The 2009 TNT television series, HawthoRNe, produced by and starring Jada Pinkett-Smith, advances the African American perspective beyond the slapstick connection to the arts. Hawthorne’s interconnected vignettes of hospital politics and healthcare issues include an eye into the characteristics of race and class from the African-American perspective. Nurse Hawthorne, portrayed by Jada Pinkett-Smith, seamlessly utilizes unconventional methodologies to combat preconceptions of African American responses to medical care, as well as reality-based scenarios of doctor, nurse, and patient relationships. Just as NBC’s 1984 to 1992 Cosby Show depicted an upper-middle class African-American identity contrary to public opinion, Hawthorne accentuates the resourcefulness and wholeness of the African American in a professional environment. The same can be said for ABC’s Lincoln Heights and its collective drama of complete family values. Nicki Micheaux’s nurse, however, does not connect with the professionalism of the nursing profession as does Pinkett-Smith.
In the premiere episode, head administrative nurse HawthoRNe confronts a suicidal jumper, an arrogant doctor, an indigent mother (with a newborn); and referees challenges between her nursing staff and the other hospital actors. All of this in one day at the hospital. If you have ever had a doctor try to insert an IV in your vein, only then can you appreciate the skill of nurses in the hospital environment. They are the catch all, and Pinkett-Smith captures these qualities (sometimes to excess).
Nurse Hawthorne also contends with the one year anniversary of the death of her husband, a teen-aged daughter, and an antagonistic Caucasian mother-in-law. If we thought that race does not matter, Hawthorne’s start toward the realization of the African-American worldview within the African American network of life, denotes subtle inconsistencies between professionals, pedestrians and how they perceive life between the spaces we have manufactured for them. Pinkett-Smith navigates these waters with grace which may seem close to neutral in this series. The relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law did evolve into healing as the series progressed.
Pinkett-Smith’s character needed to be strengthened, yet the loss of pertinent social commentary, outside of comedy, was a great loss. Hopefully the Smiths will use this experience as a stepping stone to something more.