Experiencing COVID in Film and TV – Black Girl Nerds

” I live it ! I don’t need to see him on my shows,” I shouted at my television in frustration.

I was sitting alone in my living room watching the season 17 opener of Grey’s Anatomy. The clock was instantly rewound to the horrific first month of the pandemic. It was November 2020, and we ourselves had only been plagued by this virus for several months. We always bore the fear of not being sure of what we were dealing with. We were still browsing the do’s and don’ts of mask etiquette. Time spent with family and friends was still limited, if at all. Travel was ill-advised and restrictions were tight. We were still wiping down our groceries before putting them away. There were still so many unknowns, yet we were meant to deal with the uncertainty of time in both our real and imaginary worlds.

I was already filled with anguish because of the large number of people getting sick and dying from COVID. Remembering the pandemic in the shows I watched to circumvent, if not entirely escape, my reality only heightened my anxiety. I was a pre-COVID germaphobe, but seeing cutting-edge doctor Meredith Grey, unconscious and fighting for her life due to the virus, made my life even more vulnerable despite all the extra precautions I was taking. Grey’s Anatomy, Station 19, 9-1-1and sugar queen reinforced that there was no safe place at various times of the week. Even comedies like Blackish and Hypermarketwhile trying to find an angle that would make us all laugh, didn’t provide a full reprieve.

In addition to my TV must-haves, there are also shows like Love in Corona times, Link, and Social distancing focused on the effects of the pandemic. I chose not to watch them for my own sanity. As a writer, I’m always drawn to stories that investigate the human condition; however, I had no interest in the experiences of new characters cloistered in the pandemic pressure cooker. Stories are my escape. I chose to keep this space sacred, only making exceptions for TV shows I was already dedicated to.

After an entire season or one-off episodes devoted to the pandemic, many of these shows have returned to a “normal” world without masks. Both Grey’s and Station 19 now end with a disclaimer that explains that the show reflects a post-COVID world. Even though mask-wearing is on the decline in real life, it’s been a relief for my television to return to some form of escapism. The movie seems to have taken a different route and largely stayed out of the fray, though I’m sure that will change as life seems to slowly return to pre-COVID life.

While TV and film strive to report events that happened in real life, it’s very rarely in real time. The beauty of art reflecting life is the shift, giving us time to process these events before facing them again. We revisit these events in hindsight, but what happens to the psyche when it’s in tandem with what you’re going through right now? For me, this did not have a desirable effect. It didn’t make me want to watch those shows, even though I watched them anyway. However, that good feeling I usually get after watching has faded after each mask-laden episode. There was no hope of a return to normal in the lives of my favorite characters. They had as many problems as I did, and while that may have comforted some, it did not for me.

We are in year 3 of this pandemic, and I am grateful that I have to deal with the pandemic less in my everyday life and on my TV. Despite my paranoia, I contracted the virus. Twice. I suffered from extreme exhaustion and weight loss the first time and mild cold/flu symptoms the second; no breathing issues or long term effects that I can see now. I have not lost any immediate family members or close friends to this.

I know I was lucky and many weren’t. Even though I hated the reality of these shows in the moment, they remind me of what I could have lost and who I could have lost, and what so many people have lost. Art has so many responsibilities, one of which is to remind us of what we have overcome. Much like film and television depicting times we don’t know, the art that chose to fight the pandemic will serve as a record for future generations of what life was like during the pandemic. Someone will want to know, and it may be our duty to provide this record, painful as it is.

Celestial Holmes

Celestial Holmes is passionate about the power of prose, and she uses it to uplift her people for various Afrocentric outlets. She is also a published author, writing under the pseudonym Mbinguni.

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