Comedian, Leslie Jones was put on the cover of Elle magazine for the June edition. In the magazine, Jones speaks about being involved in a Ghost Busters reboot that is coming to theaters on July 15th. However, I saw some of my BWE(Black Woman Empowerment) Facebook friends were putting down Leslie Jones’ Elle cover and saying that she is ruining Black women’s image. Disgusted, I shook my head as I read through these comments. Little do these women realize, they are limiting representation for Black women and Black womanhood by pinholing which type of Black woman deserves to represent Black womanhood. Hence the mindset of women like this and everything else that undermines Black women’s representation will be discussed.
Black Woman Empowerment blogs such as Muslim Bushido, Black Female Interracial Marriage, and How to Date A White Guy etc has some very good information that Black women can use to navigate through life. Often times, Black women’s image is tied to the type of life that many of them choose to lead. Their stance on the representation of Black womanhood is somehow guided in the belief that one must look beautiful to attract the guise of White men. While I do believe that there should be more representation of Black women’s beauty, I believe that all segments of Black womenhood should be represented and have a voice. Not only the educated, slim, dark skin, gorgeous, interracially married Black women. Also the single Black mothers, queer Black women, nerdy and quirky Black girls(such as myself), Black women, who are into Rock music etc. Black women aren’t a monolith. Black women are individuals too. The same way that the media portrays Black women in limited stereotypes such as Jezebels, Mammies and sapphires is the same way that many BWE spaces want only beautiful, thin, educated and interracially married Black women to represent Black woman.
Progress is being made when it comes to Black women’s representation in the media. DeShauna Barber was crowned Miss America 2016 a week or so ago. Serena Williams is the highest paid women’s tennis player in the world. Gabrielle Union stars in the drama series, Being Mary Jane. Kerry Washington portrays Olivia Pope on the drama series, Scandal. Viola Davis stars in the drama series, How To Get Away With Murder. Dark skin, Kenyan beauty Lupita N’Yongo is one of the biggest stars in Hollywood today. Despite these groundbreaking successes, Black women still lack the same representation and accolades given to their White counterparts. Black women only represent 11% of Hollywood and media consumption. Often times, a Black female character is portrayed on television as the sassy, sidekick, overweight, asexual Mammy, Sapphires, welfare queens, overweight, angry, bitter, always single, oversexed Jezebels or masculine she males. It isn’t common to see a Black woman portrayed in a positive light or seen as three dimensional characters on a television show or movie. The importance of the success of Black actresses such as Lupita N’Yongo, Kerry Washington, Gabrielle Union and Viola Davis does broaden more options for Black actress in the future to succeed in Hollywood. Nonetheless Black women’s image, in the media, is still heavily restricted and constricted by the racist and sexist casting couches and film directors, who refuse to hire a Black actress unless she agrees to act out a stereotypical role on film or television show.
Black actresses of the present:
If Black women’s image isn’t already saturated with outdated stereotypes, then she is portrayed by a biracial or racially ambiguous actress. Hollywood directors are much more comfortable with casting light skin Black women and biracial women as Black women on television shows and movies due to having lighter skin and more Eurocentric looks. Often times, these women are given more desirable roles and portrayed as more beautiful, educated and successful than their darker skin counterparts. Many Black media outlets and directors such as Tyler Perry also promote light skin and biracial women as the epitome of Black beauty and sophistication while Tyler Perry dresses up as ”Madea” to mock Black women’s image. This is why all of the young, popular ”Black” actresses under thirty are biracial women like Zendaya Coleman and Amandla Stenberg. Black actresses under thirty such as China Anne McClain and Keke Palmer doesn’t get the same accolades that Amandla Stenberg and Zendaya Coleman get. Fortunately, more Black women are waking up and taking back collective control of their image. Many Black people particularly Black women protested the fact that Zendaya Coleman was set to portray late R&B singer, Aaliyah in an Aaliyah biopic movie in 2014. Many Black women were against having a biracial actress portray a Black female R&B singer because they felt that it was erasing Aaliyah’s Black womanhood. Zendaya backed out of the role but another biracial actress did eventually portray Aaliyah in the biopic. There isn’t anything wrong with having biracial women receive acting roles and props nor do I have anything against Zendaya and Amandla but it is time that more Black women stand up against their erasure in the media.
Biracial actresss, Zendaya Coleman on the left and late, R&B singer, Aaliyah on the right. Aaliyah died in a plane crash in 2001 at the age of 22.
There was also much controversy over Puerto-Rican/Dominican actress, Zoe Saldana portraying late soul singer, Nina Simone in a Nina Simone biopic. Zoe Saldana is of Puerto Rican and Dominican heritage but racially she is of African descent. However, Zoe Saldana is significantly much lighter and more European looking than Nina Simone was in her lifetime. Having Zoe Saldana portray Nina Simone erases Nina Simone’s essence as dark skin Black American woman. And Zoe Saldana darkening her skin and using a prosthetic nose to closely resemble Nina Simone didn’t help things either. I likened Zoe Saldana using paint to darken her skin and using a prosthetic nose for the Nina Simone movie to the days of White vaudeville performers wearing blackface to mock Black people onstage. Zoe Saldana portraying Nina Simone was a definite erasure of Nina Simone and a blow to Black women’s collective image.
Late soul singer, Nina Simone on the left and actress, Zoe Saldana on the right.
Although progress is being made in Black women’s representation in the media, we have a long way to go before Black women are fully represented as autonomous beings that they are. From Hollywood directors to Black male directors and even some Black women in and out of BWE spaces, many of them help to limit and ensue Black women’s image. Hence I believe it is important to bring this issue to light to show that the importance of representation in the media.
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