Adapted from Zakiya Dalila’s novel that goes by the same name, The Other Black Girl, revolves around an ambitious young woman, Nella Rogers, whose sole reason for joining Wagner Books was Kendra Rae Phillips. In 1988, Phillips worked as an editor at the publishing house, and she edited Nella’s favorite book of all time, “Burning Heart.” Kendra was Nella’s inspiration, and even though she was the only Black woman working there, she was still hopeful. Nella’s goal was simple: she wanted to publish stories that would inspire little Black girls. But at the moment, she was stuck in a rut, working closely with assistant editor Vera Parini. Nella’s job required her to approve problematic Black characters written by white male authors incapable of accepting their flawed perception, and she hated every bit of it. Nella’s life took a turn when she was introduced to Hazel-May McCall, the new personal assistant to assistant editor Maisy Glendower.
How Did Hazel Win Nella’s Trust?
Nella was relieved to have another Black woman working at the office, and she confided in Hazel how she absolutely hated a Black character written by the most celebrated author at Wagner Books. Hazel encouraged her to speak her mind, but Nella did not feel confident enough. Vera had categorically asked her not to express her honest opinion, and Nella did not wish to offend her. When Hazel met the author, Colin Franklin, at the office, she remarked how Nella had a certain opinion about his new book. She had put Nella on the spot, and Nella did not know how to react. She could either play it safe and appreciate him, or she could speak her mind and save the author and the publishing house from being publicly called out. Nella chose to do what was right, and that backfired. Vera was visibly embarrassed, and to make matters worse, Hazel did not back her up. She instead praised Colin for his nuanced writing, further guilt-tripping Nella. All of a sudden, Hazel became the most celebrated entity at the office. Everyone loved her, except Nella, of course.
Hazel had broken Nella’s trust, and as a result, she had to apologize to Colin Franklin. Hazel later explained how she was only trying to save her job and that she did not believe in criticizing someone with razor-sharp words. Instead, she preferred sweet talking to them and making them understand where they faulted. Hazel promised to be there for Nella henceforth, and she stuck to her words. When Vera tried to pass on Nella’s idea of sensitivity read as something that she had come up with, Hazel called her out. She publicly stated that Nella was the one behind the idea and that she deserved credit for it. Nella was praised by her colleagues and the editor-in-chief, Richard Wagner. Hazel was being extra sweet, and that did strike Nella as odd, but gradually, she got comfortable around the other Black girl. Hazel dressed Nella up for a party she planned on crashing. She believed it was where they could get potential clients and establish themselves as editors. To Nella’s surprise, Richard Wagner was at the party as well, and he was impressed by how far Nella was willing to go to build her career. He gave her a chance to propose an idea that Wagner Books could work on, and Nella suggested the rerelease of “Burning Heart.” She was hopeful that both the editor, Kendra Rae Phillips, and the author, Diane Gordon, could come together to make it possible. Richard disclosed that even though Kendra was believed to have disappeared, in reality, she committed suicide. Nella’s idea held potential, but she had to rethink the execution.
Nella owed it all to Hazel; after all, she taught her to take risks, and she was being rewarded for it. Nella’s best friend, Malaika, did not trust Hazel at all. She caught her lying the first time they met, and she doubted her for her sudden shift in behavior towards Nella. While Malaika tried to warn Nella, she was not ready to doubt the only Black woman at her workplace simply for having her back.
Who was Shani?
Nella was shocked when a stranger walked up to her in the subway and informed her that Hazel’s actual name was Eva, and she dropped off a location where Nella could find out more about her. When Malaika informed Nella that Hazel had secretly met Richard, Nella was all the more surprised. But as it turned out, Hazel was vouching for Nella. Someone had leaked the manuscript of Colin Franklin’s new book, and people were calling it racist. Wagner Books had to somehow control the damage, and Vera was in charge of it. When Nella suggested dropping the book release altogether, Vera was furious and fired her at the meeting, but she was immediately stopped by Richard. Richard Wagner announced that Nella’s decision was right and that it was because Vera chose not to incorporate suggestions made by the sensitivity reader that the book was being widely criticized. Vera lost her job, and Nella was considered for the position of assistant editor.
Nella felt a little guilty about the way Vera was publicly humiliated, but Hazel was unfazed. This, all the more, prompted Nella to meet the stranger at a secret karaoke bar, but the stranger stood her up. Later in The Other Black Girl, we find out that the stranger was named Shani, and she was Hazel’s co-worker at her previous company. Hazel used to go by the name Eva then, and apparently, Shani started stalking her after she left the job. Hazel pretended to be completely shaken when Nella disclosed that the stranger had contacted her. But we eventually get to know that Hazel had men looking for Shani, and they ultimately captured her, and Hazel kept her locked in a room.
During the ending of The Other Black Girl, it is revealed that Hazel was recruited by a secret organization catering to the welfare of Black women (or so they claimed). They believed it was their job to relieve all Black women of their guilt and pain, and they had formulated a hair gel that could take it all away. When Hazel suggested Shani use the product, she was horrified. She was even attacked for refusing to use the product, and from then on, Shani was on the run. She followed Eva to the new company and decided to warn Nella of her, but she was captured before she could do so.
Who was heading the secret organization?
One evening, when Nella and Malaika were invited to a girls’ gathering at Hazel’s place, they realized things were not right. There was something peculiar about the women Hazel introduced as her friends. It was as if they were being controlled, and they, in some way, shared the same mind. All the women in the room held high positions in their respectable fields, and what caught Malaika’s attention was the sudden change in demeanor of her ex-girlfriend, Ruby. The woman who was once brutally vengeful had completely changed. She was a lot calmer and had returned from an interview at Goldman Sachs, and Malaika was confident that the word meant nothing more than a deli to Ruby once. So, what was wrong with these women?
Malaika suggested Nella find some sort of dirt on Hazel while she kept the girls busy with an eyebrow session. Nella tiptoed into Hazel’s room and found a bottle of gel lying on her dressing table. It was the same gel that Hazel tried to apply to Nella, but thankfully, Malaika stopped her from doing so. Nella soon found an envelope hidden behind the mirror, and upon opening it, she came across pictures of all the women at Hazel’s house. There were before and after pictures of them, and they were categorized into voluntary and involuntary. Clearly, Hazel had made them go through some treatment that resulted in their strange behavior. Nella had to find out what it was all about, and she lied about an emergency and managed to run out of the house.
Nella hung the pictures in her house to make sense of what exactly Hazel was planning on doing to her. Clearly, Nella was Hazel’s assignment, but why was she targeted? All the women who went through the treatment had lost their past lives. After meeting Ruby, it became obvious that their personalities were altered, and they stayed away from social media. Nella tried to find the common denominator, and after researching their backgrounds, she realized that the Wagner Group was the only common link. Wherever the women worked, Wagner Group was in some way associated with them. Nella concluded that Richard Wagner was the man behind the treatment. He was a racist psychopath who had designed a way to train Black women to function the way he wanted, ultimately having complete control over them. By doing so, he could become an icon for inclusivity, and at the same time, the narrative would never go against him. It all started to make sense to Nella, and she decided to protect Diana Gordon by attending the imprint party.
Nella followed Diana to the powder room and warned her about Richard’s hidden evil motive. Even though whatever she said should have seemed strange to Diana, she was not startled. Apparently, she could sense something was wrong, and she decided to join forces with Nella, but Diana warned her not to take any steps during the party. Nella was horrified when Richard Wagner called Jesse Watson on stage. The man who criticized Wagner Books that same morning was on stage advocating for the company. Nella realized that Jesse Watson was not the same person anymore, and her plan to take down Wagner was falling apart. Hazel met Nella backstage and expressed how Nella had almost figured out the truth, but she got a major piece of the puzzle wrong—Richard Wagner was not the head of the organization; Diana Gordon was the one orchestrating it.
How did the gel work?
Hazel wanted to work in publishing, but she did not have the required qualifications for it. She did not have the time or the money to get an education. Her days were spent taking care of her wheelchair-bound mother and working shifts at an eatery. Books were her constant companion, and she admired Diana Gordon. She attended Diana’s seminar at Harvard, and her bright, curious eyes and well-informed questions intrigued Diana. She found Hazel (her actual name was Chantal) at the library and offered her to attend a meeting of the brightest Black women in Boston, whom Diana referred to as her sisterhood. While Hazel believed she was not worthy of such an opportunity, Diana helped her build confidence.
At the meeting, Diana rubbed a gel on the foreheads of the attendees and asked them to simply state what they wanted from life. When it was Hazel’s turn, she expressed how she wanted to be accepted, and Diana stated that she believed in her dream. Hazel went through an induction process, and she was assigned to spread the goodness of sisterhood. That was when Hazel met Shani, but she did not succeed in converting her. Hazel decided to give up, but when she went back to her old life, she dreaded every minute of it. She returned to Diana and agreed to prove her worth by converting as many targets as she could. Diana promised Hazel that she could keep the life she had built if she could successfully bring Nella into the sisterhood. But the task was not as easy as Hazel had predicted. After Nella broke down on stage during the imprint party, she attempted to run away, fearing the worst. But Nella was forcefully pushed into a van, and Diana finally confronted her. She offered Nella her dream job of becoming an editor for the book that was to be published under Jesse Watson’s name. The book was, of course, not written by Watson but by Diana and her sisterhood, who aimed to target little Black girls.
What was the idea behind the conversion?
Nella was not ready to sell her soul in return for her dream job. Even though she did not know how the gel worked, she had by now deduced that the gel altered her personality, and she was not ready for it. So, what did the gel actually do? Diana wanted Nella to believe that by taking the pain away from Black women, she was helping them achieve their goals. But in reality, without the memories of the pain that they endured as a result of the oppressive system, Black women were submitting themselves to people with power. The gel helped bring Black women under control and turn them into submissive creatures who would respect societal order. If black women stopped protesting against systematic racism and simply did the job that they were assigned, white capitalists would have it easy with a more diverse yet manageable staff. They would not have to worry about bringing about actual change if they succeeded in simply recruiting Black women who were to compromise. Nella could become an editor, but at what cost? She always wanted to publish stories that mattered, but if she was no longer herself, her dream would remain unfulfilled.
During the ending of The Other Black Girl, we find out that Diana had tried to apply the gel to Kendra. Kendra had proposed a different ending for the book, Burning Heart. The ending was tragic, with the protagonist being murdered by her abusive lover, which suggested the underlying misogyny that existed within the Black Panther party. But Diana decided to end it on a happy note, with the lovers united. Kendra could not agree with her on it, and when she expressed her disapproval in public, Diana discreetly applied the gel to Kendra. Kendra started to lose her balance, and she decided to run away. She packed her bag and lived in hiding. Unexpectedly, she turned up at the secret room where Nella was brought in by Diana’s people. When Diana was about to apply the gel to Nella, Kendra rescued her, and they escaped. From the little that we get to know about Kendra at the end of The Other Black Girl, we can assume that after faking her death, she escaped to Idaho and stayed in hiding. Shani found her and informed her about Nella.
Does Nella Submit To The Sisterhood?
Kendra suggested Nella accompany her to Idaho, but Nella was not ready to run away yet. She knew that the Jesse Watson book mattered to the sisterhood, and Nella was determined to somehow stop it from getting published. With Black women rapidly transformed into submissive beings and a propaganda book on the way, Nella could envision the tragic future of the community. Nella’s plan was to sneak into the office, get access to Jesse’s manuscript, and leak it. Since Jesse’s audience was yet to be familiarized with why he chose to work with a company he had previously called out for being racist, she assumed that it would lead to Jesse losing his credibility and that the book would ultimately be a failure.
Nella successfully got access to the manuscript, and as she walked into the washroom, she came across Hazel. Hazel offered an olive branch and requested that Nella reconsider. She explained how she came from nothing, and that it was Diana who helped her live a better life. Hazel did not care about trading a part of herself if it helped her achieve her dream. She believed that anger was the reason why Black women could not reach their full potential, unlike the white population, who could go about doing their jobs without such worries, and that was the reason why they were more successful. Nella had two choices: she could either blow up the book and destroy the career that she had carefully built, or she could abide by the rules and grow to her full potential, become the assistant editor, and achieve all her goals.
During The Other Black Girl’s ending, Nella’s sudden glow-up turns heads at the office. It seemed she chose to apply the hair gel and had become the compromising version of herself, perfectly suited to work in a corporate environment where workplace racism was commonplace. She walked into the conference room and showed her enthusiasm to become the editor of Jesse’s book. Diana and Hazel were glad that Nella chose to join them. As Nella settled into her office room, she made a call that suggested that she had not changed. She was simply emulating the behavior of the likes of Hazel, and she was successful in convincing the sisterhood that she had transformed. At the end of The Other Black Girl, Nella had the pen drive in hand, and she was ready to blow up the Jesse manuscript. The plan was still on, and we had to wait for season two to find out how it all went down.
From what it seems, Richard Wagner assigned the sisterhood the task of converting Nella, and that was why Hazel was recruited. Hazel stirred things up at the office in the hopes of making Nella hate her life. She won her trust through the process and eventually tried to introduce her to a better life. But when Nella discussed the idea of rereleasing with Richard Wagner, he realized that he needed direct help from Diana. It was evident that Nella was too invested in finding out more about Kendra, and she was ready to dig deep into the archives. Richard Wagner was not convinced about rereleasing ‘Burning Heart’ with Kendra’s ending, but things had gotten pretty much out of control. Diana announced that she would take charge of the situation, and that was when she tried to speed up the conversion process. Nella was invited to Hazel’s house, and Hazel was ready with the gel, but the plan did not work out. And we know how things ultimately ended.
What Can We Expect In Season 2?
In season two of The Other Black Girl, we hope to find out the connection between electricity and sisterhood. Every time Nella sensed a presence, the light flickered, and not to forget, Diana communicated with Hazel through the flicker of the table lamp. While the gel was applied to change the thought process of an individual, how did Diana manipulate electricity? Initially, in The Other Black Girl, it seemed that Kendra was trying to communicate with Nella, and she had guided her to the archive, through which Nella learned about the heated discussion between Kendra and Diana. Someone was guiding Nella to bring to the surface the alternate ending of the book, but who was it? The way the sisterhood responded in unison, it does seem they are connected to each other in more than one way, and it will be interesting to find out the details.
Another pertinent question that comes to mind after watching season one of The Other Black Girl is: from where did Diana get the magic gel? Why did she formulate the gel in the first place? It seems as if someone has converted Diana as well and convinced her that she is working for the betterment of Black women. Since Diana and Richard Wagner were romantically involved once, is it possible that he funded the organization? Is there a greater conspiracy behind it? Is the sisterhood controlled by the giant companies? Season two already looks promising, and we can expect things to turn all the more strange and dangerous.