It’s hard to put the TNT series Claws in any one box. It’s a colorful, surrealist dream that can go from tearfully hilarious to unbearably suspenseful from one scene to the next. An eclectic mesh of characters playing different roles in the crime world of Palmetto, Florida, keeps it interesting and engaging. But a huge part of the reason why Claws has become one of the most popular shows on TNT is because it champions feminism and diversity in a time when they are needed the most.
Desna (Niecy Nash), Jennifer (Jenn Lyon), Quiet Ann (Judy Reyes), Polly (Carrie Preston), and Virginia (Karrueche Tran) offer modern women's perspectives on issues that run the gamut from addiction to LGBTQ+ acceptance. And while Virginia is arguably the least-important member the group, given that she is the newest and youngest recruit to “Desna’s Divas,” her presence is particularly meaningful for viewers who are confronted with messages about women like her everyday on social media.
Virginia is what Black girl Instagram tropes are made of. She keeps her nails long, heels high, skirts short, and her midriff almost permanently exposed. Virginia’s interests are mainly material, and she is unashamed about leveraging the value placed on women’s sexuality. “Black Instagram,” the image-forward version of Black Twitter, has a love-hate relationship with women like this — the ones who boast the most followers among their ranks. The beautiful women who live fast, hit their angles just right, and wear lots of Fashion Nova often rake in the most likes and admirers across the gender spectrum. But popularity on Instagram often comes at a price. Sexist assumptions about these women being shallow, unintelligent, untrustworthy, and promiscuous often lend themselves to tropes that take on a life of their own. Ideas about Black women have the ability to go just as viral as pictures of them.
In many ways, Virginia is aligned with these stereotypes. It’s part of what makes her character so funny. Like most millennials, Virginia is social media focused. You can even follow her actual Instagram account in real life. And she is often as clueless and socially inept as people say millennials are. Strippers (the most iconic example of which being Cardi B) are able to expand their platforms thanks to social media, and when Desna offered Virginia a job at her salon, Virginia had been recently fired from her job as a dancer at She She’s, a gentleman's club. That her body is constantly on display — not to mention how comfortable she is in heels — serves to boost her profile as the young, inexperienced girl with nothing more to offer the world than sexual fantasies and really nice weaves. She is supposed to be #bodygoals, not actual goals for other young women.
But Black women, even the ones who may fall into a number of clichés, are never limited to the standards to which other people hold us. Virginia is no exception. Despite a very rocky start — she slept with Desna’s boyfriend early on in the first season — Virginia earned her way into the good graces of Desna’s crew because she has proven herself to be extremely loyal, even if unhelpful at times. She’s willing to kill for Desna and will drop a (nonsensical) lie at a moment’s notice to protect one of the crew's own. The self-awareness that Virginia has to embrace Desna as a mentor is a nod to her blossoming maturity, and she has embraced the challenge of learning new skills as a manicurist.
Midway through season 2, we have mostly been following Virginia as Dean’s (Harold Perrineau in a standout performance) partner. Despite Dean’s autism and Virginia’s checkered past, the two of them have navigated an unplanned pregnancy, the turbulence of the violent lifestyle around them, and the overprotectiveness of Dean’s older sister. The vulnerability, but more importantly, compassion, that Virginia has brought forth in her relationship is the antithesis of the person she has been built up to be since Claws’ inception. She is not the gold digging opportunist, willing to pass up real love for something shiny. Her eye for rich men and material wealth do not cancel out her humanity and ability to love.
Virginia is a reminder that what lies underneath the filters, contouring, and crop tops we see on Instagram are human beings. Black women do not fall on one side or the other of some good/bad binary that was established to police us into good behavior. We can dress thotty and have goals. We can use sex to our advantage while building meaningful, emotional connections with other humans. We are more than what the internet or anyone else thinks about us. I’m grateful that characters like Virginia put that plurality on display.
Looking for more theories, recaps, and insider info on all things TV? Join our Facebook group, Binge Club. The community is a space for you to share articles, discuss last night’s episode of your favorite show, or ask questions! Join here.