Why is Hollywood So Afraid of Black Women?
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 Colorlines.com’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.
Jorge also reported this week that the Association of Black Women Historians released a statement condemning The Help for its distortion of history — and also, that The Help was invoked in a more positive lightat a domestic workers’ rights rally in Sacramento, as a hook for constituents to understand the issues at stake. Not everyone thinks social justice should be making nice with Hollywood whitewashing. Here’s an excerpt from a comment by Brickbat Revue, kicking off a thought-provoking conversation about the tough choices organizers make within their campaigns:
Why would people use this movie. I just don’t understand. It’s not an independent film. It’s insulting to African-Americans, especially those who are most active in regards to being allies in the fight for social justice. This is disturbing on so many levels. Did they not hear the very valid complaints that African-Americans had of this film. This film as well as the book was a lie. Why use a lie to push your truth forward. This film is an untruth filled with stereotypes that that totally minimize the African-American experiences in the US. I’m insulted that Colorlines would run this story without a very critical eye.
[…] Being a domestic worker in the Jim Crow south wasn’t like this, it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t light. Being black in the south in this 30s, 40s and 50s was about something way deeper than this movie portrayed. People who did it in the 30s mothers may have been born slaves, they themselves may have been born slaves. Women were raped, men were lynched their testicles were cut off. My great aunt was raped every week for years by respectable white men of the community until she fought back and they burned her house down and got away with it in the south. That’s the south that they left out. I had an uncle who was lynched as a boy just north of where this movie took place….I’m just appalled that people in the struggle can with a straight face defend the lie that this movie vomits onto the American public.
And here’s Jessica Mowles, in the same thread:
I’ve been a domestic worker, following my mom, who was for years. Questioning these domestic workers’ motives for supporting this film further erodes their/our agency, which is already so lacking. Yes, the movie was horrible for all the reasons above. But the fact that domestic workers/activists are strategically latching onto such an incomplete representation of domestic work says A LOT about the level of visibility of such work in our culture (virtually zero).
And so, as Hollywood takes agency away from Etta James over her own life’s portrayal, it packs the Oscars with white actors. The result? A good person-of-color narrative is hard to find. As reader Aliza Flores writes:
For Halloween, my sister and her roommates dressed up as The Incredibles. We were exactly 7 (the mom, the dad, the boy, the girl, the baby, the costume designer and the friend). My cousin got to be Frozone, the friend (If you have not seen the movie, Frozone is a cool superhero that can freeze anything… and he’s black - ftw!). Most of the white kids when they saw the whole group went for the baby or the dad, but most of the black kids went for Frozone. Why? Well, let’s just say that there is not enough positive representations of people of color in movies, especially black. This is just a cartoon-ish movie, but it is the case for most of the media. Remember the outburst that the black/Latino Spiderman caused? Yeah, that’s what happens.
Racism and Hollywood go hand in hand. Look no further then Marlon Brando rejecting his Oscar for Best Actor in 1973 for his performance in the Godfather, because of Hollywood’s historical RACIST portrayal of Native Peoples.
Show producer Howard Koch threatened Sacheen Littlefeather, who rejected Brando’s award for him, to be arrested if she spoke more then 60 seconds.
Flash forward to 2012, Johnny Depp has been casted to play Tonto and Indian character. WTF! Depp go the nod over a REAL Native, Adam Beach, Flags of our Fathers, who also auditioned for the role.
The racism continues.
And finally, while George Lucas deserves major props for defying Hollywood and producing Red Tails with a black cast and director… well, reader Daniel Dušek Wilkes’ review is hard to refute:
I think the cast of Red Tails deserve recognition for their valiant efforts in the face of the worst-written script of the year.