Django, The Butler and 12 Years A Slave leave me none too impressed with Hollywood’s portrayals of African-American women. Partly because I was weaned on 1970’s classics Coffy and Cleopatra Jones – the strong, savvy, sexy, generally peace-loving black women, who would kick an ass if required, any color or gender need apply. Pam Grier epitomized on celluloid what I thought a black woman should be; but the true examples lurked in my home, church and larger community. My mother wasn’t doing Jiu-jitsu on Mob bosses trying to introduce heroin into Harlem, but she was filing discrimination suits against bloated bosses, propagating corrupt systems and cronyism.
I’m mighty proud to be descended from slaves – to have achieved what we have in a little over 100 years – despite the struggle continuing. So I take offense to the one-dimensional depictions of Sisters by screenwriters and directors both white and of African descent. Like Patsey, played by actress Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years A Slave, my grandmother was a woman of disdainful carriage. Nana, the wife of a pastor cum Red Cap, sister of a small town Texas physician, and sister-in-law of a Detroit dentist, would occasionally bake cakes, keep house and give alcohol rubs to “Jews” in order to pay for the “proper” things her three children should acquire. Even though women of any color working in the 1940’s were frequently pink-collar teachers or nurses; I nonetheless am mortified ruminating about my haughty preacher’s wife, grandmother reduced to rubbing strange mens’ bodies for money. I am mad, but Nana would be furious I thought of her work in a pejorative sense – after all she simply could not send her only daughter to Nannie Burroughs’ without the proper trousseau. Though technically never enslaved, Nana and her peers were much more articulate, funny and multifaceted than any of the characters in these period pieces. While stunningly beautiful, Patsey is frankly not only unrecognizable within the pantheon of Harriet Tubman, but virtually indistinguishable from another of the films’ characters, Eliza. Like Antoinette Tuff, the Decatur, Georgia woman who recently convinced a mentally disturbed, young man not to kill elementary school kids nor himself, black folks have been “managing” white folks for hundreds of years now. http://gawker.com/how-one-woman-talked-the-would-be-georgia-school-shoote-1178217739 Let that image of blackness, particularly black women, be depicted in film. By now, even Hattie McDaniel would concur. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hattie_McDaniel