Torn between my indifference for Tyler Perry’s fascination of the black female narrative, and a desire to support Taraji P Henson as lead actress, my experience viewing the movie proved just as ambivalent. Acrimony tells the story of Melinda (Taraji P. Henson) who viewers meet a court hearing where she is advised to stop “harrassing these people” and ordered to attend anger management. It is in this therapist’s office that Melinda divulges the path that engendered her present distress.
The Plot (Spoilers)
As a college students struggling to meet the white man’s standards of intelligence, Melinda meets Robert (Lyriq Bent), an upperclassman. The encounter cost Melinda her paper, but foments a bond between Robert and her that would last the rest of her life. Shortly after meeting, Melinda’s mother dies and she simultaneously falls into a house, $350,000 and a new relationship with an orphaned man with big dreams.
It is not long before Melinda becomes a full investor in Robert’s ambitions, buying him a car, paying his tuition and investing in a battery Robert believes is ground-breaking. After Melinda buys Robert a new car, he becomes hard-to-reach. Melinda laments on waiting two days for him to call her before catching Robert cheating on her with another woman—June. Distressed, Melinda destroys Robert’s trailer, interrupting his infidelity and her infertility all at once. Melinda’s act prompts an emergency hysterectomy before her twenty-first birthday, yet the two reconcile and get married.
Robert graduates from college and he and Melinda morph from starry-eyed kids to adults who have wasted away in the promise of a tomorrow that never came. The story takes a twist when. June, the woman who Robert cheated on Melinda with decades earlier takes on a prominent role at a company he has sought to parter with for two decades. She presents an opportunity for Robert at the same time he is to fulfill an obligation for Melinda to help keep her mother’s house—a house he called home for almost two decades. He reneges on his promise to Melinda and takes a meeting where he is offered $800,000 for his product—but turns it down.
Melinda, made aware of Robert and June’s reunion after her sisters find June’s wallet in Robert’s car, and left homeless by Robert’s failure to come through for her is finally convinced he is the thoughtless man her sisters warned her about decades ago and files for divorce. After working in a kitchen and staying at a homeless shelter, June gets Robert a multi-million dollar deal and the two live the life Robert promised Melinda.
“If money can fix you you were never broken”
The plot, a medley of the real and imaginary, appears a deliberate attempt to humanize both the black man and black woman. Melinda both confirms and layers the angry black woman stereotype, illustrating not anger but hurt. Robert illustrates the common combination of melanin and ambition—which often becomes the deferred dream Langston Hughes speaks to his famous poem “Harlem.”
Melinda without a doubt is the air that inflates Robert’s dream— a dream that does not manifest until her departure. So while Robert gives her ten million of his seventy five million dollar fortune, and gets back the house he was not willing to sacrifice his dreams to help her save—his efforts are a decade late and millions of dollars short—as what he took from Melinda was something money can simply not buy. Robert offering money to a woman whom he met in a moment of loss, a woman who took care of him for two decades for him to chase a dream and life she never got to benefit from, illustrates his oversimplification of the black female sentiment and general insensitivity to the needs of a black women. As the exteriorized objects of white supremacy, the black body often misinterprets white commerce as a bandaid to black distress. Robert’s empty gesture proves that money heals no wounds.
This proves an interesting commentary on reparations, as in many ways Melinda symbolizes the black body who in past and present manifestations toils to make everyone’s dreams come true but their own. Melinda symbolically represents the objectified black body whose bodily fortune proved lucrative to an external source that gained despite her habitual loss.
So while a lackluster plot and mediocre writing, I will grudgingly admit that the film prompted me to consider what it is we want as black women, and a black collective as a whole?
I’ll be honest and state that the ending to Acrimony proved the most disturbing ending I have seen in a while. Engulfed by rage. Melinda boards Robert and June’s ship, with the sole purpose of making them feel the pain they both have caused her, and while it seems like she’ll avenge her feelings things do not go as planned. After shooting Robert and ordering the crew to jump off the boat, Melinda is well into her plan when the chain that holds the ship’s anchor comes loose and takes Melinda to the bottom of the sea where she joins the countless African atoms that are too eternally fixed in the sea. The ending bothered me, because it mirrors a sentiment I have been battling for a while—that there is no such a thing as Karma. After suffering decades of loss, Melinda does not get retribution or even sanity—she gets death.
Frozen in a water tomb, Melinda takes a place alongside the atoms of her forgotten foremothers, who’s heart was too big for such a small world. Melinda loves hard in a loveless world, portraying the nature, or pure “soul of black folks” as sentenced to a premature death—-karma friend to their foe who opposes the black body violently in both past and present manifestations.
Water takes on many forms in black life, sweat, tears, neither functioning to garner the black body any empathy from a world that takes but does not give. Melinda has an interesting and fatal relationship with water. She meets Robert in the rain, an encounter that costs her a paper. And it is the water that takes her life in the film’s final scene.
Watching a black woman grapple for air, or “Aspire” in the manner Christina Sharpe delineates in the wake, is troubling in itself, its representation capturing the black female desire to exhale.
After living a life saturated in hurt, it seems a biting reality that her death has to hurt as well. Though, as illustrated in the continuous lynchings of black men and women, this sour depiction is painful but true.
A biting issue I have with the ending is that it possibly functions to depict the angry black woman as inducing her own demise—or black anger as a catalyst for black death. This is troublesome as the angry black woman is a caricature—she does not exist. Anger is a veil placed over the black face to avoid acknowledging that the black face is a face at all.
Blacks are not given a space to exist period—and are not given outlets to process their feelings as they are seldom acknowledged as having any. So, Melinda’s stumble into destruction is according to plan— as the black body is programmed to fall off the tightrope they were never trained to walk.
Robert and Melinda illustrate black desire to be loved—-however only the black woman was willing to exteriorize her internal needs—in exteriorizing her affection Melinda loves her way to hate which eventually becomes obsession. Exteriorizing her affection not only makes it impossible for Melinda to love herself, but to see herself. She loses herself in the reflectness of unconditional love—she loses herself trying to produce the love absent from her life.
Color plays a significant role in the movie’s final scene as all the characters wear white and are aboard a white yacht. Given that Melinda drowns while Robert and June survive to live the live Robert promised Melinda—it appears that the female blackened by unconditional love can simply not be white in the way her selfish and money oriented counterparts can, Though Robert, June, and Melinda are all black, Robert and Melinda adopt a proximity to whiteness in their money has purchased their black bodies from the auction block prompting their exchange of economic poverty for moral impoverishment.
In a loveless world, it is absolutely essential that blacks love one another.
This is not to say that Robert is not worthy of unconditional love, but that the love we deserve as black people is the love we must pay forward.
Black Power ❤