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 ❤

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Issa Rae’s Insecure and the Black Female Narrative

In recent years, the western world has seen an abundance of black faces on television. From Kerry Washington as Scandal’s Olivia Pope to Loni Love as co-host of daytime talk show The Real, the black female body appears prominent where she was once obscure. Featuring blacks as professionals appears a necessary shift away from caricatured imaging that plagued past representations like Mammy in Gone with The Wind and Sapphire from Amos n’ Andy. However, the influx of visible black female bodies appeases rather than challenges white supremacy, employing visibility as a means to symbolize a change that has yet to occur.

Writer and actress Issa Rae rose to fame a few years back with her Youtube series Awkward Black Girl. The series accrued significant popularity landing Ms. Rae an HBO series entitled Insecure that mirrors the tone and premise of her Youtube series. Insecure centers on Issa, a young black woman who at twenty-nine is educated, employed and in a relationship. The series depicts Issa as loved by all whom compose her life, yet ironically the series’ protagonist is overtly out of love with herself. This lack of love Issa conveys for herself affects the tone of the show and ultimately how the character comes across to viewers . To put it bluntly, Issa and the entirety of the black female cast is vastly unlikeable. Interestingly enough, the series depicts redeeming black male characters—all in which endure rejection from black women due to their strive to exist outside the systems of white supremacy.

Issa’s boyfriend Laurence (Jay Ellis) for example, is a gifted techie whose ability does not manifest into conventional success. The series does a good job depicting the toll Laurence’s adversity takes on him, showing a pre-employed Laurence as sweet but slightly unpolished and sometimes idle. The series also depicts Laurence as a college educated black man who loves Issa and eventually pursues conventionality for the sake of their relationship. In fact, Laurence takes a job at a company drastically lagging in the advancements present in his own initiatives to sustain Issa’s happiness. Issa not only proves unsupportive of Laurence’s ideas but visibly annoyed at any of his non-lucrative attempts to showcase his skills.  This dynamic illustrates the contemporary black female as an assimilatory figure.

Similarly, Issa’s best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji)  also illustrates the black female body as striving to adhere to western convention. Namely, Molly depicts the black female as emotionally desperate, despite consummating conventional success. Molly illustrates an image consistent with predecessors Olivia Pope, Annalise Keating and Mary Jane Paul, all whom exceed societal expectations yet prove incompatible to romance. Viewers watch Molly interact with a number of men, all of whom  are drawn to her sexually. Molly continually rejects Jared— the sole male character to express an actual interest in her. Like Laurence, Jared does not have conventional success, but unlike Laurence  Jared did not attend school. Jared also makes a confession that speaks to a sexual fluidity that ultimately disqualifies him as a prospect for Molly’s affection. This issue I have with this depiction is that it displays the black woman as incongruent to honesty. Generally, everyone in relationships desires at least some form of honesty. In this case, Molly receives honesty from a prospective love interest yet is seemingly unable to coexist with the truth as rendered. This depiction validates dishonesty, illustrating the black female psyche as too ingrained in western standards to engage functionally with black men because she holds him accountable to western standards. Moreover,  as an assimilationist, the black woman is more of an ally to whites than to her own people.

Issa and Molly collaboratively depict the black woman as implementing assimilatory action to ease the insecurity inured in a white supremacist society– an act that ironically proves counterproductive. It is white supremacy that foments a strive towards conventional success. It is white supremacy that nurtures an inaquedacy in those without higher education, six figure salaries and five bedroom mansions.This being said, I will admit that oddly Insecure helped me to observe the assimilatory tools placed on my own path.  I too have been nurtured into insecurity, silently encouraged to chase conventional success and deemed unsuccessful in any failure to adhere to these standards. This show however, is yet another means to nurture said insecurity. Namely, Issa Rae’s decision to create a series that caricatures back female bodies to traditional stereotypes reflects a desire for fame and fortune at the expense of furthering the black female collective.

Insecure also does little to dissolve black female correspondence to hyper sexuality. Where popular series Scandal, Being Mary Jane and How to Get Away With Murder hyper sexuualize their protagonists by making them companions to married men, Insecure takes a vastly different route. Insecure hyper sexualizes protagonist Issa by casting her as the series’ philanderer. This act not only depicts her disloyalty to her boyfriend, but depicts Issa as undeserving of said loyalty. Alternatively, Molly is seen engaging in intercourse with numerous men— none of who initiate any kind of commitment first. The series pushes forth an ongoing joke in “Broken P@SSy”– a diagnosis given to Molly by Issa. It is Molly’s broken genitals that account for her constant heartache. This assertion not only renders a black woman’s genitals as a primal source of power, but suggests that without this functioning sexual organ she is virtually worthless.

Collaboratively, Issa and Molly resume the black female narrative depicted on Scandal, Being Mary Jane and How to Get Away with Murder, painting the contemporary black female body in the pernicious image of 1954’s Carmen– attractive but utterly self-destructive (Bogle). Contemporary portrayals of black femininity commonly validate the systemic disenfranchisement extended to black women, simultaneously suggesting this villainous sexuality is the catalyst of said disenfranchisement not white supremacy.

Shows like Insecure easily garner white approval and sponsorship because while they may contain the occasional “conscious” or “enlightened” moment intertwined with its witty dialogue, the series suggest that blacks create and administer their own misfortune. Furthermore, Insecure provides the means necessary to fester the wound of white supremacy.

Namely, Issa and Molly suggest that discontent and insecure black female bodies occur as a product of blackness– seducing its viewers into a social amnesia that erases the impact following centuries of oppression endured at the hands of whites. Believing that blacks caused their own demise also foments the belief that whites, not stolen land and labor, produced white wealth. Furthermore, social amnesia breeds the very insecurity referenced in the series’ title as insecurity  remains an inevitable destination for those convinced that the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery. Contemporary television employs the dynamics of slavery–namely, using the black body as a gateway to the black mind. Television functions similarly to the historic chains and whips that bruised and restrained the black body to ingrain inferiority into the very blood spilled in the process. Only, I’d argue that television is much more dangerous because at least with chains and whips one was fully aware of their limitations and physical assault.  The contemporary world employs television as a means to numb the black body to blows that manifest in the form of entertainment.

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.

Spotlight: An Interview with Actress Andrea Lewis, Founder of JungleWild Productions

home_andrea_lewisIn Honor of Women’s History Month, Whispers of Womanism is launching  a new category entitled “Black Business and Entrepreneurship” honoring black women in business!

To kick things off I interviewed Degrassi Alum and creator/writer of web series Black Actress, Andrea Lewis. In our convo she discusses inspiration, naming leading lady ‘Kori Bailey,’ and creating her own lane through her production company Jungle Wild Productions!

1. Describe “Black Actress” in three words.  andrea-lewis-black-actress-620x493

A: Truthful. Funny. Colorful.

• How did you come up with the idea?

A: I came up with the idea for Black Actress after an experience I had while filming a movie in Vancouver and my cast mate introduced me as “Andrea the urban one”. It was a very strange and awkward moment that let me realize he saw me the same way the script saw me and it was just as “the black girl”. From there I knew I had to create something that told the story of a woman of color pursuing the ups and downs of acting and chasing her dreams. Something that showed us just like everyone else.     img_8636

2. As a brown girl myself, I am very inspired by the beautiful brown leading ladies of

Black Actress ( Allison Edwards-Crewe, Suzannah Gugsa). It seems as if traditional and

even many contemporary portrayals feature blacks who are a hue that is easily racially

ambiguous or those who are very sun kissed. Was it your intention to feature the often

overlooked dynamic of “brown-ness” within blackness?   

A: Yes it was my intention to show the diversity of brown skin. I wanted to make sure that when I watched this show I was able to see every type of black girl with different complexions, heights, body types and hair types, because it all matters and we’re all so unique.

3. In a way, your web series epitomizes many of the attributes of black series that we have come to love, one being featuring your own music on the series. How important was it for your viewers to see you as a writer ,/creator actress and singer? 

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A: It was very important for me, that I expressed all of my talents in this show. That’s why I created it, because I have so many ideas and goals for myself and I wasn’t going to be boxed into just one thing. I can sing, act, write, produce and create so that’s what I’m going to do!

“I can’t leave you alone” cooes in the background of Episode 2 of “Black Actress.” It

has also become one of the most requested songs by viewers! What do you think it is

about this song that made it perfect for the series? What about this song do you think

is so captivating for listeners?                music_andrea_lewis

A: I think it’s simply a good song lol. I didn’t make it for Black Actress, I made it for my album but it just happened to fit in the scene perfectly and I was really glad that viewers responded to it so well.

4. One of the features that attracts me to “Black Actress” is that its protagonist doesn’t fit

into any of the traditional stereotypes of black women. How important was it for you to

demonstrate the diversity in black femininity through Kori?

A: This was very important to me. Being a black girl is important but it’s not all that she is and that’s why it was so important for me to focus on Black women and show how diverse and universal we are. We have dreams, insecurities, best friends, boyfriends, passions etc just like everyone else. So when you see me, definitely celebrate my blackness because it’s beautiful but don’t make it my limit.

• Also, Kori Bailey and I have something in common (laughs). We have the same last

name! How did you come up with ‘Kori Bailey?’

A: The name came to me in a dream lol.    bastill

5. In the abundance of black female leading ladies, there remains an absence in the

twenty something void. What do you think is unique about the journey of a black twenty-something?

A: I wish there was a black twenty something story on TV, hopefully Black Actress will fill that void. I think as a young woman in my twenties, I’m always looking for a character that is living a similar experience to me and my friends. Someone who represents the black millennial woman and the trials and tribulations that we deal with today. The projects that I’m creating focus on that voice.

6. Confidence is an asset to any and everyone, but why is self love and fearlessness especially valuable to the black woman/actress?   

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A: The entertainment industry is hard, there’s a lot of rejection and negativity so the only way you’ll make it through is by having a strong foundation and that all starts with self love. Self love will help you with anything because you’ll become fearless and confident in everything you do. I try my best to speak about Self Love as much as possible
because I believe in it and I know first hand how having a strong sense of who you are and love for who you are can help you greatly in this industry.  

7. Perhaps one of your most resounding episodes was Episode 2, Season 2 which

discusses the pressure of black actresses to “look the part.” To do so, one of Kori’s

colleagues dons a silky wig. I noticed that the actresses all don their natural hair in a

variety of styles. It is a very powerful choice for the lead black actress to don her natural

hair. Was this a conscious choice? What do you hope the impact of such a portrayal will

be?

A: As an actress I wear my hair natural because, it’s who I am and I struggled in my early twenties with Andrea-Lewis-7finding “the right look” for auditions. I was constantly in a battle with my hair, until I booked a job that liked me the way I came in. The producers chose to do a screen test where they looked at my hair straight and curly, up and down and chose what they felt suited the character best. After that experience, I finally felt okay with wearing my hair they way I feel comfortable because at the end of the day, my hair is versatile and I can do it anyway for the character. But like Aisha Hinds says in Episode 2, “it’s all about the work”, my hair is just hair and I’m gonna wear it the way I think it’s suits me best, which is natural. I thought it was important to talk about hair as a black actres because it’s a conversation that comes up a lot but at the end of the day you have to do what makes you comfortable and confident. You only get one shot in the audition room and worrying about having “the right hair” is the last thing to focus on. Wear a wig if you feel good, or go natural or make it straight, whatever will make you confident in you. Just as long as you’re not doing it to fit into a box of an unrealistic beauty standard.

8. It is also imperative to note that in addition to creating the series, you also write the

episodes. Many of my readers are also fellow writers. What is your writing process like?

What advice do you have for writers who are advocates for an under-served

demographic? al

A: There’s a popular saying, “write what you know” and I truly believe in this advice. Be inspired by your own life and the people around you and then go and tell the story that inspires you the most. As a person of color I am inspired by my friends and family and they happen to look like me so as a writer I have an obligation to write about women and people of color because our stories are not told enough and creating these stories fulfills me. My process for writing is constant, I have a million voice notes on my phone of ideas and I’m constantly people watching and listening to conversations for inspiration for dialogue. Observing real life, and also living my life helps me to write and makes my process much more enjoyable.      andrea-lewis-pic

9. In demonstrating the trials and triumphs of the black actress were you concerned

about how your message would be received?

A: No not all. I was very confident in the story and the relevance of black actresses and women so I knew that people would be intrigued. As well I’ve been pursuing entertainment my whole life and I know that the story I am telling is valid and accurate.

10. So far “Black Actress” featured cameos from fellow Canadian Melanie Fiona, Youtube sensation Francesca Ramsey, The Fabulous Shameless Maya and actor and

New York Native Tristan Wilde. Who is someone that you would like to feature on the

show?               mbj

A: There’s endless cameos I’d like to see happen on the show, to name a few: Zendaya Coleman, Keke Palmer, Michael B Jordan, J Cole, Lena Dunham and there’s a lot more people I can think of that would make a very fun addition to the cast.   KekePalmer

11. Romeo Stein is Kori’s suave and articulate love interest, played by Rob Vincent.

From his swag to his chiseled features, he emerges as a rolling stone turned Mr. Right.

Despite his pretty packaging, fans learn quickly that Romeo is more than a pretty face- he is also a math tutor. How important was it that the black male lead be as diverse in portrayal as the black women?    

cast_Rob_Vincent

A: It was very important for me to have a diverse and positive representation of people of color on screen whether it was the males or females. I applied the same care for “Kori” to all of the characters because they all matter and represent something for everyone. I love black men so I want to show them the way I see them and that is complex, strong, positive and intriguing.

12. “Black Actress” features the comical input of Kori’s agent who remarks: “ I am fifty

percent sure that your big break is right around the corner.” In so many ways we are all

waiting on our big break, but you made your own in starting your own production

company. Can you comment on the significance of literally forging your own path? What

does it mean to be your own big break?   AndreaLewis2-835x600-000000

A: I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit so I knew from a young age that I was going to create my own lane, it was just a matter of when. Creating my own lane was important for me to do because there’s no one like me and if I want the chance to show the world what I can do than I have to create the space that I want to live in.

13. In an effort to combat the diversity issue in Hollywood you created your own

production company. Tell us about Jungle Wild. How did you come up with the title and

how does this correlate with its mission?

A: One of the definitions of “Wild” is “unrestrained” and this is simply the way I live my life, I don’t want anything to hold me back, especially not myself. I came up with the name “Jungle Wild” because it makes me feel like that, like nothing can hold me back right now because I’m taking control of the Wild Nature of this business aka the jungle and making it my own, without any restraints.

14. What can we expect from Jungle Wild in the future?  photo-original

A: 2015 is a big year for Jungle Wild Productions, we have 3 news shows coming out and we are working on our first feature film. All of our content focuses on diversity and the story of millennials. I truly believe in the team of people that I’m working with and it’s a very exciting time for what we have in store.***


For more information on Andrea, Black Actress and Jungle Wild Productions check out missandrealewis.com

A huge Thank You to Miss Andrea Lewis for providing Whispers of Womanism our first interview!

How To Get Away With a Black Female Protagonist

Last night, ABC aired the much anticipated return of Scandal starring the lovely Kerry Washington, then debuted new series How to Get Away With Murder, starring the phenomenal Viola Davis. Despite the social media induced competition between the two protagonists, Pope and Keating are not mutually exclusive characters. Rather, both are exclusive mutually in the expansion of portrayal of the black female protagonist. While competition between the two leading protagonists is inappropriate, the comparison between the two series is inevitable, as both demonstrate identical structural components.

The Formula

I. Black Women in Law
Both shows feature black women as students of law turned law professionals who are the highly paid “clean up crew” for some high society’s crimes.

II. Lust versus Love (Love Triangle)
Believed to depict the love life dynamic of the strong and successful black woman, both shows feature steamy love triangles. However, this love versus lust depiction (and its implementation on VERY married pawns) maintains the traditional controlling image of black woman as victims to their sexuality.

III. The Sensation of the Swirl
It seems that black love or scenes between two black people without a white person present ( physically or through the bounds of marriage), is reserved for BET. The intertwining of black female protagonists with white men, implies that black intimacy is only sexy, or mainstream worthy when a white person is involved.

IV. Entourage
Both powerful women come with an entourage that supplements their skill and showcases their ability to delegate.

In contrast to the white wearing Olivia Pope, Annalise Keating wears dark colors, comparible to the suggested darkness of her deeds. Keating’s edge is perhaps hinted at through the glare that she wears throughout most of the show. While Pope and Keating both engage in extramarital affairs, Keating is married, whereas Pope has invaded another couple’s marriage. Where Olivia Pope is weak, Annalise Keating is strong, depicting Keating as only vulnerable when it comes to her job, specifically losing. Between Olivia Pope and Annalise Keating, black women have an ego and alter ego, a black and a white wearing heroine, who’s presence suggests that we can be our own binary opposites,with both sides consisting of a compelling degree of greatness.

Thus while there is certainly room for Pope and Keating, let us contemplate how society “gets away with”a black female protagonist. The presence of both protagonists appears revolutionary, yet the similarities between the character compositor of both black female protagonists appears rehearsed. Suggesting that to get away with a black female protagonist is proper execution of a perfected formula.

Pair a black woman with the law and a white man, and we have a hit show. Both women are lawyers, but are seen “bending” the law. They are both in love with white men, yet both relationships are laced with betrayal. Interestingly, both women are also the black faces for an otherwise white show. True Scandal has Guillermo Diaz(Huck), and Joe Morton(Rowan Pope) and How to Get Away With Murder has Alfred Enoch(Wes Gibbons) and Aja Naomi King (Michaela) but both shows still have a majority of white actors and actresses, despite being tied to a black screenwriter and marketed to a black audience.

To get away with a black female protagonists is to capitalize on the illusion, the illusion of leading a parade that we were merely invited to. Thus, getting away with a black female protagonist is to trick an audience (of predominately black women) into believing that it is in fact a black show. Whereas, in fact all the blacks kids are once again sitting together in the cafeteria, except we’re in our living rooms-apart yet together, in our defeat disguised as victory yet again.

The Angry and Ugly Black Women of Prime Time Television, according to Alessandra Stanley

Let me begin by saying, that I acknowledge and appreciate that black female presence in prime time television has spawned a well deserved discussion. I also appreciate that shows such as Scandal, Extant and upcoming series How to Get Away With Murder and Gotham, have such a diverse following. However, in her diverse appeal, it must not be forgotten who these black protagonists are. While Olivia Pope and Molly Woods are contemporary heroines in their own right, they are black heroines. Rising from the beautifully resilient, yet restricted bounds of the raced woman, the contemporary black actress brings value to the understatement of black femininity.

The ugly black woman or ….>classically beautiful

Upon reading Alessandra Stanley’s article Wrought in Rhimes’s Image: Viola Davis Plays Shonda Rhimes’s Latest Tough Heroine, my heart and mind was restless with the sounds of my ancestors turning in their unmarked graves. While an article of the Shonda Rhimes’ empire and evolution of the black female protagonists in popular and upcoming series in a source as well respected as the New York Times is an honor of its own, the act of writing this article is countered by the perspective of its author. It is impossible to separate the article from who wrote it, as Alessandra Stanley’s reflections are from outside the experience in which she casts criticism. Stanley’s article is vexed from its title, to its passive- aggressive tone, but perhaps most significantly through its discussion of the angry and ugly black woman. While Stanley does not out rightly use the word ugly, she does cast a judgmental gaze onto Davis’ beauty.

As Annalise, Ms. Davis, 49, is sexual and even sexy, in a slightly menacing way, but the actress doesn’t look at all like the typical star of a network drama. Ignoring the narrow beauty standards some African-American women are held to, Ms. Rhimes chose a performer who is older, darker-skinned and less classically beautiful than Ms. Washington, or for that matter Halle Berry, who played an astronaut on the summer mini-series “Extant.”

Alerted by the seemingly sarcastic placement of “even” in front of adjective sexy used to described Davis’ look, Stanley’s description stirs an unsettling feeling personally and politically. Although meant to reflect a mainstream reaction to Davis’ look, Stanley’s commentary reeks of a backhanded compliment that casts political shade on those who wouldn’t have passed the paper bag test. 

Stanley’s declaration of Davis as less beautiful than fellow black actresses Halle Berry and Kerry Washington, is reflective of the origin of such thought. Ideas of beauty within the black community, both traditional and contemporary, continue to be influenced by plantation standards. Anchored in hair and skin color, black women who mirrored the traits of their masters were regarded more highly than their sun kissed and coarser hair counterparts. Thus, Stanley’s comments retract the progressive placement of black female bodies on television, and place them back onto the plantation where they are ranked and judged by the same standard as their ancestors.

In defense of her wording, Stanley references Davis as stating these very same words. Contrary to Stanley, Davis’ commentary reflects a second sight, or double consciousness referenced by W E B Dubois, and Stanley’s commentary represents her first.

Interestingly, Stanley aligns her perspective with Davis in her response to criticism, a technique visibly absent throughout her article. As the antithesis of what it means to be white, black women emerge as the subjugated binary opposite to white women. As beneficiaries of our disenfranchisement, white women are identified as pawns in the oppression of blacks, despite being able to identify with gender prejudices. For it is the “ugliness” of black women that makes white women beautiful, thus Stanley’s assertion of Davis’ lack of appeal, indirectly asserts her own.

Stanley’s decision to comment on the differences between Davis and other black protagonists, rather than their similarities is also problematic. Berry, Washington, and Davis all represent a unique form of black beauty, but commonly emerge from a history that would have excluded all three of them for their black ancestry. Perhaps if Ms. Stanley shared the legacy of Berry, Davis, and Washington she would understand that we have faced enough division and not enough unity. For, it isn’t what divides us Ms. Stanley, it is what unites us.

Unity was what I see, when I think of Ms. Viola Davis. Through a single red carpet gesture, Viola Davis embodied what it means for a black woman to be in unison with herself. Viola Davis’ bold debut of a natural hairdo on the red carpet a few years back, was the first time I ever truly saw her, and perhaps the first time she had seen herself in years.  Previously compromised by her inauthentic hairdos, Davis’  radiance and beauty shone as brightly as the sun that kissed her skin at birth. The simplicity of unveiling what lie beneath the oppression of a wig, was beautiful, powerful and resonating. For colored women who have ever felt invisible, everyone who saw Davis that night, saw all of us as Davis’ courage epitomizes what it means to be both black and beautiful. Stanley indirectly dismisses the power in Davis’ presence, undoubtedly due to her inability to relate to overcoming invisibility, an issue faced by many, if not all black women in America.

The Angry Black Woman

 Ms. Rhimes has embraced the trite but persistent caricature of the Angry Black Woman, recast  it in her own image and made it enviable. She has almost single-handedly trampled a taboo even Michelle Obama couldn’t break.

According to Stanley, when black women are not “ugly” they are angry. It is obvious that Stanley uses “angry” as an attempt to reverse its  stereotypical alignment with black bodies. However, my question to Ms. Stanley is why not use a different word? The labeling of these women as angry and not passionate or assertive, as their white counterparts would surely be labeled, performs the initial problem. As a black woman, I don’t see Shonda Rhimes, Olivia Pope or First Lady Michelle Obama as angry. Stanley’s inability to see through the labeling of these black women, place her the wrong side of the discussion and of history.

Stanley’s inability to see the error in her ways, exposes the carelessness of white privilege, and the desperation of journalists to spark a buzz. Nevertheless, whether Stanley’s actions are of indifference or intention, they are inappropriate. Her criticisms come in what seems to be a pattern of white reviewers casting a critical gaze onto black art. This gaze appears to be an effort to encourage a white audience, at the expense of offending blacks.

In closing, black femininity is a concept and existence, that like the rivers in Africa, are constant yet connected. Black women hold hands across “anger,” color, hair and texture and body type as the bearers of an incomparable legacy. This legacy is a labyrinth to those who selectively see our struggles, and make humble statements of our triumphs. Thus, while the black female protagonist is groundbreaking, as long as blacks are analyzed and reviewed by those outside of our experience, much of the message will continue to be lost in translation.