Not too long ago, Tyler Perry released his adaptation of “For Colored Girls.” Also, within the last few days, Oprah Winfrey held a reunion of the cast from “The Color Purple” on her show. Both are connected by their promotion of the movie “Precious” back in 2009. Leaving aside the criticism, counter-criticism, and fury about (and over) all three movies in question, I am left with some unpleasant observations about Hollywood and Black Women (as if that is really a surprise for me):
First, the few movies that feature Black Women in starring roles tend to be disproportionately focused on dysfunctional relationships. Whether the relationships are at home, at work, or anywhere in between, there seems to be little escape for the roles involving Black Women in general.
Second, where relationship dramas are concerned, the second undercurrent is that Black Men are primarily, if not solely, responsible for all of the ills visited upon Black Women personally and professionally. While recognizing that there are some Black Men who take advantage of some Black Women, as well as committing acts of violence and depravity, one has to wonder whether or not the only movies that Black Women can star in leading roles all have to center around this issue.
Third is the landscape. In the furor over Perry’s new movie, what has been missing from the equation are the kinds of movies that just don’t seem to find the light of day in the theatre. While Hollywood (and many of the celebrated Black Filmmakers, for that matter) have little problem with distributing movies like “Waiting to Exhale” and “It’s a Thin Line” for their own reasons, one wonders:
- Where a biopic on Coretta Scott King has been hiding. The viewing public has been subject to schlock like Amelia (starring Hillary Swank), as well as claptrap like The Blind Side (with Sandra Bullock winning an Oscar for being a “Nice White Woman” who takes in a Big Black Buck who can play football).
- If we can get a military film on featuring any of the Black Women on this page? We’ve been given GI Jane, a fictional account of a non-existent White Woman who is chosen for training among the Navy SEALS; as well being presented as supporting roles in nearly every modern (or post-modern) military film Hollywood releases. We can even include Meg Ryan’s character in Courage Under Fire, whose heroism was supposed to be under review for a Congressional Medal of Honor.
- If we’ll see a sports film featuring Althea Gibson, Wilma Rudolph, either member of the Joyner family (Jackie or Florence), Cheryl Miller, Vivian Stringer, or a character or a set of characters like them? Even one featuring the Williams Sisters, possibly.
- Maybe a space film with a character like Dr. Mae Jamison? If you knew her story, you’d probably want to see something like it, too…
- Or even a story about, say, Harriet Tubman. We get stuff like Salt, Kill Bill, Resident Evil, and are about to be snowed under more crud with Sucker Punch, but Harriet?
And the list goes on.
But we won’t get those movies. Or movies like them.
And it is because we don’t think about these kinds of films enough. When we turn on the TV, we don’t see these kinds of images; nor do we think about why we don’t. When we turn on the radio or watch a music video, women like Eartha Kitt and Dorothy Dandridge are absent from the conversation, and we don’t discuss the issue in those terms. When we pick up a book, names like Octavia Butler and Jackie Ormes do not find their way into our hands (although there are many who are trying to change this mindset).
Sadly, this just seems to be almost a rehash of a post I wrote a long time ago, “Black Women: Unsafe in Any Medium,” however, my lament back then was directed more towards the Big 2 Comic Book houses. I have often fired full broadsides at television shows and movies, particularly science fiction and space fantasy these days, because we are being offered the same stories told in the same way, displaying the same prejudices, stereotypes, and bigotries from the last several decades.
And the landscape is not going to change unless we change how we think about what we make. That is the real challenge. And the real tragedy.