“True Blood” race fail: Jezebel rides again

by Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

Ya’ll know I love HBO’s True Blood series like I love my mom’s dressing on Thanksgiving. But the show’s writing team clearly doesn’t know what to do with black folks. For a fictional town in Louisiana, Bon Temps is awfully monochromatic. Though, I guess Alan Ball and co. deserve some “props” for doing better than than the books on which the show is based. Author Charlaine Harris rarely paints a black person that isn’t a stereotype or a cipher. Ball gives us Lafayette (a minor character who dies at the end of book one in Harris’ story ) and Tara (white in the book, new black Tara is essentially a sassy, black sidekick). But even for a less than racially conscious show, the mini-episode above is some hot buttered bullshit.

The scene: Eric, the proprietor of the vamp nightclub Fangtasia, and his henchwoman, Pam. are holding open auditions for new dancers. We’re treated to a parade of stiff, gyrating and inappropriately-dressed yokels, and then Jezebel takes the state–or rather a walking representation of the stereotype. A black woman sans “draws” and bra, breasts peeking from the bottom of her crop top, tongue protruding, sneer fixed, gyrating and shaking ass aggressively, bending over to display her backside, all to a hip hop track.

Consider the portrayals of black women in the True Blood universe. We have Tara, a take no shit Sapphire, and a minor character–Kenya, a full-figured, stern cop. Now, in this very special mini-episode, we get a sexually aggressive video vixen. It seems that the writers of True Blood can only draw black women who are telling folks what’s what, dropping it like it’s hot or standing mutely by in service–how very original.

The other wanna-be dancers in the mini-episode are treated as obvious jokes. There is a fleshy man clad in gold booty shorts and one wearing a cowboy hat and little else. There is a metal chick and a wan-looking woman in a leotard and wrap one might wear to ballet class. None are dancers. They are rhythm-less, stiff and awkward, and that is the joke. It is ridiculous for them to think they might go-go dancers in a popular nightclub. The black woman is a dancer. The joke in her case seems to be simply that she is a black woman. Is there a joke if the dancer, instead of a scantily-clad black woman, is a suggestively gyrating Pamela Anderson type? Think about that and then hold that thought.

It is also interesting to note Eric and Pam’s reactions to the black dancer. Pam, who is a lesbian in Harris’ books and ambiguous in True Blood, is mildly aroused, but the tall, blond Viking, who has become female fan favorite, is unmoved. “Next!” It is okay for Pam to be intrigued by this black woman, but not our hero (or anti-hero, depending how you feel about Eric). In fact, moments later, in slinks a brunette, Russian-accented dancer is a micro-bikini top, tight, spandex pants, sky-high heels and a fur jacket. Her sexuality, though overt, is desirable. Eric and Pam fight over the opportunity to “audition” her alone. We never see her dance. We have no idea if she has any skill. But she is clearly the chosen one.

True Blood’s deft mix of humor and drama and action is one of the reasons I am such a fan of the show. This tired bit that relies on nothing but very old racial stereotype is beneath the show and certainly beneath the black women I know, who deserve a hell of a lot better.