So, I hope everyone knows by now that the images that wash over black girls and black women from childhood to old age has an effect. The other thing I hope everyone knows is that white boys are the only ones that regularly walk away from television sets with their self-esteem increased instead of decreased.
Black folks could have told you that a year or two after television was invented. That's why black people, like so many other people of color, have often said to themselves, "We have to make our own."
Before we get to just how far Shonda Rhimes black female reach goes, let's look at where black female representation has already been.
As I look back over the last 40 years I see that black film is much like white film in that it is up to 80% male dominated.
That 80% is fairly consistent with a Netflix documentary I saw recently which said women are only making 17% of the movies we are seeing. In that documntary, I found out that the woman that directed Twilight was replaced by a male director after making ALL THAT MONEY.
Yes, I know the Twilight movies were a bonafide, certified, boring mess --all of them. But young girls loved the books those movies were based on. The studio had a prefabbed audience that almost couldn't be lost. Why replace the director with a man? Even if the director was whacked out in some way. Why wouldn't you make sure you found another woman director to tell a teenage girl angst love vampire story?
That documentary, in turn, made me think about how Ava DuVernay was originally tapped to direct The Black Panther but walked away when the male producers didn't want to follow her vision(?)
A study of Spike Lee's movies alone has led me to the conclusion that it's a good thing that Spike Lee isn't just directing movies. If he wasn't producing movies like Pariah and giving directors like Darnell Martin their start, I think you'd find the sexism in his movies is damaging to most black girls looking for themselves in his movies.
I know I kinda feel like we should count ourselves lucky when we really weren't in some of Lee's movies...but still.
The other thing you would find in a detailed analysis of Spike Lee movies is a bit surprising. White women might give the light women in Spike's movies a run for their money as far who he's given the starring roles to. Check it out for yourself. Look at the top 3 or 4 roles of each movie. Most of the women (when there are any women with lead roles / speaking roles) are light or white.
John Singleton, F. Gary Gray, Antoine Fuqua, and Denzel Washington usually ignore black women in their movies.
With maybe one movie-exception a piece, there's usually "a good black woman" wife or girlfriend that's all but silent who sends the man off into action and agency with a smile and a wave. If there are women in their films (that have more than a few lines) they are either mommy or sexing somebody up. Again, there have been exceptions like Poetic Justice and Set It Off But they've been just that -- exceptions. And lesser black male directors --films released online only-- lean even stronger into the colorism for black women zone.Maybe it was unrealistic to think black men were ever going to focus on black women's well-being to the tune of 50%
They can't really know black women's experience, as they've demonstrated by their response to various items in the news - Cosby, Brown, Rice, Parker.
But black men could have lovingly interrogated mothers, lovers, wives, and others in order to tell the other 50% of the black story when they control of 80% of the mass media narrative.
I mean, aren't we --most black and brown people regardless of gender-- complaining about white people being totally disinterested in how a full one-third of this country (people of color) see themselves? That complaint is rather hypocritical of black men to make if they can't make the same effort demanded of white people for black women, right?
And frankly, imperfectly done or not, it irritates me to see a black male director move on to a mostly mostly white project before he's done one or none stories centered on black women.
Or maybe the path forward is to do what Spike Lee has done. Maybe the path forward for black men to support black women is to make sure they produce black women's content. The other thing black men could also do are the things Spike Lee hasn't done like clean up their own content as far sexism, misgynoir, colorism for black women etc.
Another glaring example of the lack of interest that black men have in black women's stories is what movies haven't been made as a feature film.
Harriet Tubman's life has not been made into a feature film in 1960, 1970, 1980, and 1990 --over and over again when she freed slaves, was a union spy, and led a white union army on a raid to free slaves. When she retired she made one of the first senior citizens homes. Why would you make Solomon Northrup and Nat Turner's stories in the feature films first if you had all that material in Harriet Tubman?
So if you didn't already know, you know now.
For black girls and black women even in "black movies," probably 80% made by men, are not "good" psychologically and emotionally. That's probably one of the reasons Beverly Bond created Black Girls Rock.
Other black feminists like Shonda Rhimes have taken one more step to figure out that "We have to make our own" means "Black women have to make their own."
Shonda has black women centered in her creations and the actors, directors and musicians earning real money. The black women that she has helped (mostly black feminists) are also going on to make even more black female content.
Ava DuVernay, already a movie maker when she went to Shonda, must have come on board at Shondaland to do an episode or two as practice for the pace of television. After DuVernay did that she went on to make Queen Sugar, which is blowing critics away right now.
Angela Bassett went from the movie screen right into television movie making by directing Whitney. She's directed an episode of television here and there where she's already acting, American Horror Story. Now there's a rumor she's going to get even more practice doing television by directing future episodes of Scandal
Viola Davis, who is in Shondaland's How To Get Away With Murder already had a production company. JuVee gave us the movie Lila and Eve. But her new visibility (and the new money?) is enabling her to go further. Kerry Washington's fame and Shonda created money has enabled her to take Confirmation (Anita Hill's story) to HBO as well.
In fact Viola Davis and Kerry Washington (Scandal) both have deals to make content with ABC. And Viola has a Harriett Tubman project she's working on too.
Kerry Washington's female led police drama called "Shots Fired is going to be on FOX though. It looks like Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball) is going to be directing.
- The cast includes Sanaa Lathan (The Best Man Holiday, The Perfect Guy), Helen Hunt (As Good As it Gets), Aisha Hinds (Under the Dome, True Blood), Tristian Wilds (The Wire, 90201), DeWanda Wise (The Mentalist), Edwina Findley (Get Hard, Middle of Nowhere), Alicia Sanz (From Dusk Till Dawn), Marqus Clae, Shamier Anderson (Race), Clare-Hope Ashitey (Suspects), Stephen James (Race, Selma), and more.
|Sanaa Lathan in "Shots Fired"|
Shonda Rhimes has black actresses we have seen that much in decades working. And she has a bunch of black musicians earning royalties too. She uses a lot of black music on her shows.
Shonda's also working on reducing colorism for black women too
And it is important that the colorism be cleaned up because that is washing over us from black male content without us noticing it much. On TheRoot.com there's a list of the favorite black television shows. The top three of the list in order is The Cosby Show, A Different World, and The Fresh Prince Of Bel Aire.
What I see now in those shows, that I didn't see before when I was a kid, is light skinned girls were the teenagers, the ones to date and lightly explore their sexuality while the dark skinned girls are either little kids or side kicks you only see periodically. And I promise you I didn't notice that A Different World featured all biracial women except one, plus a white woman too.
I think the entire black community has suffered from not noticing the level of colorism that washing over us constantly in the 1980s -- and from black content too.
Black women creators aren't doing the colorism thing so much. Maybe they have more power these days to buck up against the white led establishment in Hollywood in 2016 as opposed to 35 years ago. Whatever it is that has changed black women content creators are creating an important level of support for black women of all shades.
Light denial needs to be broken down just like white denial does.
I remember worrying about Taraji P Henson after her Oscar nod (Tyler Perry put her in a leading role and created some high priced demand according to her biography, Around the Way Girl: A Memoir )Now, thanks to Shonda, even a black actress from Broadway, like Saycon Sengbloh (who was in Danai Gurira's play Eclipsed) has a follow up gig. Sengbloh is going to be on Scandal in 2017. Maybe she'll do directing or go on to have a production company next.
So it's no accident you are seeing more and move black female faces, and more black female content. Shonda Rhimes and other black women have been very deliberate in bringing it to you
And one of the new black actresses, Aja Naomi King (How To Get Away With Murder) joined her celebrity to John Lewis and HBCUs who are trying to get out the black vote in one of the crucial swing states.
In other words, sistah's are doing it for themselves in a big way right now. And I can't wait to see Shonda's next effort, a Romeo and Juliette based period piece called Still Star-Crossed
Onward and upward sisters.
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A PREVIEW OF SHONDA'S STILL STAR-CROSSED