Kidnap, A Contemporary Narrative of Black Motherhood

Kidnap appears to be yet another action-adventure.suspense film starring a household name. Yet, Kidnap mirrors historical slave narrative in capturing the maternal stress of black mothers. Namely, much like Harriet Jacobs in The Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Frederick’s Douglas’ mother who traveled by foot in the dark of night to see her son, Berry (Carla in the film) proves that she will stop at nothing to save her child. Therefore, black maternity is the portrait of conditional love, as this love strives to overcome a lifetime of hells and high waters.

To be a black mother is to struggle to be a parent, a provider and protector in a world where you are not even thought of as human. To be a black mother is to bear cyclical disenfranchisement as an individual and as a mother of offspring thrust into this system the moment they emerged from the black female womb. It is the sub-story, or what the film fails to verbally articulate that makes Kidnap worthy of conversation. The film itself is utterly unoriginal, lacks development, and performs in the contemporary pattern of colorblind-casting that visibly implements blackness but fails to acknowledge race beyond superficiality. kidnap

When the credits rolled, I found myself asking:

“That’s it?”

and waiting for that moment that would allot clarity to the previous ninety minutes.

Senselessly displaying a Senseless Crime

 This moment of clarity never came. But as I contemplated the film on the ride home, it occurred to me that while unintentional, this senseless ending was exactly the point. Black child abduction is senseless. In traditional and contemporary settings, the abducted black child occurred for no real reason, other than a means to exercise power. Enslaved black children were abducted by white settlers and transformed into laborers, and breeders for the white man’s plantation. Once transported to the states, children were often abducted from their mothers and sold like dogs to families seeking domestic servants and concubines. Contemporary black children continue to go missing, and if found their bodies are often hollowed out—their organs sold to what I’m sure is the highest bidder.

Axing the White Savior Figure

 The film succeeds in deviating from the white savior halleberrykidnapfigure that dominates much of black portrayal. At the end of the film, Berry attempts to remove her child from a locked attic and a white man walks in pretending to be the neighbor. He puts on a convincing show, pretending to be surprised that his “neighbors” are child abductors. But it is his seemingly omniscient knowledge of the gender and quantity of the abducted children reveals that he is not a savior but a villain. This is probably the most suspenseful part of the film, and it functions because of the positive connotation of whiteness. Globally whites are viewed as a savior figures, despite direct and indirect evils that populate their history. In alleviating the white savior figure, the black woman emerges as her own hero— a depiction generally withheld from black female protagonists.
Accidental Hero

 What is unstated and noteworthy in Kidnap’s portrayal of a black mother searching for her child, is that Berry becomes an accidental hero for two abducted white female children. Does my assertion suggest that the two white children do not deserve to be saved? Absolutely not. My assertion does function to state that far too often when working to elevate the black collective, blacks become accidental heroes to others who benefit from our efforts. For example, many of the shows and movies authored by black women to supposedly narrate the black experience, become opportunities for white actors and actresses, producers and artists, proving once again that nothing is done for blacks that does not benefit another demographic—whether directly or indirectly.

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Solitary Mission

An image that dominates the film is Berry’s singularity. Namely, much of the film is Berry alone searching for her son. Interestingly, this solitary dynamic is also depicted when Berry does go to a police station for help. When Berry arrives, there is a single black woman answering the phones and managing the office. This depicts the black female body as habitually made to juggle with multiple responsibilities, with the systemic implication that she will drop one or two to her detriment.

Yet, a critic referenced Berry as a vehicle operating on “four flat tires,” overlooking that black motherhood is an imperfect solitary dynamic not intended to entertain the white male gaze. Separated from spouses and children as enslaved Africans, black motherhood began its tenure in this country as a complicated product of white evil. The contemporary environment is not much different, as the surging amount of black males incarcerated, dead, underemployed, or under-educated leaves many black women alone, and many black mothers inevitably single in one form or another.

Furthermore, although an imperfect film, Kindap is a perfect illustration of contemporary black motherhood as a nuanced manifestation of a historical dynamic plaguing the black collective. So despite figures like Michelle Obama, Maxine Waters, Kamala Harris, Beyonce, etc that seemingly symbolize black female potential, to the critical gaze, Kidnap illustrates the black woman as still fighting to save her children, her dignity, and her sanity from a systemized abduction orchestrated by white evil.

Black Power ❤

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The Incredible Jessica James: Extracting the “black” from Black Femininity

The Incredible Jessica James debuted to an audience eagerly awaiting its next piece of seemingly antiracist media where an bothered body occupies central placement. To most The Incredible Jessica James is a coming of age narrative where a black female twenty-something finds her way past a breakup an through her struggles as a striving artist. What is most incredible about this film is that it resumes the contemporary colorblind initiative. This contemporary initiative is not to tackle the totality of the black experience, but to move past blackness by ignoring it completely. Moreover, what is most incredible about Jessica James is despite her skin color and natural hair—there is nothing black about her. The word "black" is gracefully omitted from the film—a pattern consistent with contemporary portrayals of black people.  Instead, viewers hear James reference her statuesque height quite a few times throughout the film–suggesting that it is her height not color, is her most defining attribute. jessicawilliamsap

In early portrayals of black femininity, the black female body operated in extremes—she was either unmistakably black, a "mammy-like figure" like Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind, or a racially ambiguous "tragic mulatto or  jezebel" as seem in Dorothy Dandridge's 1954 performance in Carmen. The racially ambiguous woman stirred two pots in her ability to strategically provide blacks a fictive representation, without challenging European aesthetics. bell hooks notes this point in Black Looks:

When black women actresses like Lena Horne appeared in mainstream cinema most white viewers were not aware that they were looking at black females unless the film was specifically coded as being about blacks (119).

Contemporary black leading ladies perform a similar role, except not through aesthetics. Instead, the black female body functions to visibly suggest a diversity her portrayal functions to downplay.

maxresdefaultThis is important for black women to acknowledge prior to celebrating representation seemingly granted in portrayals like The Incredible Jessica James, portrayals strategically implemented to work against the black woman. By this I mean that while actress Jessica Williams is beautiful, witty, and talented, as Jessica James, Williams encourages black women to exist beyond blackness—an act of mentacide that will eventually foment black female oblivion.

Black female oblivion is the ultimate result of anti-blackness, a shared theme of past and present black female representation. The Incredible Jessica James enforces anti blackness with a common pairing to the contemporary black female body—a white man.

The white man rides in like a white night following James’ breakup from Damon, her black ex-boyfriend. 4533The film introduces viewers to protagonist Jessica James after a recent breakup from a man of whom she was with for two years— a decision that haunts her in a series of comical dreams throughout the film. Her ex-boyfriend, a young and handsome black man, appears kind and supportive in the flashbacks of the couple. His portrayal prompts viewers to question why the two parted ways— a query that James seems to serially ask herself throughout the film but answer in the giant steps towards whiteness she takes afterwards.
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Namely, these failed black romances birth two interracial romances as viewers see Damon out on a date with a non-black woman as James also meets up with a non-black date. I am intentionally focusing on the color of characters to illustrate that blackness, while never acknowledged, also does not visibly frequent the film. James, a black woman from Ohio, flees her hometown for a better life. When James does fly back for her sister's baby shower it is blatantly obvious that she does not fit in with the small town environment that nurtured her early years. Her transition from small town to big city  also symbolizes a step away from blackness as James' “better” life in Bushwick is overwhelmingly white. This running away from home, much like her breakup, illustrates black conflict as preceding or offsetting the black body’s journey to whiteness.

Deadline Hollywood Portraits at Sundance Presented by Applegate, Day 2, Park City, Utah, USA - 21 Jan 2017This journey to whiteness is heavily veiled in what the film tries to pass of as chemistry.  James' artistic chemistry with theatre leads her to the big city, and her chemistry with the concept "woman" leads her into the platonic embrace of a white female friends. The film vehemently tries to present James' relationship with Boone as oozing with rebound chemistry. James and Boone though have zero chemistry. They have a good conversation, mainly because James’ honesty will not allow for much else. They become sexually involved shortly after meeting, and their sex scene is cringeworthy and seems to exist solely to provide visible proof of their consummation. Their sexual encounter is hard to watch, hard to hear, and disappointing to the black female gaze who would probably have taken better to a love scene between two gorgeous black people rather than a middle-aged white man and a young black woman. Jessica is the bridge Boone uses to get over his personal trauma—a recent divorce from a thin, blonde woman. By the end of the film, Jessica replaces Boone’s ex-wife as the object of his affection, transforming from an escapist route to a national treasure—-objectified yet symbolic.

The romance between the two, also serves as a platform for Boone to become the film’s white savior figure. After James receives an overseas offer to teach theatre and lead a production of one of her plays, Boone funds the trip through his frequent flyer miles. This ruins what should have been the most touching moment of the play–the black girl magic between James and her black female student.

Netflix-Releases-Teaser-For-Jessica-Williams-The-Incredible-Jessica-JamesThe scenes with James and her students are touching, and function to add dimension to Jessica James the character. Nurturing the young versions of ourselves as they work to find themselves in a world designed for their destruction is something all black women should prioritize. James and her black female student connect in talent and a displaced hurt—their writing a means to iron out the wrinkles in their lives. However, with blackness lying in the film’s background, this connection between two young black females is only on the surface. The portrayal, in omitting blackness, depicts a teacher taking a “troubled” student under their wing—oversimplifying the shared experience between black women to a shared experience between women. Thus, Boone, the white savior, illustrates the white man as a prize who literally and figuratively funds those culminating their journey to an illusive whiteness.

Furthermore, the “incredible” in The Incredible Jessica James, unintentionally functions similarly to the “great” in the The Great Gatsby—providing a satirical feel to a seemingly complimentary term. What is in fact incredible about the film is its mastered technique diminished by underdeveloped critical thought. In an unpublished essay, esteemed scholar W.E.B. Dubois said the following:

Technique without character is chaos and war. Character without technique is labor and want. But when you have human being who know the world and can grasp it; who have their feelings guised by ideals, then using technique as their hands they can get rid of the four great evils of human life. The four evils are ignorance, poverty, diseases and crime. (Dubios 252).

The Incredible Jessica James  succeeds in method displayed in its writing and comedic genius, but lacks character in its anti-blackness. The characters lack the racial depth that paint them in the image of black viewers of a shared experience. Therefore, the film promotes ignorance, moral poverty, and disease in performing the greatest crime cast onto the black diaspora—racism.

Black female portrayal must begin, contain, and evolve pedagogy. We must learn the entirety of our oppression to avoid furthering our systemized state by creating images that tackle the acumen of African identity.

In closing, The Incredible Jessica James is not a bad movie—it’s just not a black movie. It is a sense of escapism for those who fantasize about a apparent utopia where where color is not discussed. This utopia eventually proves a dystopia as it operates with the same racial subtext of slavery and the Jim Crow South. The film proves that racial neutrality is inherently anti-blackness, something the contemporary world presents as evolution.

To evolve is to move past the seduction of colorlessness in a word established on color differences. To evolve is to uncaricature blackness and stand in a truth defined by a collective understanding. To evolve is to see blackness as a glory to be shouted from the mountaintops, not be subjugated to an elephant in the room, series or film. maxresdefault

As the late but great author James Baldwin once said “Nothing can be changed unless it is faced.” The Incredible Jessica James, is another example of art functioning to deflect black focus away from blackness. Any step a black person takes away from blackness is a step towards anti-blackness into the flaming pit of white supremacy.

Let us face the entirety of our blackness without fear, or shame, and create art that is not vouyeristic for whites but a means for blacks to hold a looking glass to the complexities of our existence.

Black Power ❤

When the Bough Is Black: A“When The Bough Breaks” Review

Black Hollywood Veterans Regina Hall and Morris Chestnut appeal to the black audience  lost in the abundant white faces that continue to dominate the big screen. Thus, despite the familiar plot, reminiscent of Fatal Attraction or Obsessed, the film becomes attractive in the still aberrant presence embodied by black actors. Unfortunately, the presumed “black” actors, betray a melanated presence that conveniently presents physical diversity despite portraying a privilege and hue antithetical to their own. The whiteness of the physically black cast surfaces in assigning Hall and Chestnut Anglo names. Regina Hall and Morris Chestnut become John and Laura Taylor, and their surrogate Jaz Sinclair becomes Anna Walsh. Thus, while it is certainly pleasing to see a black couple love one another, this love exists in the face of acquired whiteness that makes their hue a suggestion rather than a defining attribute. Through illustrating whiteness through black bodies, When the Bough Breaks embodies racial subtleties that strategically shifts culture and cultural accountability.

Laura Taylor, the skilled and conventionally successful culinary professional presumably has everything. She has beauty, style, an equally alluring residence, and an admiring husband. However, despite their love for one another, John and Laura cannot conceive a child. It is though her implemented barren state, that Laura Taylor, the black woman, swaps places with her European counterpart. This is not to suggest that black women do not struggle with fertility, but it is to state that it is not a moment issue plaguing our personhood. In fact, this portrayal counters the consistent portrayal of black women as hyper-fertile, an image that perpetuates black women as bearing multiple children even launching the 2011 Soho billboard that asserted the black female womb as the most dangerous place for a black child. More significantly, this perpetuation, when viewed allegorically, depicts Africa as barren and childless, a truth inconsistent with a history that conceals the repeated rape and seizure of people and natural resources from the fruitful land on earth–Affica. Thus, the black woman gains central placement at the expense of sacrificing her frutitful history to one that mirrors one of her oppressor. As a barren woman whose last chance for motherhood lies in a crazed woman, Taylor sacrifices her conjugal sanctity for her child. By the end of the film, it is Laura who shoots the fatal bullet into the body that birthed her legacy. In casting the fatal shot, Laura literally chops the tree that bears her fruit. Here, the black body does what Scandal viewers subconsciously absorb on Thursdays, a black body that exudes behavior historically aligned with whites. Scandal’s Rowan Pope (Joe Morton), is easily the most fascinating character on the series who simultaneously elicit hate and awe . Pope, as “Command” epitomizes power, as no system or individual seems capable to deplete his dominance. Pope breaks men down only to build them up in his image, or discards those unable to live up to his standards. By depicting a black man as powerful, but evil and perniciously dominating, racism takes on an equality as real as the characters themselves.

Similarly, When the Bough Breaks portrays blackness both physically and allegorically to illustrate  a similar reversal. Westerns raped Africa of her natural resources and children to birth the productivity of a stolen land. After providing the blood, sweat and tears necessary to nurture what we now consider America, blacks were emotionally and socially tossed aside to fend for themselves in a sea of disenfranchisement. Anna Walsh allegorically represents this marginalized presence, seemingly driven mad by the demands of a society that seems rooted in her exploitation. Conversely, John and Laura Taylor embody a systemic favorability that permits them to use and discard those lacking resources. In allegorically representing blackness, When the Bough Breaks employs black bodies as tools to discount racism in suggesting that blacks are as equally susceptible to racist positioning as whites. This suggestion implores viewers to conceptualize as individual not systemic. Ironically, in nurturing this belief, films like When the Bough Breaks and shows like Scandal cultivate the necessary unconsciousness for systemic racism to operate. Thus, what seems like another great time at the movies, permits black audiences to participate and foster their continued oppression in a country that thwarts enlightenment with entertainment.

“Nina” as a Contemporary Lynching of a Legend

The Whispers of Womanism initially commented on the casting choice for the upcoming Nina Simone biopic when the news first made headlines. While the weight of the tragedy seemed in full flight upon this announcement, seeing the trailer enhanced any and all ominous feelings provoked in the announcement.  zoe-saldana-nina-simone

In the “Nina” trailer viewers see a usually milky brown Zoe Saldana painted four to five shades darker. The makeup is egregious and seemingly more fit for a Saturday Night Live skit than a motion picture film. Saldana also dons a prosthetic nose to resemble the late Nina Simone. Her speech is slow and forced, and the trailer,while short, speaks volumes.ninazoe

Embedded in a series of scenes, each more offensive than the last, the trailer depicts how little Simone’s legacy means to a country that robbed her of her mental sanity.
To the white woman who wrote the script (which to my

knowledge is based off fiction and not fact), to the unconscious black man who is distributing the movie- this upcoming film is another means to make money at the expense of black integrity.  However to the countless black girls scattered around the globe who see themselves in Nina Simone’s full features, or those who simply found inspiration in a black female student of classical music who not only made a name for herself but used her platform to speak to the injustices of black people; this film is as tragic as watching her hang from tree. This analogy may seem harsh to some, so allow me to fully expand this comparison. Lynchings were a form of entertainment that simultaneously worked to terrorize the black community into a position of inferiority. The upcoming “Nina” film, also serves as entertainment. Yet, in draping its lead actress in blackface and featuring a white writer writing the black experience, “Nina” functions as terrorism to the black community making a parody out of our cultural pioneers.

Rather than empathize with the loss Saldana brings to the role, her casting results in claims of “reverse racism” or “colorism from the black community.” This proves that the labyrinth of racism casts so much confusion to  those who fail to understand its poisonous ways. While blackness is not a skin color, full features and darker skin, traditionally and in contemporary society yield a far different experience than those with lighter skin and “finer” features. So while Zoe Saldana does possess darker skin and a full nose, her beauty does not provoke the same reaction as Simone’s once did. Yes, both women are beautiful, but Zoe’s looks and body bear a diluted blackness that affords a profitable and pseudo diversity.  Zoe’s pseudo blackness landed her the black female lead in  “Drumline” (2002) and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”(2005). Saldana also played Cateleya in  “Columbiana”  an orphaned Latina who works to avenge her parent’s death. While “black” and “hispanic” are not mutually exclusive, the two identities afford a flexibility not afforded to black women who bear a Nina Simone-esque beauty.

zoe-saldana-16Saldana’s look, while not European, appeases a European aesthetic. No, her skin is not pale, but it is not a deep brown either. No, she does’t have a button nose but her nostrils and nose bridge are a few generations removed from her African ancestors, and her hair whether natural or not, is silky and long- appeasing one of the most consistent standards of beauty. Simone did not have the privilege of “passable” black features that watered down her heritage. Thus, part of Simone’s remark ability was that she made it against the racist and prejudice odds that tirelessly worked against her.

In response to her critics, Saldana responds with the late Simone’s words:

“ I’ll tell you what freedom is to me. No fear.”

In using this quote Saldana seems to speak to her fears surrounding the role. However, none of the discussion surrounding Nina Simone or her upcoming film is individualized, for the bigger picture is far more haunting. To cast a lead bearing Simone’s physical features would mean that Hollywood would have to confront its own fear of black women with Afrocentric features in starring and uplifting roles. To have a woman bearing Simone’s physical traits singing “Mississippi God Damn” amidst an America sullied in the same hate that existed decades ago- is fearful to an America that wishes for blacks to remain unaware of their own beauty and power. A talented singer and songwriter of songs like “I Put a Spell on You,” “My Baby Just Cares for Me” and “Blackbird,” Simone was also intertwined with some of the most pivotal moments and people in black history. Simone marched next to Dr. King in the famous Selma march and lived besides the late great Malcolm X in Mount Vernon, NY. Simone also wrote “Mississippi Goddamn” in response to Medgar Evans’ 1963 assassination. Therefore, Nina was not just alive during the civil rights era she lived a pivotal decade in Black history.

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Simone once said,

“There is no excuse for the young people not knowing who the heroes and heroines are or were.”

History has always been an important component of black culture, mainly because so much of it has been withheld from us as a community. Simone could not have known that one day she herself would be a part of history. And while a documentary in her honor debuted on Netflix in late 2015, the popular release of Saldana’s film will acquire much more attention and potentially garner more influence. Yes, this should be a lesson to place less emphasis on popular culture in preserving out greats. But if dismantling popular culture was so easy, we’d have much more black authors and scholars and far less black reality television stars. If we live in a world were Zoe Saldana plays Nina Simone, a white man plays Michael Jackson and white men portray the Gods of Egypt- one by one our heroes are distorted and blacks watch as our legacy is lynched by the lies of white supremacy.

Nina Simone understood white supremacy. She not only understood it, but she spoke out against it. Simone desired an equitable experience. She sought the ability to write, perform, love and exist in America beyond the chains of systemic oppression. Yet, her hopes only fostered an anger and disappointment mirrored in the masses of Black Americans who composed her fanbase. In speaking of the prejudice bred by white supremacy Simone said:

“The worst thing about that kind of prejudice… is that while you feel hurt and angry and all the rest of it, it feeds you self-doubt. You start thinking, perhaps I am not good enough.”

The true detriment of white supremacy and its diverse implementation is that is breeds self-hate in its victims. Rather than questioning the ways of whiteness, the initial reaction to cyclical disenfranchisement and prejudice is to question oneself. Thus, the true reason why a Nina Simone film authored by a white woman seemingly unversed in Ms. Simone’s life, and Zoe Saldana cast as the lead is problematic is because it too plants a seed of self- doubt. Both work to distort Simone’s legacy in hopes of implementing a white friendly version of a black woman’s life. nina-simone-getty-600

I’ll end this piece with a final quote from Ms. Simone:

“I came to expect despair every time I set foot in my own country, and I was never disappointed.”

me too Miss Nina. Me too.

Viola Davis, and The Bittersweetness of Black Presence in Traditionally White Spaces

According to the media we made history last night. The “we” speaks to those who reside at the crossroads of race and gender and “we” as a society. Now if we are talking in terms of patters and history then we did in fact make history last night. The media will nurture the belief that we as a country have forged a new path that praises diversity, whereas all history did was repeat itself.   Viola_Davis

Last night, the Emmy Awards crowned its first black female recipient of the “Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series” category. This recipient is none other than the incomparable Viola Davis for her starring role on ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder. My eyes welt up with tears as Davis, beautifully dressed in an ivory gown with her hair unapolegitcally natural, took the stage to accept her honor. The tears were partially of pride, but mainly because Davis’ win is merely another symbol to seduce society into believing the world “isn’t so bad” for black folk.

Davis’ victory suggest that the dark women or girls of America, those who are completely without any European/Anglo features  “don’t have to too bad” in America. Davis’ win is a small feat for black women as it does nothing to negate the black women who are harassed or murdered by the police. It does nothing to negate the countless black women who are overlooked as mentally ill or victims sexual abuse or assault. The same was true for Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar win, where her nomination didn’t even garner her a walk through the front door. Viola Davis, much like Lupita Nyong’o ( 2014 Academy Award recipient) and Hattie McDaniel (the first black women to receive this honor) appear to forge a place for the unconventional, but this place exists solely in time, and time, much like symbols, is fleeting.

In her acceptance speech Davis speaks of “striving to cross the line where countless white women stood with outstretched arms, but I can’t get there.” While I internally commend Davis for her honesty, her statement sent chills up my spine. This simple line sums up the bittersweetness that accompanies Viola’s victory. Yes, it is wonderful to see black women acknowledged for their talent. However blacks must learn to live beyond praise from whites (or non blacks) as this need for recognition is often a source of exploitation. Black women do not need the acknowledgement of traditionally white spaces, because unlike Davis’ dream there are no outstretched arms. Any public praise from whites is symbolic at best and as temperate as the smile one issues a stranger.

vdnaturalSo as the smile that surfaces upon hearing of Davis’ victory fades, I envision the celebratory tone that Monday has in store for some. I picture black girls, old and young seeing themselves in Viola and feeling momentarily beautiful, until a peer calls them “ugly”, or they’re passed over for a job, randomly pulled over on their drive home or tossed aside for their lighter or longer haired counterpart.

As a community we must award our own greatness in order to be certain that the symbols of our beauty, poise,  talent and overall majesty is not just fleeting but a consistent sense of belonging and esteem amongst our women and girls. 

With that said, the true victory of last night’s Emmy’s was the heartfelt hug Taraji P. Henson gave Davis immediately following her victory. The sense of esteem and belonging epitomized in their embrace, paints victory as collaborative rather than singular. 

Nevertheless I commend Mrs. Davis on her victory, but mostly for her realization that her plight is our plight as black women. This plight is hindered in gloating over symbols such as this one that suggests we as blacks crossed the intangible line separating us from white women. This line is inevitably drawn in the sand,  and only with a strong sense of community will we see that accomplishments aren’t more grand when acknowledged by whites, beauty isn’t real only if whites say so. Davis’ talent and beauty shines beyond the Emmy stage much like the countless other black women overlooked and under appreciated around the globe. It may take another forty plus years if ever to gain public recognition, but the true victory lies in knowing we don’t need it.

The Perfect Guy and its imperfect Portrayal of Black Women as Unhappily Ever After

On the surface, The Perfect Guy seems like an innocuous fall feature of ebony eye-candy, or merely a sexy thriller. The Perfect Guy, narrates the life of protagonist Leah, a modern day woman equipped with an education, enviable wardrobe and ongoing quest for love.  Directed by David Rosenthal, who is white and written by Alan B. McElroy (story) and Tyger Williams (screenplay) also men but of the black diaspora, The Perfect Guy tells an all too familiar tale of black women and compatibility through a lens that is entirely male. The film veils a societal anxiety surrounding the black woman and her happily ever after.

sanaa-lathan-premiere-of-the-best-man-hoilday-1The story opens with Leah (Sanaa Lathan) a successful, educated and beautiful single woman in her mid thirties. Despite the success in her career, Leah’s fourth finger on her left hand remains vacant as her longtime boyfriend Dave (Morris Chestnut) is not ready to wed. Frustrated with waiting, Leah breaks things off with Dave and soon finds love again with eligible bachelor Carter Duncan (Michael Ealy). The film then treats viewers to the cliche whirlwind romance where the woman is breathtakingly beautiful and flawlessly dressed and the man says and does all the right things at just the right moment. This romance spins both of its participants right off their feet and into love. This romance comes to a screeching halt when Carter sees another man speaking with Sanaa and nearly beats him to death. This single instance reveals a side to Carter than anyone who saw the trailer knew was coming.

The movie succeeds in negating the stereotypes corresponding with color in the black community. In making Dave, the darker man, the more eligible and sane of the two suitors, The Perfect Guy challenges the subconscious conceptualizing of color. However both the darker or lighter skinned man are eliminated as options for modern woman Leah.

The movie ends with protagonist Leah without the rekindled companionship of reformed lover Dave (who is viscously murdered by Carter) or her obsessed lover Carter (who she murders at the end of the film). Thus, The Perfect Guy fulfills a mission identical to ABC’s Scandal, How To Get Away with Murder, and BET’s Being Mary Jane, series that depict the successful, educated and attractive black women of Morris-Chestnut-and-Michael-Ealycontemporary culture that is either entirely without feasible options or fatally single.

Leah’s image is in contrast to the stereotype of black women as an unwed mother to numerous children out of wedlock, who often does not work but if she does she works a base job  and is obsessed with material goods way beyond her means. The crafting of this modern black woman who is the antithesis of her stereotype is counterproductive as it does little to advance the options of black women when it comes to romance. According to the mediia and popular culture, black women are either neck and eye rolling, single mothers, who lack formal education, a suitable income or a stable mate or a successful, educated and attractive woman who also has issues finding a quality mate. The inability of popular culture to compartmentalize black women beyond these two extremes depicts the path to “unhappily ever after” as inevitable for black women.

My critique of the inability of black women to achieve a “happily ever after” is not to suggest that the traditional “happily ever after” is happy either. But it is worth mentioning that these “happily ever after” endings are commonly offered solely to white women. The media’s depiction of black women existing beyond romance is true and potentially uplifting if it were reflective of choice not force. The African holocaust destroyed the black family structure, and made it impossible for black men and women to love one another beyond the strict atrocities of slavery. These perils trickled down from traditional to contemporary society and continue to thwart the black women from finding love in blackness.

The complications surrounding love and the black women is that society makes it a challenge to love yourself. We live a world that tells young black girls that they aren’t beautiful if their hair isn’t long and flowing, so the weave industry continues to flourish and many black girls find “love” in men who hold the silent promise of breeding children who bear these traits. The Perfect Guy seduces audiences into loving whiteness in the unwavering “White savior figure” epitomized by the police officer Leah goes to for assistance. It is the police officer who devises the plan of luring Carter into her home and killing him. So on the surface the officer appears to cure Leah of her “problem” but beneath the surface he deems the black man as a “problem.” It is also interesting that Carter instantly goes from charming to crazy, completely eliminating any connection to mental illness. Thus, the film also paints a very thin line between normalcy and criminality in the black man, an image we’ve seen play out in the murders of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown.

So The Perfect Guy not only paints the black woman as an imperfect candidate for love, but also paints the black man as ealycrazyinherently imperfect or killed by the flaws of his imperfect counterparts. The sole source of “perfection” or he who comes close to it is the white male police officer. The humanizing of police officers, or the soliders of white supremacy who continue to terrorize the black community is completely inappropriate for any film, but especially one crafted to gage a black audience. The crafting of the white man as an ally for black women is also a problem, as the traditional and contemporary relationship between black women and white men exists on a racist and sexist foundation, two modes of oppression that foster white male dominance.

The Perfect Guy demonstrates the racist media’s fascination with appearing revolutionary by crafting an image that seems to be new all the while implanting traditional views of inferiority into the minds of black people. As a community we should expect the perfect guy to be any more perfect than the world we live in. Because we live in a racist world, our sole expectation should be for The Perfect Guy to reflect the perils of systematic racism, which it undoubtedly does.

The Black Female Faces of My Childhood…

In honor of Women’s History Month I compiled a list to commemorating the brown faces that that shaped my childhood as a budding black woman. 

How many of these do you remember? 

 
Tia and Tamara Mowry from Sister Sister  ss

Who didn’t want to be the Mowry twins growing up? From their beautiful hair to their cute twin rhetoric, down to “Go home roger” they were sweet, classy and entertaining.

Brandy as Moesha  

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Brandy, as the first black Cinderella and the queen of the silver screen, Brandy was the queen of the 90s. Growing up I would hear Brandy on the radio, turn on the television and she would be there too! She showed the versatility of black femininity while only a child herself! 

 
Angela from Boy Meets World  Boy-Meets-World---Trina-McGree-then-jpg

This show was intoxicating, and it was pretty cool that Angela tamed bad boy Shawn Hunter. 

 
Kellie Shanygne Williams, as Laura Winslow on Family Matters  

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Laura stole simultaneously stole the hearts of Steve Urkel and America  as the girl next door. 

 
Lark Voorhies, as Lisa Turtle on Saved By the Bell  

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Stylish, assertive and cute: Lisa paved the way for many of the young black actress that would arise in the 90s. 

 
Stacy Dash as Dionne from Clueless  

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 Even though Cher was pegged the beauty,Dionne’s brown skin and thick locks stole every scene. It was also admirable that although Dionne looked like a model, she wanted to be a doctor.  

 
Patti Mayonaise from Doug

 Even though it was later revealed that Patty was just tan, as a child I admired Patti for her brown skin and raspy voice.  Patti 

 
Tatyana Ali as Ashley from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air

With her sepia skin, lush dark locks and the pipes to tackle Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” Tatyana was the girl we all wanted to be!   tatyana-ali-getty-2 

 
Reagan Gomez Preston as Zaria from the Parenthood
Zaria had the silkiest press in the nineties! Reagan-Gomez-Preston1

Meagan Good as Nina from Cousin Skeeter  

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Although a supporting character, this was the beginning go several roles Good would launch in the early and mid 2000s 

 
Andrea Lewis as Hazel on Degrassi 

 
Lewis brought my shade to the forefront of my favorite series!  hazel2

Sarah Barrable Tishauer as Liberty from Degrassi  boring-liberty
As the cliche overachiever, I admired Liberty’s ambition, curly locks and assertive confidence!

Gabrielle Union as Keesha Hamilton from 7th Heaven 

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I was only eight years old when I watched the first episode of 7th Heaven. Seeing a young Gabrielle Union on my favorite show contributed to my confidence as a budding black woman. 

 
Susie from The Rugrats

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Donning a hair style close to the hearts of many black women all the way down to the berets at the end -Susie literally mirrored black female childhood.  As a natural leader, Susie depicts black girls as beginning their reign as queens in their sandbox days. 

 Collaboratively these images capture the beauty, resilience, and intelligence of black womanhood. As an adult I can conceptualize just how meaningful these images were in crafting my confidence as a black woman. Cheers to these actresses for showcasing the many sides of black femininity.

Happy Women’s History Month!

Black Actress: A Positive Reflection of the Twenty-Something Black Woman

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Web series Black Actress emerges as the answers to the twenty something’s silent request for representation. Executive Produced by esteemed black actresses Essence Atkins (Smart Guy, Are We There Yet?) and Tatyana Ali (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air), Black Actress addresses Hollywood’s overt yet unstated issue with color.

As the creator and star of the show, Degrassi Alum Andrea Lewis captures the complexities of being black, female and aiming for the stars on Hollywood Walk of Fame and beyond.

Meet the Cast

Black Actress follows protagonist Kori Bailey’s journey through her acting career, friendships and romance. Each episode begins with a short but profound testimony from familiar faces such as (but not limited to) Tatyani Ali (Ashley from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air), Garcelle Beauvais (Fancy from The Jaime Foxx Show), Naturi Naughton (Notorious), and Jenifer Lewis (Think Like a Man). Offering testimony to the trials and triumphs of being black and female in Hollywood, these actresses shine light into Kori’s journey of self discovery. blackactressta

Set in New York City Black Actress captures the intimate ambiance of the big city and after a single episode the characters become people you care about. From the best friend who’s s comic and a confidant (Izzy, Allison Edwards-Crewe), to the boy you like but can’t let in (Romeo Stein played by Rob Vincent), to the comedic friend who shares your ambitions (Alica played by Suzannah Gugsa) Black Actress discards old tropes and creates a new images that reflects young black reality as opposed to westernized black fantasy.    p.txt

Andrea Lewis as Kori Bailey: With a crown full of curls, a gentle spirit and worldly ambition- Kori is the leading lady of Black Actress. Unlike the portrayals that come before her, Kori is not a heroine for the masses. Rather, Kori represents the cause and cure for her problems and with good company beside her, she shows that while the road to success is lonely, she is never alone.

Izzy: Kori’s best friend and confident, Izzy is as outgoing as she is wise. Izzy is there in Kori’s hour of need with an open heart and sound advice. In season 1 episode 4, Izzy proves wise beyond her years addressing Kori’s issues with the line “You make up your mind about how things are supposed to be and when it isn’t you lose all hope.” These words transcend the series and speak to any and every black woman who has inaudibly questioned her own worth.

Izzy also resoundingly asserts Kori as “complacent with the struggle.” For a black actress the seduction of struggle lures in every slammed door, and those that never opened to begin with. In the same breath, this seduction mirrors the plight of the black woman. To often our daily perils seem to roll off our shoulders only to eventually become how we feel about ourselves.

Alicia: Also an aspiring actress, Alicia identifies with Kori’s journey in landing that dream role. With her doe eyes and good intentions,Alicia represents the beauty in the socially awkward friend who adds to your character.

Romeo Stein: From rolling stone to a potential Mr. Right, Romeo Stein is Kori’s love interest. with his slim physique, chiseled features and baritromeosteinone voice, Romeo is surely eye candy, but his status as a math tutor adds depth to his good looks. Like Kori, Romeo is an aspiring actor and his presence adds a sweetness to her journey.

I personally find it very sweet that the series features black love as its romantic center. I commend the courage in Black Actress in showing black love as blossoming beyond the walls of doubt. There is something revolutionary about seeing butterflies between the kings and queens of the black diaspora.

Manicurist, Jean: Jean represents the confidant often found in those who render our routine services. Jean also represents those in our life who are solely able to see things simply. It is this simplicity that leads Jean to deter Kori from her dreams, a reality that all face in the pursuit of success. However, Jean and those like her embody the obstacles we see and hear when we take our eyes off our goals.

A New Trope is Born

What I find most beneficial about protagonist Kori is that she fails to fit into any of the stereotypes that have come to define black femininity. While there are many stereotypes that attached themselves to black women over the years, hyper sexuality, in addition to portrayals of black women as neck and eye rolling are perhaps the most unwavering.  blackactressal

Even protagonists that stray away from this cliche attitude, are depicted as sexually careless. Kori brings a refreshing new edge to this portrayal. While there are no implications that the protagonist is a virgin, her sexual integrity is maintained throughout the series. Bailey also deters from the “weave” that has come to be expected of black women. With a beautiful crown of curls and a pleasant disposition, Kori issues a portrayal of a black female who is not only natural and classy but likable and nice.

To be Black and Beautiful

It is also worth mentioning that the show features actresses from throughout the black female color spectrum. It is especially empowering that the three leads are variants of brown. While the beige and butternut women are certainly present, they align the background. With that said, I also like that the black starlets all exude different variants of natural hair. All actresses don an assortment of styles from silk presses and braids, to a casual blowout. This depiction not only makes the characters approachable in their aesthetics, but demonstrates that there are many ways of beauty within blackness.

A Victory for All

Although it was rather hard to watch, Black Actress‘ portrayal of the internal conflict between black women in the strive for success, the portrayal was a painful yet accurate.

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Season 1 Episode 3, guest starring Reagan Gomez Preston (Zaria from The Parenthood), and Franchesca Ramsey (Sh*t white girls say to black girls) as Daniela, features Bailey pursuing yet another audition but with a familiar face on the panel. Prior to the audition, actress turned casting director Daniela makes a point to converse with Kori when they casually cross paths. Flash forward to the day of the audition, Kori wows despite being issued a deterring suggestion from Daniela. After completing the audition, Kori’s performance earns three nods from the panel but a solid and smug “no” from Daniela. Daniela insultingly refers to Kori’s performance as “community center” level and Kori is eliminated  a candidate for the role.

While this is certainly not always the case, black women are largely conditioned by society to believe that there is a sole spot for success. This belief causes many black women to sabotage one another to increase personal opportunity. This episode issues the necessary visibility as an initial step in the healing process. For in a world where the support of other factions is uncertain, we as black women need to support one another.

Black Actress features insight from black actress Aisha Hinds who brilliantly remarks: “ If one of us makes it, we all make it.” While it is often hard to accept personal loss, one black female foot across the finish line, is a victory for all.

An Inspiration for All

In so many ways, being a black actress is synonymous with being any variant of a black female professional. So while I am not a black actress, I am a black woman, an aspiring academic and a black female writer. My attributes of self  align me with most, if not all the dynamics presented on the series. From tension with other black women in the field, to grudgingly donning the stench of my insecurities under my perfume, Kori Bailey is very much myself and many other twenty- something black girls on a challenging yet beautiful journey to womanhood.

Despite whether viewers of Black Actress are in fact pursuing a career in Hollywood, in a way we are all awaiting our big break. In featuring Miss Lewis and her project on Whispers of Womanism, I hope to inspire others to consider their journeys as a black women and artists.  Inspired by her experiences, Lewis manifested her own destiny, thus she created her own “big break.” Rather than compartmentalizing them as hobbies, Lewis incorporates her love for acting, writing and singing into Black Actress.

May her courage inspire our generation to see beyond settling into the endless feat of creating.

Please help fund Black Actress by donating to the Kickstarter Campaign. Your donation will go to funding the remainder of Black Actress Season 2, in addition to future JungleWild Productions.

Thank you in advance for your contribution to positive portrayals of black women in media/popular culture!

I am NOT Mary Jane

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In recent conversation with a coworker, I faced an unsettling reality of black female influence on the silver screen. Due to our inability to talk about much else, our conversation lingered to the recent episode of Being Mary Jane. Specifically, we discussed Mary Jane’s intentional attempt to become impregnated by an ex boyfriend who currently has a pregnant girlfriend.

Yes, you heard me correctly…

WE do that

This act, performed by one of the most celebrated and admired black protagonists of contemporary culture, festered disappointment in Mary Jane the character and Being Mary Jane the series. However, this conversation with my coworker, who incidentally is also in her thirties like protagonist Mary Jane, revealed art to parallel the black experience in the eyes of many. While we were both perturbed by Mary Jane’s action, my coworker issued the response: “we do that,” which was just as unsettling as Mary Jane’s actions:

This response is troubling as it issues the instant acceptance of Mary Jane’s actions as reflective of truth. Perhaps even more unsettling is the knowledge that my coworker’s comment mirrors the perspective of many Being Mary Jane viewers. My query following this conversation, and this particular episode is as follows: how does this advance the portrayal of black femininity beyond stereotypes?

The answer is that it doesn’t.

Nothing about Mary Jane’s intentional act to become pregnant with a man already expecting a child, advances the image of black women in the face of stereotypes that have come to define her. While this dynamic does not advance the image of the black women, it does paint the black woman as competitive with the white women who breed with black men** Mary Jane’s request for a baby from a soon to be new father, paints an unsettling desperation in the black woman who desperately seeks the black familial unit. Although I acknowledge the struggle professional black women face in the pursuit of a worthy mate, this depiction paints the successful woman as obsessed with drama as their less educated and less prestigious counterparts that have made a home on reality television. The inability of the series to separate the successful and educated black woman from such pettiness, suggests that the black female’s addiction to drama is ingrained and irreversible despite her education, prestige or success.

** Mary Jane’s ex, refused her advances because he impreganted his (white) girlfriend.

The Telling of Two Suitors

Interestingly,  Mary Jane’s pursuit for her ex lover’s baby, comes after the series reveals that Mary Jane has two, very qualified suitors. One suitor is Shelton (Gary Dourdan), an esteemed lawyer who matches Mary Jane’s education and success. He expresses an interest in her, and despite having no other visible options is sidelined for her pursuit of ex lover David. Mary Jane is also seen having casual sex with a man who is reduced to the saved phone entry of “ Cutty Buddy.” When the mystery man offers to spoon with Mary Jane, she declines and leaves abruptly after their horizontal engagements. Tdavidbmjhis depiction cheapens Mary Jane’s depiction as “looking” for love, as she settles for casual sex while refusing offers for “something more.”  Gary-Dourdan-pf1

While the previous characters and scenarios adds to the anticipated drama of the weekly series, ratings are sought at the expense of black female integrity. Mary Jane has willing suitors that all have multiple attributes to offer her, yet she continually reaches to her ex lover who is both physically and emotionally unavailable. While some may attribute Mary Jane’s actions to reflect love, they more so represent a black women who is addicted to drama. Mary Jane’s disinterest in her available suitors reflect the reality that they can’t offer her the drama promised in the pursuit of her ex lover.

The Negro Woman has No Hair

Mary Jane’s behavior works correlates to the dynamics of her aesthetics as presented on the show. In the episode Drink, Pray, Let Go, Being Mary Jane followed in the footsteps of Abc’s How To Get Away With Murder. Drink,  Pray, Let Go features Mary Jane’s real hair. While HTGAWM features Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) having her natural hair combed by her mother (Cisely Tyson), Being Mary Jane features Mary Jane as having her weave sewn in by her niece.

Now, I will acknowledge that the fake hair epidemic has dramatically infected the black female community. I will also acknowledge that the black female contribution to the million dollar industry of hair is a direct result of western encouragement for black women to hate the hair they were born with. The portrayals on both series do little to dispel the contemporary assumption that black women are without hair and dependent on purchased white hair to appear beautiful.

So, while many may say “we do that” to the image of Mary Jane having her hair sewn in for the world to see, I say it is another step backwards into the pit of harmful controlling images of black women.  maxresdefault

As she has her tracks sewn in, Mary Jane confesses that it is out of fear that she called on her estranged niece to do her hair. Mary Jane’s fear stems from potentially appearing “au natural” and potentially compartmentalized  as “average” in contrast to the glamorous, intelligent woman they have come to expect.

While the silent struggle of black women to find their beauty in a white world is true, this reality should not be implemented in a scene about weave. Due to the writer’s decision to present this battle as they did, what will stand out in the scene is that Mary Jane’s hair isn’t real, and that she had her hair sewn up, like a hole in a blouse. Thus, the purpose of the scene is sidelined in the stereotypical performance of a black woman having to “put on” her beauty.

This was the identical issue that I had with Viola Davis removing her wig. Yes, it demonstrates the complexities of assimilation thrust into the black woman, but moreso it simplifies her battle in performing how she is believed to behave under such pressures.

There is no “I” in “We do that”

But I will be honest and say that my main resentment in these portrayals is that despite being fiction, Being Mary Jane is believed to reflect the black female reality. Mary Jane, as a character on a black network played by a black actress is seen to be the contemporary black women.   being-mary-jane

But, I can honestly and confidently say that I am not Mary Jane, and neither are countless other black women scattered across the black diaspora. This portrayal of black femininity is potentially seen as more valid as it appoints veteran actress Gabrielle Union to the role, and finds it home on a black network. In addition to these facts, Mary Jane is also seen as the product of writer, producer and fellow black woman, Mara Brock Akil.

However, Mary Jane is not Akil’s creation, she is a manifestation of the black female construct crafted of western influence. Mary Jane mimics the black women of reality television, images crafted to force black women subliminally seducing into mental enslavement.

If we are mentally enslaved we can continue to be controlled, and the western world can continue to stand on our backs and use them as their pedestals. Howard University professor Dr. Greg Carr once said “ nothing has been done for the black community that hasn’t benefited western society.” This statement ran through my head for years after he said it, and it bears so much truth in the recent influx of black female faces on television.

While the influx of black female faces sparked initial celebration in the black community, these images have only been used to imbed our complexities, not solve them. In three short years we went from the promise of Olivia Pope, to the sapphire- esque Cookie of Empire. Three years created a mirage of black faces carefully picked to remind black viewers of themselves, Appearing to paint black portrayal as linear, each black face that appears on the silver screen is carefully selected to remind the targeted black viewer of themselves. However these our move from Olivia Pope’s natural wet hair in the shower to Keating’s wig removal to Mary Jane’s sewing session, reveal the state of black female portrayal as circular and consistent in returning to the stereotypes that have followed us for centuries.

How Amma Asante’s Belle Romances Race Relations of the 17th Century

Cinderella of the 17th Century

Belle emerges as a colored girl’s Cinderella, with enough swoon-worthy moments to deter from the harsh reality that surrounds the romance.

Romance consumes the film, beginning with the relationship between Dido’s parents. The movie features a confession from Sir Lindsay himself where he admits to loving Dido’s mother. However, their initial meeting on a West Indies slave ship is hardly comparable to lusty gazes in a bar.

Dido’s mother was Lindsay’s concubine aboard belledanvier the slave ship in which he worked. So, while love may (or may not) have developed between the two, the initial contact was most likely not consensual.

The romancing of rape veils the  alleviation of black women as victims of sexual assault. The love component implies that black women and white male interactions are always the product of love, insulting the lust and optional consent that accompanied most encounters.

An Imitation of Life?

Upon first arriving in the mansion, Dido notices a young black servant at the knees of his master. At first I attributed Dido’s interest in the painting as reflective of her seeing herself in the child. I now see that Dido’s interest was more an observation of her placement in society.

With that said, the viewers of the film are also romanced in the portrayal of Dido’s now famous portrait. The film depicts the portrait with Dido seated alongside herLady Elizabeth Murray and Dido Belle, once attributed to Zoffany sister- cousin Elizabeth. The revelation of this portrait emerges after Dido’s initial reservation. Dido’s reservation stemmed from her fear of being painted in a subjugated position next to her sister- cousin.

The actual photograph was actually vastly different from its reenactment in the film. The film romances the degradation of the originalbelleelizabeth portrait in the juxtaposition of t the two women. The actual portrait depicts the two women  positioned to represent their position in society.  Elizabeth is painted so that she is completely facing forward. We see her entire dress, and she is gently holding a book. Dido is placed behind her, and although her face is positioned forward, her body isn’t. Her posture isn’t straight, as she appears to be running and she is carrying  flowers.

Dido’s feature in the portrait seems almost accidental, paralleling a contemporary version of a “photo bomb” when the image of another is intentionally captured in the portrait of someone else.

The picture is praised for its juxtaposition of a black and white woman the seventeenth century. However, the showcase of Dido’s beauty does not negate her subjugated positioning. In fact, Dido was initially believed to be the maid of Elizabeth until a study in the 1980s proved otherwise. Thus, the films portrayal of the famous portrait romances a reality of racist perceptions that didn’t falter in the initial portrait.

The Armor of a White Savior

Viewers are alsGugu Mbatha-Raw in Belleo romanced by John Danvier, cast as this film’s Prince Charming. John Danvier emerges as a well- spoken knight in shining armor that saves Belle from the oblivion of her culture. As Prince Charming, Danvier, a modest clergyman, performs in the pattern of white outcasts who lend a helping hand to their colored counterparts. His presence is unsettling as it implies that belle3a woman needs a man in order to love herself and perhaps more problematically, a black woman needs a white man to embrace her blackness. His lines are perfectly delivered with passion and precision, yet his presence is self- serving in the belief of white presence as necessary in black identity,

The overt and silent racists

The white male lust for the black female body is portrayed in Elizabeth’s once suitor James Ashford, who incidentally is this film’s villain. James is overt in his disgust with Dido and her blackness. This disgust we learn masks his desire. In an attempt to reverse his younger brother’s attraction to Dido, he informs Oliver that “one does not make a wife of the rare and exotic. One samples it on the coast of the indies and decorates his home with an English rose.” With this quote James encourages his younger brother  to scratch the itch of lust through rape, but to choose a porcelain doll as a wife. James manifests these words after sexually assaulting Dido at the garden party. James is in disbelief that Dido had never been manhandled, sugoliverbellegesting that sexual violation is an attribute of black femininity. James’ vulgar engagement with Dido works as an attempt to cast the burden of white male lust onto the black female body. James’ words and behavior also bear an unsettling parallel to the relations between Dido’s parents.

Interestingly, James words work to denigrate blackness and femininity, but are condescending to all women. Thus, all his actions from love, to violence and violation are a reflection of his white male privilege. The portrayal of James is painfully accurate as he captures the essence of white male supremacy. However, the movie romances as this ideology is presented as a minority and not a majority mindset.

Despite, James’ representation of those who cure sexual curiosity through rape, his brother Olivier is not the lesser of two evils. Although once suitor a suitor for Dido’s hand, Oliver is a silent racist. Silent racists seem post- racial, but resent blackness as intensely as their more obvious counterparts. Silent racists are commonly attracted to blacks, and often engage in platonic and romantic relationships where their forgiveness is often mistaken for friendliness.

Oliver’s prejudice surfaces in his encouragement of Belle to forget her black ancestry. In speaking of Dido’s mother he states: “Why should anyone even speak of her when your better half has afforded you such privilege.” This statement embodies the denigration of common post-racial phrase “ I do not see color.” While this sounds progressive, not seeing color acts as erasure to those of African descent. Thus, Oliver’s not seeing color when he looks at Belle, paints her in porcelain, stripping her of her African heritage.

Noteworthy Moments…

Between Black Women: The Bonds of Sisterhood

Perhaps the most resounding moment of the film was Dido’s hair tutorial from Mable, a black female servant. After noticing her struggle, Mable informs Belle that her curls are best tackled if she begins to detangle them from the bottom. She then remarks that her hair knowledge came from her mother. Mable’s ability to help a sister in need implies that the bonds of sisterhood between black women are instrumental in compensating for maternal loss.

Parallels with Plight of the Africans in America

Despite being central to the story, Dido’s mother Belle is noticeably absent from the film.  Omitted entirely from the film, Belle’s legacy lives on  in the hue she has left her daughter. Belle’s absence produces the overarching theme of estranged maternity, which resonated with me as a woman of the black diaspora.

Severed familial bonds is an often under discussed side effect of colonialism. Of these severed relations, the maternal bond is perhaps the most damaged. Belle brilliantly depicts this dynamic through the mixed race protagonist’s separation from her mother by death, and reunion with her white father in her mother’s permanent absence. Despite the movie’s portrayal of this dynamic as Dido’s personal experience, Dido’s relationship reflects the African in America’s conflict with their origins.

Stolen from the womb of Africa, the African-American is born into an estranged relationship with their maternal continent. In this estranged relationship, the African in America is coerced into the arms of a western world, who acts as a father to the child of a raped mother.

Belle depicts the eventual severing of both familial ties, as the protagonist eventually looses her father as well. Belle’s loss and disconnect with her parents demonstrates the foot an African-American has in both Africa and America- but the failure to truly find themselves in either.

A Bad Romance

Romance, of course soothes this conflict of identity, but while the strive to lessen the blow is understandable, it is also undermining. So although romance is an ideal way  to engage the audience in history, is the comfort of romance worth the compromise of truth? 

For it isn’t Dido that is being swept off her feet, it’s the viewers. Viewers are seduced by romance that distorts the facts of yet another testament to the conflict of being black and female.

This transformation of a tragic mulatto story to a timeless romance, adds to the collective amnesia needed to further the distance of those within the African diaspora from their roots.