellow nail technicians and friends, Jen (Jenn Lyon) and Quiet Ann (Judy Reyes). Before she can fully exit her ivory Lexus, the first emotion you immediately register from her is unmitigated excitement.
Desna takes a moment to show off the lacy black catsuit that she plans to don for that night’s festivities – the one that’s going to lovingly embrace every single curve of her body. And as she playfully struts up and down her bit of asphalt while the rising South Floridian sun kisses her brown skin, I’m in awe of the way that Claws – within the first minute of its inaugural episode, Tirana – commits to giving Black women the freedom to unabashedly revel in their sexuality.
The TNT original series gives you plenty in which to immerse yourself: crime, betrayal, jealousy, female solidarity, lust, and some seriously enviable nail art. At its heart, the hour-long dramedy by Janine Sherman Barrois centers a Black woman not only defining her worth, but commanding those around her to respect and adhere to it as well. Part of that is tied to her sexual agency.
If you missed that during her early morning catwalk, you definitely get a sense of it when she engages in unapologetically loud midday sex with her pill-pushing boyfriend, Roller (Jack Kesy), in the salon. But her agency and confidence is also built into how Desna crafted a look that accentuates, rather than cloaks, her body. It’s also shown in how she refuses to feel threatened by the advances on Roller from the younger technician, Virginia (Karrueche Tran). Desna fully owns her sexual prowess and for a Black woman in 2017, this is still a rebellious act.
Whenever there is major public discussion surrounding the governing of women’s bodies, it rarely turns towards the very specific ways that women of color are affected. Black women are often shamed or ridiculed for our varying styles and natural features, such as full lips or shapely rears. Unless the conversation is specifically about cultural appropriation, the other manners in which this form of anti-Blackness takes shape tends to get overlooked because misogynoir itself is frequently overlooked.
Our bodies are commonly hypersexualized from a young age and rather than combat a system that allows it, the onus of working around it is automatically placed on us. If we instead choose to dress in any way that commands attention – like Desna’s lovely black catsuit – we’re slut shamed. It’s pretty lose-lose.
If there is an odd moment when our beauty is celebrated outside of our communities, it’s either highly fetishized or used as a tool for the sexual liberation of white women (looking at you Miley Cyrus). Desna’s character is a refreshing reprieve from that reality. The audience watches on as she enjoys her lover and flaunts her power without the expected narrative of her white colleagues turning her experiences into teachable moments for themselves.
As impactful as that is, the fact that Desna is portrayed by Niecy Nash – an actress over the age of 35 – contributes to a changing televised landscape that rightfully views older women as sexually viable human beings.
Though Claws is making excellent strides with Nash’s character, there is still some work to be done if it aims to grant all of its Black women equal agency. Virginia is initially positioned as Desna’s young adversary and her confidence is met with ridicule from the other women of Nail Artisans. Despite this, the first episode ends with her saving Desna’s life, which could mark a turn in her dynamic with the rest of the women. Ideally, this would grant her the support she would need to live just as freely as the rest of them. Her demand for more respect from Desna within the first minutes of the second episode, “Funerary,” already shows a lot of promise.
I can’t help but feel optimistic that Barrois and company want to create an environment which truly honors all of its women. Claws wants you to leave each episode with the understanding that every woman merits moments when they feel unequivocally beautiful.
Claws shows us how Black women deserve to explore the scope of their sexuality without scrutiny or consequence. I hope that Desna and Virginia, through all the drama and intrigue, continue to love themselves boldly.
Author Bio: Shannon Miller is a writer who is an avid enthusiast of television, comic books, inclusive representation, and fandom culture. She’s the founder and co-host of the podcast Nerds of Prey and her daughter’s biggest fan. She is also very anti-raisin.
Featured Image: TNT