new hollywood, new stories?


So Mo'Nique won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Precious, in which she played the mother of obese, illiterate, HIV-positive incest survivor Claireece Precious Jones. I blogged about this last year when the film -- then called Push, taken from the novel that it's based upon, by author Sapphire -- picked up a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.

I was pleased then, and now, to see a sister move up the literary ladder. Sapphire attended a writers' workshop in Brooklyn that I used to frequent and, as a writer, she's the absolute truth. A woman of integrity, vision and voice, who wrote these characters out of her own lived reality as a literacy teacher in Harlem. She -- along with director Lee Daniels, and producers Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey -- has taken much flack since the movie came out, mostly about its representations of inner-city black life.

Harking back to Moynihan report-era pathologies of single-female-parent black households, Mo'Nique embodied all the stereotypes of abuse and self hatred that many in the mainstream media have come to take for granted in the African-American community. It spurred an op-ed in Newsweek about how Hollywood's only interested in seeing the same kinds of stories about black people told over and over again.

I don't really find that idea to be new or particularly interesting. Hollywood has always been and will always be interested in perpetuating itself--white, male, eurocentric--conjuring a manufactured reality of white-male-eurocentricness in which black, female, non-Westernness is marginalized, exotic, maybe doesn't even exist at all. I wonder why people keep offering this commentary as though it will ever become any more or less true with time.

Hollywood is a lumbering machine that is no more relevant or responsive to the life and times in which we live than the governments that purport to represent us. But it's a machine that will never die, although it may, one day perhaps, be rendered obsolete by alternative media and images.

I think that if Precious were never made and Mo'Nique didn't win, Hollywood would be no different. In fact, none of us would even be having this conversation right now. So perhaps having this image of black life on the screen, for better or worse, is really better than not having it at all, and we can concede that it is but one pebble in a pool of images that is gradually rippling its way through the mainstream.

As for these stories arguing that such-and-such movie could potentially change the nature of black representation in Hollywood, I say no. We will always need more others--read: black, female, non-Western--at the bargaining table to do this. And the people brave enough to step up should be given some measure of credit, even if the aftereffects may prove more "damaging" than "uplifting" to our sense of collective self. Artists must be bold enough to speak their vision even in the face of unpopularity. Keep in mind that the screenwriters for District 9, in all its ethnic self- and other-hatred, were up for an Oscar same as Precious screenwriter Geoffrey Wright (he won).

Unfortunately, only a few deep pockets need approve of the images mass-produced for the mainstream. They are one-tenth of one percent and not worth arguing about while we should all be more focused on coming up with our own alternatives.

You Might Also Like


Popular Posts


+1 347 857 9224