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Why is Hollywood So Afraid of Black Women?

"The Help" is building Oscar buzz despite historical mistruths -- while white/male Oscar contenders derail serious conversation about structural racism in Hollywood.

 It’s Oscar season! Actually, the Oscars aren’t until the end of February, so we’ve got another few weeks of hype and speculation and scathing critical analysis. Fun stuff!

But before we get into all that… Gender Matters columnist  Akiba Solomon takes down a new Washington Post report that seeks to dissect (in Akiba’s words)  “Blackus Womanamina Americanus,” and yet manages to ignore  every structural force that might make a black woman’s life the way it is. The Washington Post concludes that black women haven’t defined themselves. Akiba concludes differently:

Black women have been defining ourselves since  before Sojourner Truth made  her infamous 1851 “Ain’t I a Woman” speech. Over and  over and over and over and over and over and overand over again, black women tell, no scream, about our humanity, complexity, legacy, pride, sisterhood, spirituality, money problems, romantic desires, bone-deep sadness, moral conflicts, sexuality and joy. Some of us are dying for a “Sunday Kind of Love.” Some of us think we’re cute and “Cleva.” Some of us aren’t that damn deep. The problem isn’t that black women haven’t defined ourselves for ourselves. It’s that mainstream media DON’T LISTEN.

Reader parkwood1920 cosigns and adds:

And after screaming to anyone who will listen about your basic humanity for three-plus centuries, you get fucking tired. And that’s when the sharks really go in for the kill. That’s exactly what I think about the corporate media’s attack on Black women now—-sharks, the lot of them.

We don’t need to look far to see how this plays out in Hollywood. Akiba wrote  a beautiful rejection of  The Help’s ‘historical whitewash’ way back in August, but unfortunately for all of us, Akiba’s not on the Oscars committee. So  The Help is up for a slew of awards, and the resulting media coverage is ripe for examination.

When our superstar pop culture blogger  Jorge Rivas isn’t shooting interviews with the director and star of black lesbian coming-of-age film Pariah, he’s keeping us updated on breaking news at’s new /NOW blog. And with Oscar season in full swing,  The Help is generating all kinds of headlines — and not always constructive ones, like when Best Actress nominee Viola Davis started to talk about  structural racism in Hollywood, then got derailed by Charlize Theron and George Clooney. Really. As reader  cantankerous_crone said:

Yes, Theron was speaking from white privilege—I mean really, saying “I have to stop you there” in order to focus on Davis’ looks? But Clooney, although smoother than Theron in his timing, dominates the entire conversation using his double-barreled white + male privilege. He positions himself as the best qualified person to speak about sexism in the film industry which is ridiculous. Notice how few words the other women present have while he relates his anecdotes, subtly making himself the authority on the issue.

Seriously, isn’t it time to stop let charming white men off the hook for their racism/sexism just because they claim to be on the right side and they’re smooth? A few years ago, at the Oscars, Clooney praised the film industry for a history of being forward thinking about race because Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for Gone With the Wind. Yet he completely failed to mention that McDaniel had to sit at a separate table at that awards ceremony. The man is blind to his own enormous privilege, but his looks and smooth public persona get him a pass.

Instead of shooting fish in a barrel by criticizing only those who have a sliver of the privilege pie (and true, should learn to own up to that fact), let’s look at those who hog practically the whole pie and use a veneer of charm and liberalism to get away with it. The myth of Prince Charming on a horse of white privilege righting all wrongs needs to die.