Due to my resentment of mystery theater and faux-African accents, I was skeptical of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Thank God my appreciation for Jill Scott, Anika Noni Rose and Black people on TV prevailed. Otherwise, I would have been busy grumbling while something delightful transpired.
NOLDA has a bittersweet, slightly campy mood reminiscent of Monk (that’s a good thing). It’s set in a midsize Botswana city where folks work, kids learn, players play and big bad men eventually get caught. Sure, HIV looms and poverty is a reality for many. But kind of like in real life, the societal problems don’t dramatically disfigure every Black body and every Black thing.
The biggest plus from where I sit: NOLDA deals with body image! Jill’s character, Precious Ramotswe, catches her share of shade because of her self-described “traditional build.” For example, when Precious goes undercover at the club to catch a client’s philandering husband, he takes the bait, calling her “fat and fabulous” to get her into bed. After Precious dupes him into taking a picture of them kissing, she puts him out of her house. He of the blue balls slinks home claiming he was late because he was helping an “old woman too fat to walk” get home safe.
Now, when Precious shows the wife photographic proof of her hubby’s creepin’, the client calls her the “fattest tart” and a slut. She hurls her put downs with such velocity, you’re not sure if she’s angry about her husband kissing another woman or she’s furious at losing to a fat woman. It’s an interesting look at how weight prejudice divides, conquers and keeps women stuck on stupid.
Now, because Precious lets the pettiness roll off her back, her weight becomes a symbol of her strength, sensuality and self-posession. She isn’t all Bush Doctrine about her heft, preemtively swaggering to declaw her detractors. Instead, Precious wears her body like she does her natural, her semi-traditional garb, her country values and her smile—with innate pride. When the Lady Detective announces that she’s made of strong stuff, you actually believe her.