Black Actresses & Colorism

I am starting to forgive Viola Davis for “The Help.” Lawd, I know it’s hard out there for black actresses (especially darker skinned ones), but it  sucked seeing such a classy woman play a maid. Not there is anything wrong with a film looking at the history of black maids, if it’s done with respect. “The Help” was typical white romanticizing of an exploitative/oppressive time.  White America loves to see black women play Mammy:

In this clip from Oprah’s upcoming Next Chapter, Ms. Davis (who looks GORGEOUS) speaks about the reality of colorism in Hollyweird.

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Serena’s Controversial Statements

Sometimes, it’s easy to believe that an extremely talented person,  is probably also brilliant in other areas of their lives. But, this is not necessarily true. It’s the cliché of the book smart person who lacks common sense.  This tends to be a running theme for many celebrities today.  They might be able to sing, rap,  toss a ball, etc., but take them out of their bubbles , they usually pop.   It’s amazing how out of touch many of them are.  It can be dangerous, as they are often given a larger platform to spew their (uninformed) views.

Yesterday, Serena Williams, made some disturbing comments about the Steubenville Rape Case, in a Rolling Stones interview:

“Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don’t know. I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: don’t take drinks from other people. She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. Obviously I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.”

I guess she noticed (or her PR) the growing backlash to her comments, because she posted this  response on her website:

“What happened in Steubenville was a real shock for me. I was deeply saddened. For someone to be raped, and at only sixteen, is such a horrible tragedy! For both families involved – that of the rape victim and of the accused. I am currently reaching out to the girl’s family to let her know that I am deeply sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article. What was written – what I supposedly said – is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame. I have fought all of my career for women’s equality, women’s equal rights, respect in their fields – anything I could do to support women I have done. My prayers and support always goes out to the rape victim. In this case, most especially, to an innocent sixteen year old child.”

I always like to scroll the Internet to see what other folks are saying when celebrities commit a faux pas. On one blog, a poster made a good point about Serena. At 16-years-old, Serena was on her way to becoming a top tennis player.  She had to work hard and devote her life to achieving her dream. Serena’s family made sure she had high standards/structure, so she wouldn’t become distracted by negative peers. Serena has lived a sheltered life. It was needed for her to accomplish all that she has. So, for the now 31-year-old,it probably doesn’t make sense that teenagers would be in situation like the Steubenville case. In her mind, 16-year-old’s should know better, because at that age she was winning championships. She  was never an average teen girl. This is not to say all teen girls party, drink, etc., but sometimes they do. It doesn’t mean they deserve to be assaulted.  It’s interesting that she doesn’t criticize the boys for their underage drinking.

I won’t event touch the virgin comment…

I guess with her response,  she is insinuating she was misquoted in her interview. Perhaps, but I fear there was a bit truth to what was reported. Of course, she wants to clean it up. As mentioned in her statement, she has always championed for women’s rights, makes her look bad to blame a rape victim.

I like Serena, so hoping she was horribly misquoted, otherwise another one bites the dust. 

Say it ain't so, Serena!
Say it ain’t so, Serena!

The Real

I personally think talk shows have worn out their welcome. I’m a old head and remember Phil Donahue, which means we have  been bombarded with talk shows for over 40 years.  Out of all the talk shows, that have made it onto the airwaves, only two folks have made a mark. The mentioned Donahue, and of course, Oprah Winfrey. Everyone else has been blah and usually forgettable.

So, when I saw the promo for the new talk show “The Real,” I was only mildly curious. I  decided to watch a few clips from the show, because all of the hosts are women of color.  It’s the one unique thing about this tired format. I  hoped because they were women of color, they would bring something new to the game. But alas, they are out of touch,  just like the rest of them.

It’s probably because they are all rich (or at least well off) women of color.   I had three problems with the show: (1) They all look-alike. They all have the standard homogeneous look that is required of women of color celebrities, these days. (2) It was annoying to see the full-figured black woman (yet again) shoving food down her throat/self-depreciating humor. Don’t we get enough of those images of black women in mainstream media? (3) they claimed that there will be one person on the show we (the common woman) will be able to connect to, I didn’t relate to any of the women. Ugh. If you can stomach it, the show has a four-week test run starting on July 15th…

11 Black Women Whose Lives Deserve Feature Films

Funny, the other day I was watching a movie with Pam Grier (it was actually an early 2000’s film and she was still da bomb!) and wondered why there hasn’t been a film made about HER.  Heck, Mark Zuckerberg has had a movie made about him. Ms. Grier is just as much (if not more so) an American icon.

Pam Grier 2013
Pam Grier 2013

There are so many black women that deserve to get some shine…Read the article at the For Harriet website: http://www.forharriet.com/2013/06/11-black-women-whose-lives-deserve.html

Chime for Change

There was mild controversy over folks attire/performances at the Chime for Change concert, this past weekend:

Bum note: Iggy Azalea made sure she showed off plenty of flesh as she also took the stage in nude coloured fishnet tights

Some folks were upset, as the event  was supposed to be about bringing light to women’s issues/empowerment. I have to admit I raised an eyebrow,  once I saw the photos from the event. Obviously, as a feminist I think women should be allowed to wear what they want, but the photos did make me uncomfortable. Why? How could I speak on my discomfort of the outfits, without sounding judgmental?

As I scrolled the Internet (to gauge what other folks thought about the concert), I found two comments that articulated my concerns.  The posts were in response to folks that had stated those who were critical of the clothes, were participating in patriarchy/oppressive behavior:

“Not that I agree with a single person up in that post, but there is something frustrating about…ugh, let me try to phrase this right.

It’s not that sexuality isn’t empowering. It’s just that empowerment always seems to be shown as sexually charged. Like every popular media representation of a strong woman is one who is clad in body-baring spandex and being overtly sexual as a sign of her strength. Yes, it’s a sign of empowerment, but why is it the only example of a strong woman that we really see?”–commenter #1

and

“I wouldn’t criticize these specific performers. I’d rather focus on how our society is only interested in hearing about women’s issues when the person delivering the message adheres to existing beauty standards.

Think about how readily men dismiss feminists as ugly, frigid bitches that are only feminists because no one wants to fuck them. So to be taken seriously, we still have to jump through hoops. That’s the bullshit, not Beyoncé’s costume.”–commenter #2

Yeah, what they said. I think commenter #1 summed up my mixed feelings about the clothing choices of the performers. The images of women celebrities today, tends to be oversexualized. It’s not that there is anything wrong with these women being sexy. But, is it they are being sexy because they truly want to be, or  is it just another marketing ploy by the male-dominated entertainment industry? It becomes even more complex, when looking at black women celebrities. I  believe there has been  an effort to wipe out the black female soul singer. Adele can stay covered up and sing  “soul” music, while our singers are being promoted as “naughty” pop stars.

Black female singers, like Janelle Monáe, India.Aire, etc., are usually not given the same platform, at events like Chime for Change. Is it because they don’t fit into the current standard of an “empowered” woman (sexy). Monáe usually stays in buttoned-up shirts/slacks (folks were “relieved” when she wore a dress in her latest video, why?) and Aire is a dark-skinned black woman with an Afrocentric style. Would (mainstream) folks be less willing to watch/hear them speak about women’s empowerment?

I  have scrolled the Chime for Change website, and I am still not sure what it’s about. First of all, the whole thing was founded by Gucci. Gucci is a high-end store, where the average woman can’t afford to shop. There has also been concerns of sweatshop practices, of the business. All of the performers outfits were made by Gucci.  What’s in it for Gucci? Is it an opportunity to peddle their overpriced wares to the masses?

Secondly, there are glamour shots of the three main supporters of  the organization: Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Frida Giannini(creative director of Gucci), and Salma Hayek Pinalut.  Other celebrities faces fill the first page of the website.  The women offer generic platitudes about girls/women needing equal access to education, healthcare, and wages. Okay, yes but how is this organization going to go about this? Which brings me to my last concern, how is the money being used?

Supposedly, this organization has already raised $4 million dollars. It will be interesting to see how it’s actually used to empower women. I mean for all we know, it could be going into Gucci’s pockets.  Chime’s advisory board is filled with celebrities/established non-profits. Where are the grassroots, radical, local women activists? You know, the women doing the everyday work.

I know there are some folks thinking, stop being so cynical! But the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, is a real problem. It becomes even more troubling when celebrities jump on the bandwagon.  Is it really about empowering  disenfranchised women or is it just another opportunity to promote their music, clothes, brand, etc.

Hmm…

Mo’Nique

Recently, a photo of a slender Mo’Nique (actress/comedienne/Oscar winner) made it’s rounds on (black) blogs:

Mo'Nique 2013
Mo’Nique 2013

Folks noted that she’s now the evil skinny woman, she used to make fun of in her stand up routines.  Many stated she probably feels ridiculous that she used to clown skinny women. How it was disingenuous of her to have led “fat women astray” about loving their weight, but then goes on to lose weight herself.

I disagree. I hope Mo’Nique stands strong on her earlier resistance  of being pressured to look a certain way.  I think Mo’Nique was making a cultural observation about how it was okay for folks to make fun of “fat” women, but folks got all defensive when she poked fun at skinny women.  In the Hollywood Industrial Complex, I’m sure as a full-figured black woman, Mo’Nique had to deal with people taking issue with how she looked/not taking her seriously as a budding actress.

There is a myth in white feminism and with black folks, that heavier women are adored in the black community. While black women are able to get away with more voluptuous bodies than white women, there is still a disdain for “fat” women in the black community, just as there is in the white community.

In a lot of black folks minds, it’s one thing to be “thick” like a Beyoncé or numerous video dancers, it’s another to be “fat” like the old Mo’Nique or Gabourey Sidibe:

Gabourey Sidibe 2013
Gabourey Sidibe 2013

I have read/heard people say some foul mess about Gabourey (Gabby). Folks want her to feel ashamed about how she looks. They think it’s appalling that the Hollywood Industrial Complex likes to use black actresses that look like Gabby. Why not slender black women like Megan Good? To a certain extent, I understand what they are saying. Racist Hollywood loves to use full-figured/dark skin black women as a way to make the black woman the joke or make her a “Mammy” caricature. However, the truth is skinny black women fair no better in racist Hollywood.  They just get to  play the crackhead or “hoe” roles.  It’s not about how black women look, it’s the fact that racist Hollywood simply doesn’t care about the representations of black women, whether they are “fat” or skinny. All the black women in Hollywood could get down to a size two and would still be regulated to stereotypical characters. Why is there a lack of well-rounded, complex roles for black women in mainstream AND black movies?  That’s the question black folks should be asking.

Whatever the reasons why Mo’Nique  decided to lose weight, it doesn’t make her fake. She just used her talents to counter the oppression she faced, as a full-figured woman in a lookist industry/society. She made the jokes, because she didn’t want to BE the joke.  I think she had sincere intentions and truly wanted to empower other full-figured women.  In any case, Mo’Nique is da bomb, no matter what she looks like.

Yelling to The Sky

I am a big movie watcher. I like going to the movies or renting movies or surfing Netflix. So, I will often blog about movies, I have watched. The other day, I had the opportunity to re-watch “Yelling to The Sky. “  It’s now streaming on Netflix. The film was written and directed by Victoria Mahoney.

I initially watched the film, after waiting a year  and some months, for it to be released in theaters. The film debuted at the Berlin Film Festival in 2011, then sat on the shelf.  Finally,  back in December 2012, the film was released online and DVD.  I was excited. I watched the film as soon as it was available for viewing.

I was a bit disappointed, after waiting so long to see the film.  I decided to watch it again, to see if it really didn’t live up to my expectations, the first time around.

SPOILERS!! SPOILERS!! SPOILERS!!

The  film is about 16-year-old, biracial/multicultural Sweetness O’Hara (played by Zoe Kravitz).  She lives with her older sister, black mother, and Irish father. The dad is verbally and physically abusive. The mom is mostly absent. The sister is pregnant and angry all the time.  At school, Sweetness is harassed by bully, Latonya (played by Gabourey Sidibe). Eventually, her stressful home/school life, overwhelms  Sweetness. She decides she will longer be the bullied, but become the bully.  Sweetness trades in her drab clothing and makeup free face, for more stylish clothes and bright red lips.

She starts selling drugs and harassing other kids. Sweetness eventually wins over two of Latonya’s cronies. They form their own crew.  They strut down the school hallways, daring anyone to get in their way.  I loved the premise of the film. It’s why I was so interested in seeing it. However, after watching the film two times, I still feel like something is missing.

There are some good scenes in the movie, but they never seem to quite come together. The acting was decent. Kravitz didn’t blow me away or anything, but she played a sullen Sweetness, well enough. I did enjoy the character Ola, played by Antonique Smith.  I kept thinking she looked familiar to me. I Googled her, and realized she portrayed Faith Evans, in the film “Notorious.” The film was based on the life of the late rapper, The Notorious B.I.G.

In her role as Sweetness’s big sister, Smith made the film tolerable. Her natural acting abilities, makeup for Kravitz’s bland portrayal of Sweetness.   Of course, when I watch films, I like to look at how black women are represented. The mother in the film (played by Yolonda Ross), is mostly silent.  She is routinely abused by her husband.  She often deserts her children. It’s alluded to that she might have mental illness. Other than that, you really learn nothing about her. Strangely, the abusive white father is given more air time.

The absent mother, like the Latonya character, is portrayed by a darker skin black woman.  Skin tone plays a role in the film. I am not exactly sure what the director is trying to say, with her actress choices. I know that she identifies as a biracial/multicultural woman.

I know the film is supposed to be semi-autobiographical. I understand that biracial/multicultural  girls/teens are sometimes harassed by their black classmates. Still, it was a bit disconcerting to see all the dark skin girls/women be either bullies or an unavailable mama. To be fair, the older sister (and Sweetness at times) are shown being violent, but there’s context to their violence. The dark skin girls are  bullies cuz they hate light skin girls?

The film also moves at a slow pace. My mind would start wandering, because the storyline just isn’t strong enough. Once again, something was missing. It’s still a decent film to check out. I am interested to see what the director does next. She has potential…

Baggage Claim

Wow, looks like black movies are coming up. Instead of one film a year, we are getting two-three, yea! Too bad most of them tend to be mediocre. I understand the desire to see black love stories, as there are virtually none in mainstream media, but these films can be so boring/cliche. The films also tend to be obsessed with putting the professional black woman in her place.   I know folks love romantic-coms (these movies usually clean house opening weekend), but I am sooo over them. Plus, Taye Diggs has lost all of his appeal, after making several  disparaging remarks about black women. I can keep my money in my pocket, homey. Anyway, I know some folks enjoy these kinds of movies, so here ya go:

The Whitening of Black Women Celebrities

Yesterday, on my favorite entertainment blog, images popped up of celebrities at the  MET Costume Gala 2013. Most were jokes about how terrible everyone looked. I mean the point is they are supposed to look outrageous, not a hot mess :)…But, what really caught my eye, was this photo of Nicki Minaj:

Nicki Minaji @ MET Costume Gala 2013
Nicki Minaji @ MET Costume Gala 2013

I was shocked at how pale she looked. It’s obvious she has been lightening her skin. It seems par for the course these days, that black women can no longer look black in the media. I wrote a bit about this in my latest zine issue. In the piece “the destruction of the brown skin diva,” I looked at the marginalization of the  black female soul singer, in favor of white ones (e.g. Adele).  Besides their music, black women are being white washed in other ways, and that’s how they look. They now have to be the white standard of beauty.  I have nothing against black women wearing blonde, changing hairstyles/colors, because some black women can rock the style. But, it’s a bit disconcerting when the majority of our black women celebrities, are blonde. It’s also disturbing so many are whitening their skin.

Nicki Minaji just a few years ago:

Nicki Minaji 2008-2009
Nicki Minaj 2008-2009
Nicki Minaj 2008-2009
Nicki Minaj 2008-2009
Nicki Minaj 2008-2009
Nicki Minaj 2008-2009

Nicki now:

Nicki Minaj 2013
Nicki Minaj 2013
Nicki Minaji 2013
Nicki Minaj 2013
Nicki Minaj 2013
Nicki Minaj 2013

As an almost forty-year old woman, sometimes it’s hard for me not to get suckered into this white supremacist imagery. So, I can only imagine the impact it’s having on young black women/girls. Our Lauryn Hills, are far and few these days. As a 90’s high schooler/young adult, I remember all the popular dark/brown women singers, at the time. Brandy, Monica, Tanya Blount, Brownstone, Jade, Total, etc. I remember when Lil Kim, was a cute brown girl. Their style was attainable to me, because they looked like me.  Because of the whitewashing of black women celebrities, black women must work even harder to provide alternative images for our young women.

UPDATE: just saw this new single cover for Tamar Braxton…sigh

Tamar Braxton
Tamar Braxton

Luv

I recently watched “Luv” on Netflix. I remember hearing about  the film, a few months ago, but lost track of it. So, after watching the movie, I am surprised it hasn’t received more buzz. The film offers great performances from folks like “Allstate” man–Dennis Haysbert, new/young actor–Michael Rainey Jr, and rapper– Common.

The representations of black women are brief (although it was great to see the underrated Lonette McKee), but that’s okay, as the film is about what it is to be a man/(black)masculinity.  It’s disturbing to see what the young boy witnesses, as he spends a day with his rough/around the way uncle, Wood.

However, the film is surprisingly moving, I teared up a few times. I would recommend it. The film offers a fresh take on an “urban” story.