Why Frankie Could Never Be Alice: Mental Illness and Black Femininity

Despite not achieving blockbuster status, Academy Award winner Halle Berry’s latest film, Frankie and Alice, tackles a prevalent issue within the black community- the issue of the mental illness. Frankie and Alice tells the true story of a LA go-go dancer who suffers from dissociative identity disorder. The disorder divides Frankie into three separate identities, including a brilliant seven year old, and a racist southern white woman named Alice. The course of the movie reveals the personalities emerging from a troubled and hurtful past, repressed by a persevering Frankie.

Halle Berry’s journey to the big screen was nothing short of bravery, but with great bravery has come great resistance. Berry faced funding issues so dramatic that Frankie and Alice’s release came five years after the film was originally shot. The film mirrors dynamics present in many of the successful black sitcoms and movies, a beautiful black female lead that resides in the middle of the color spectrum, a troubled past to evoke intrigue and interracial relations to avoid the alienation of whites in a seemingly minority film. It also depicts a compassionate psychiatrist that can easily be categorized as a white savior, so, one may ask, what is the problem? The problem is that there is no place in society for a mentally ill black woman.

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Traditionally, the mentally ill are solely members of the majority, specifically white women. Books like The Yellow Wallpaper amongst countless other novels, movies and television shows have depicted the mentally ill white woman as the ultimate victim. Mental illness is also a common defense for criminal and bizarre actions performed by white women. For example, lets consider Andrea Yates who drowned all five of her children in the family bathtub. Her bizarre and fatal act was blamed on postpartum psychosis. The mental illness of Mrs. Yates trumps the personalized nature of drowning and silences the question of how could she drown all five of her children without cognizance or intention? The defense of insanity is easily attached to behavior assumed to be abnormal of whites, suggesting that “normal” whites are incapable of performing such acts.

There is a level of accountability alleviated from white women, that prevent them from having to take full responsibility for their wrongdoings. White women are not only the portrait of mental illness, but of sexual assault also. While interracial unions are somewhat acceptable in contemporary society, traditionally white women were believed to be raped if and when caught in the arms of a black man. Contemporary society still enables white women to play the rape card, as the solely acknowledged victims of sexual assault. This alleviation of mental and sexual accountability is not available for black women. Despite perhaps being the original victims of sexual assault, black women were are not only held accountable for what happens to them, they were blamed for it. As the victims of brutal and continuous sexual assault by white men, black women were believed to induce their sexual assault by their innate hyper sexuality.

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Despite whether or not black women have suffered a single traumatic event as seen by Frankie in the movie, black women  have collectively internalized the aftermath of a turbulent past. While Frankie and Alice depicts Frankie’s illness as stemming from a series of incidents surrounding her working relationship with a wealthy southern white family, this dynamic is much larger than Frankie herself.This past has been foundational in many of the daily injustices that have vastly accumulate by the time a black woman turns thirty. Despite the predisposition to mentally and physically violent past, black women are seen as willing contributors to their conflicts, and not susceptible to alleviation through mental illness, hence why Frankieand Alice was initially rejected. Significantly, Frankie and Alice showcases that problems with mental illness are often deflected as an issue within the black community, whereas in reality mental illness is not acknowledged as a component of blackness, or black femininity.

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Insanity and Sexual assault, act a means to maintain the pedestal of which whiteness resides. Insanity and Sexual assault emerge as a secluded faction of whiteness that excuse the unimaginable deeds of white women, but still place them above other minority groups. Excluded from the bubble of mental illness and sexual assault, black women are not afforded pass and placed below mentally ill white women. Black women, if susceptible to mental illness and sexual assault, places them on an equal playing field to white women, and like it or not, this equality between raced women and white women is still not an acceptable reality in society. With that said, a majority driven society depicts even a defective member of the majority as higher than the truly subjugated groups of the country.

With that said, Frankie could never be Alice because Frankie’s disposition as a black woman will never be equitable to that of a white woman. Alice’s story would not be financially declined as Frankie’s was. Alice’s story would be a blockbuster, as her story would be seen as resonating and believable. Thus, the initial indifference to  Frankie’s story in Frankie and Alice, depicts a reality of mental illness within black femininity, that society is just not ready to accept. So, it wasn’t Alice’s story that was initially rejected, it was Frankie’s.

 

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